The firm, threatening question was thrown in the air after I had just presented my idea of delivering our game audience videos on YouTube. I froze. I did not expect this question.

"Why YouTube. Why not Twitch."
"Well... I mean, YouTube is better for our purpose. Twitch has more PC oriented approach--"
"Says who?"
"...Well...It's... common knowledge."
"I... don't... know."
"You don't know."
"I mean, everyone knows this in the industry."
"Who is everyone."
"I don't know! Just look at Wikipedia or something! It's common knowledge. YouTube is more for mobile games, Twitch is about live streaming and PC."
"Fine. Then it's YouTube. But you better come across better arguments next time."

I was furious inside, and even scared. I was angry at being grilled like that, in front of everyone. Besides, he interrupted me all the time which annoyed me. That was years ago when I was only learning about how to negotiate "with the Big Boys". Now, after several years, I understand perfectly why I was grilled.

During my career, I have come across many types of negotiators. The most uncomfortable, challenging and at the same time educating situations have been aggressive negotiators. Even though a negotiation should be a different thing than an argument, a negotiation might become an argument. 

The hard part is that what someone considers aggression might not look like that to someone else. Tense grilling might seem aggressive to someone, whereas the experienced business scene most likely has gotten used to hard questions, questioning and checking every corner being the absolute necessity. Then, there is the kind of aggression where there are actually strong emotions involved, which may result in shouting and argument.

Because depending on people’s backgrounds, you may feel differently about aggression, this article will count as aggression everything tense and dynamic approach that doesn’t fall clearly into the category of positive. You can’t always know if someone is aggressive because they feel that way of if they want to use it as a strategy. 

Just keep in mind: Not all aggression is necessarily a bad thing. And, at times, you can also benefit from it as a negotiation strategy. 

Table of Contents

Prevent & Diffuse

So, how to survive with an aggressive negotiator? It’s not about one single answer. I’d say it’s just as much about prevention than it’s about diffusing the aggression. Thus, I have divided this article into two parts:

1) PREVENT – How to prevent the negotiation from escalating into aggression

2) DIFFUSE – How to diffuse aggression when things have escalated

Let’s have a look.


The best way to survive aggressive negotiators is to do your best not to trigger that aggression. Unless it’s used as a strategy, there is always a reason why someone becomes aggressive. At times, it’s their past and even traumas that for some reason have been tingled. Sometimes that is just the culture they have learned. And, at times, they simply need a reaction from you.

Here are some ways to prevent escalation.

Keep it cool – don’t be the escalator

An argument will demand two parties. At times it might be a good idea to be blunt and straight, but in case you don’t want that, remember that you can affect in the outcome. 

Even if the other party is losing their nerves, you can use your willpower to remain calm. This does NOT mean that you should act submissive. It means that you yourself don’t have to be aggressive, provocative or passive-aggressive. There is always something that triggers the aggression in the other party. Don’t be that “something”. Even if you would like to claim that “But they started it!!!”, if you provoke their aggression with your own behavior, you are just as guilty.

If you can survive this kind of negotiation battles, then it can be actually a good thing to operate on their wavelength. Some people simply prefer a more blunt approach and they may even respect you for standing your ground. But at the same time, I consider this one big for of art. Don’t take that road unless you enjoy it.

"When you overreact, you play their game."

Praveen Tipirneni, Medium.com "Up against an aggressive negotiator"

Read their non-verbal language

“Whenever I am presenting something, I monitor people’s faces. When you see that hesitating squint or such, you know that something you said was not convincing. If I can determine what could be the reason, I can be one step ahead and explain my thoughts before they even ask. This is how I relieve their fears and fear doesn’t turn in to frustration and aggression.” – Archon Zimri

Understand that it can be a strategy

Learn to separate when the aggression is because the person is actually emotional or aggressive, and when is aggression used to test you and how firm ground are you standing on.

It might also be about trying to exhaust you under pressure. In this case, you win by not being provoked or scared. Remember that their tense tone can’t harm you.

"The best aggressive negotiators are very forceful and very clever.

But most aren’t actually good aggressive negotiators — it takes much more ability to be a skilled aggressive negotiator."

Praveen Tipirneni, Medium.com "Up against an aggressive negotiator"

Give them the information they need to take it forward

Sometimes the aggression comes from the frustration of not getting the needed information. Often, especially in work life, your superior has a superior. They need to take your request forward. And they don’t want to look stupid in front of their boss. If they don’t buy to your idea, their boss won’t either.

The best way to help with the fear of your idea making other people seem ignorant or silly is… to not seem like that yourself. Explain your facts, give data and numbers, AND list the person how they can sell the idea forward.

“I don’t know” 

When you go into a serious negotiation, aim to be so well prepared that “I don’t know” is not part of the things that you are going to say. Think about any possible questions in advance, and have your answers ready. If you need to say “I don’t know”, you can gain respect by continuing your sentence: “-but I will deliver you the information within one hour.” or such. 

If you seem unsure, everyone else will mirror it. If the atmosphere is tense, your uncertainty can be like blood to a white shark.

Understand that sometimes the other party knows better and feels frustrated because of your impulsive need

Pushing your own idea without knowing better is one of the most certain ways to trigger aggression in a person who knows much better about the topic you are talking about. Sometimes the aggression is triggered because you are in love with your own idea and don’t realize the gentle warning signs and “no”s of the other party.

I’m in a position where people often approach me with spontaneous ideas. Naturally, I always listen, and usually if I see that the idea is doomed, I can still turn it down softly and politely. And at times even if the idea is not so good, I think it is worth checking out to give it a chance.

But sometimes, it simply isn’t. I have also learned that especially if a person lacks experience in associations, organizations or companies where big decisions are made and collaboration happens often, tend to think that a cool idea is enough and just by bringing that cool idea on the table, “someone somewhere” executes it, just like that. They are so much in love with their brilliant idea that they can’t see the forest from the trees. I have noticed that this is generally one of the most certain ways to frustrate anyone who has a lot of information about the field. 

Here is an example. If you can spot what kind of things eventually triggered the more aggressive grilling and questioning, you can avoid this kind of situation in your own negotiations.

“Luminary, we really should make a mobile game! I drew you 10 maps already so that you can use them. It should be 3D multiplayer virtual reality adventure and the maps would change based on the player’s choices and you could change your character and maybe there are bosses and then you collect things and it could happen partially in the real world. So that wherever you go, there are Chrysalis stops in the virtual reality world. Like Pokemon and Randonaut but mixed with also 3D levels. And you can find mysterious marks all around the world.”
“Oh, It’s a lovely idea, but a game like that demands really, really lot of work…”
“Yeah but it would be so cool! And if possible, I wanna lead this.”
“I see… It would indeed! And still unfortunately I don’t have the resources for that just yet. It costs a LOT. Seven digits. Do you have any game development experience..?”
“No but I learn fast! And it was kinda my idea so I wanna have all the credits and lead the project.”
“…I see…”
“I am sure the Chrysalids will love it! This isn’t like something that happens this year, but in maybe 2 years.”
“A game like that, with my resources, just really isn’t possible. I don’t have the money for that.”
“But maybe we can collect the money. I am sure every Chrysalid will gift something for this purpose.”
“Um… I don’t think the community has that money, nor that they would just give it like that.”
“Haha yeaaa but you never know! You can still consider it lol, maybe if we collect by selling stuff like cookies? You should have an open mind!”

This is the part where you realize that the person is stubborn, in love with their idea, but lacking every bit of knowledge on their topic and refuses to listen to you. This, for me, would be the trigger point to start using aggressive grilling as a strategy.

Think about it like this: Someone comes hitting on you at a bar. You try to tell them gently and politely “no”, but they are stubborn. When the polite version doesn’t work, you become frustrated. It’s a very similar feeling when the polite version of “no” isn’t taken as an answer during a negotiation. 

“Open mind, huh? Alright, then. So, who will make the game? What kind of team do you need?”
“You need artists, programmers, designers and producers at least. How much would you budget on team salaries?”
“Yes. You pay salaries for the people working for the title, right?”
“I kinda thought maybe we can learn to do it ourselves… So no outsiders…”
“For free? And no outsiders? Interesting. I take it that no pitching and investments then, either. Name the Chrysalids that will learn the skills mentioned and are ready to leave their day-jobs. I’d estimate that those 2 years will be heavy crunching.”
“I… I don’t know… Maybe you can hire them after all.”
“Oh I will hire? With what money?”
“I mean… your… company money? Your company could have the money.”

(Yes. In many cases people don’t understand that a company’s money doesn’t grow in trees and magically just appear.)

“So, with my company money. Roger. And where will my company get the money?”
“Um… I am not sure… Selling things, like maybe Triaga T-shirts…”
“Triaga T-shirts. Alright. Then, what’s the budget?”
“I don’t know really…”
“Let’s calculate the team costs first. Let’s say we have 10 people in our team. Probably we need at least some seniors. A couple rookies could earn less. But I’d say the average salary we would provide is 3000e per month. And, let’s assume it takes 2 years to finish the game. Now, calculate the budget.”
“I… don’t know how.”
“24 months x 3000 euros = 72 000 euros.”
“Ah ok.”
“…Times 10. For each team member. That equals 720 000 euros. Plus the employer costs. We are around one million now.”
“Million?! Maybe someone else should lead this after all…”
“Oh no, as you said, it was your idea! You will take the ownership just like you wanted. Let’s calculate the costs from the tools and licenses. Or do you want to first calculate how many T-shirts should you sell to feed your team?”
“You must be busy, maybe we should talk about this later… I don’t want to waste your time.”
“Oh I am not busy at all! Keep positive and like you said, have an open mind! Let’s say one Triaga T-shirt costs 15 euros from which the company gets 5 euros profit minus 24% VAT. How many T-shirts do I need to sell to get 720 000 euros?”

Even though this conversation is (partially) fictional, I have gone through similar conversations. At this point, an aggressive negotiator might be too pissed off to stop, after being driven to the corner. The more you struggle, the more the person probably wants to eat you alive. I am not saying it’s a right thing to do, but to be honest, I can personally understand every aggressive negotiator who gets annoyed over discussion like this.

There are moments when it’s good to realize that backing off is an option, or simply just saying “Shit, I admit I did not think about this at all.” instead of offering to harness your friends to sell cookies to gain million euros.

"If you’ve never seen a good aggressive negotiator in action, your first experience can be intimidating. - -  You aren’t used to it. But if you can recognize what’s happening, you have a chance to calm down, examine the situation, and use it to your advantage."

Praveen Tipirneni, Medium.com "Up against an aggressive negotiator"

Don’t seem desperate

People tend to polarize and search for roles. A person interested in challenges, competition, debate, and winning will see an easy victory if you are particularly emotional about the situation or feel that your life depends on the outcome of the negotiations. Your despair and dependence give power to the other party. And, those are things that an experienced negotiator will smell the moment you step into the room. 

One of my most awesome lessons was a negotiation situation where I was discussing a big business deal. Me and the outsourcing partner had been emailing about the offer for a long time, and the more I explained my need, the more difficult our business partner made everything, and the price went up. I had heard them offering much lower prices for other companies. He also avoided providing the data that I requested. Smelled suspicious. Eventually, the outsourcing partner sent me novel-length email explaining a bunch of more BS, and gave me a price tag:

“—So the price for this package is 100 000.”

At this point, I decided not to go with his style of writing. All I wrote was a blunt and simple:

“No. We pay 85 000.”

His response?

“Ok. Here are the papers.”


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Try to understand what just happened

What triggered aggression? Does the other party feel threatened? Did you not listen to them? Did you take things for granted? Or, is it about something completely else than you?

If you can harness your Dryocampa and understand what went wrong, you can maybe still fix things by changing your tone, wording or by providing a solution.

Especially with hard topics, it is very typical that scared people might turn aggressive. For example if you are accusing someone for doing something wrong, even a skilled and socially talented person will experience feelings. If they don’t, they probably are not human. That does not mean that it’s right, but the way you negotiate may have an effect on the outcome. Sometimes it’s a good idea to assume that there will be aggression, and prepare for it in advance.

A really good thing to remember is that sudden snapping, tense behavior and aggression that are not typical to the person, might also be signs of extreme exhaustion. 

Whether it was something you said, low blood sugar, lack of sleep, exhaustion, harmed ego, feeling threatened or insulted, or family problems, by understanding the cause, you may find a way to diffuse the aggression.

Be prepared – Set a goal and rules for yourself

Most likely things will go well for you, but it is always better to prepare for different scenarios. 

A great way is to create a goal or goals for your negotiation, and keep that in mind so that you won’t get distracted. For example: “I will have an answer to every question” or “My main goal is to not be pressured to make a bad deal.”

Another brilliant way is to create different scenarios and respond to those. The formula is:

If (X) happens, then I will (Y).

Remember that these need to be thought in advance. When “Mark” turns red and starts grilling you, you don’t have the time to start thinking about your negotiation strategy.


    • If Mark raises his voice at me, I will breathe calmly, look at him straight and hear what he wants to say. I will not interrupt. Only after he has finished, I will calmly but firmly explain my point.
    • If Mark seems tense, I will check my proposal and tweak how I present it.
    • If Mark looks at me intensively with that demanding look, I will remain calm and will not collapse under pressure.
    • If I get anxious about the tense atmosphere, I will calmly say “Can I maybe get 10 minutes break? I will come to you with answers.”
    • If Mark points out something that I don’t know about, I will calmly admit that I don’t yet have enough information, but I will deliver it on time X.
    • If Mark says that my pay raise request is too high, I will respond “Ok, understood. Then, how much do you think my work is worth? I’m open to hear your proposal.”
    • If Mark becomes sulky after the negotiation and doesn’t seem willing to talk, I will take my distance and do my job properly. Water on a duck’s back.
    • If Mark shouts at me and becomes furious, I will listen silently and then say that this is unprofessional and that maybe we should have a time-out and return to the table after we have calmed down.

"To prepare for the negotiation, some of the low-power participants were told to set the following goal: “I will negotiate tenaciously and claim as many points as possible.” Others were told to stick to a plan: “If my opponent makes a request or tries to put me under pressure, then I will not be swayed and budge from my offer in small steps only.” Consistent with the other study, the low-power subjects negotiated better when they set goals and had an if-then plan in place. In fact, their results were the same as negotiators in the high-power condition. In this particular experiment, having a goal was slightly more effective than having a plan; overall, though, both solutions worked well for participants."

Kristin Wong, The Cut, The Shy Person’s Guide to Dealing With an Aggressive Negotiator

Disarm them: Offer them empathy

A pro tip here is to offer a sudden rush of empathy. This is probably the most effective and surprising move that you can do. Nobody expects you to respond to aggression with kindness.

How can you do this? Simple. Ask them, genuinely worried, if they are okay. If they say something such as “Why do you ask”, you can gently say “I just felt this negotiation feels a bit tense and it’s not how you normally are, so I thought that maybe something was wrong and got worried.”

Or, like I did in the next image’s dialogue:

“Feeling cranky? 😐 Call me and rant if you feel like it! I can’t come and hug ((in the middle of the meeting)), but here’s a frustration-prevention-heart-bunch: <3 <3 <3”
“Yeah, I am a bit cranky and I’m sweating like hell 😀
Your message already helped me though 😀 😀 :D”

Use calming body language – and smile!

We, humans, have this fascinating social programming. Our system was built to read rapid-fast if the other person is 1) food 2) enemy 3) friend 4) potential mating partner.

Your most powerful weapon will be your smile and tone of voice. And, looking in the eyes. Even your smile won’t do much, if you smile to a wall. Try to be calming, but don’t seem scared. Simply, give the impression that you are a friend (even if this was not the truth). This may demand some social eye, of course. You don’t want to seem as if you were laughing at the other party. The smile should be about empathy and friendliness.

Ignore it

Sometimes the best thing to do is to act like there was no aggression on the table. Especially if there are other people. Ignoring does not mean that you should stare at your toes. It means that you continue the discussion normally.

"If their aggression was a tactic to throw you off your game, they’ll see that it’s not working and stop. If their behaviour was an outburst, they’ll soon burn themselves out without any fuel being added to their flame."

AdvantageSpring, Weathering The Storm: How to handle aggression during negotiations


Call it out (…but be careful)

You can also try to call the person out for their behavior. But, if they are already angry, you may end up in the situation where they just shout “I AM FUCKING NOT AGGRESSIVE!!!”

If you don’t want to fight, you must let the other person know that with your own approach. Channel your Dryocampa, take a breath and mention the behavior softly and patiently. 

Distract with humor

Something I used to do with a person who I knew was aggressive during our meetings was that whenever that happened, I sent him something totally absurd in a message. Of course secretly, writing under the table. Often it was a challenge that he should say something silly out loud. He was an intelligent person who had seen all the shit, and in his position, people’s proposals and lack of perspective and experience at times caused a lot of headache. When that was combined with not smoking and not eating, he became a negotiation monster (so, a …negster?).  Once again, he had a bad day and even I felt offended by his approaches. But I knew him better and had already learned that he had just ran out of fuel and fun, which meant he had no energy to keep his filters up. He was also in a position where everything was always too serious, when in fact, he had great sense of humor and thirst for adventure. So, I texted him:

“I’m gonna give you a challenge: Say “orc” at some point of this meeting!”

He looked at his phone, and I could see the corner of his mouth making a little twitch into a fast smile-like micro expression. He gave me a thumb emoji. He was still sulking after that, and I wondered if my text was enough. Then, came his turn.

“I really don’t know how can we produce something like this. We should have that “best team” and experienced guys. And this is the best we can come up with?! My opinion is that this production plan looks like”…

People looked nervously, clearly already feeling down and expecting that the last hit would be at least critical.

“…a bunch of orcs chasing hobbits.”

There was a break of couple seconds. Then, the whole room exploded to laugh – the aggressive negotiator with them. With a smile, he did return to his criticism, but this time was able to do it with a softer approach, and smile. The orcs became the theme of the meeting, and everyone had fun. The aggressive negotiator sent me three laughing emojis. I responded:

“Well done! And you made people laugh! ;)”
“I even smiled myself a bit. ;P”


Timeout (…but not by that name)

Usually people tell you that “you have every right to ask for a timeout”. That’s true, you do. However, if the situation has escalated, whining about the tone and asking for “timeout” is like a red cloth to an angry or annoyed person. It sends a message that you can’t manage them and need to escape, or, that you are using timeout as a tactics to bring them down, because that’s all you can do. Even if this was the case, I’d advice not to do that. Instead, ask for a break to go to toilet or have a cigarette.

“Hey sorry, but I really need to use the restroom. Let’s continue in 10 minutes, shall we.”

Wake up your inner sadist and enjoy some popcorn

If the other person turns extremely angry and uses for example personal insults that seem childish or unprofessional, just sit back and relax. You have pretty much already won the situation. Wait for them to rant, call you a “little incapable asshole” in front of others, remain silent, look at them calmly in the eyes, breathe – and watch how they make a clown out of themselves. Remember that it is not you who is embarrassed at that point.

Pick your battles

Sometimes it’s nothing you did. The person you try to negotiate with might have woken up with the wrong foot, or they run with low blood sugar. When that happens, it might be that everything just pisses them off and nothing you say will help. If that happens and you can recognize it, pick your battles and end the conversation. If they have decided to be against everything, there is no way for you to win. 


Aggression can be either a strategy or a sign that the other person feels threatened, hurt, annoyed or frustrated. Sometimes aggressive negotiation strategy is extremely good and effective, but it’s more common that people don’t actually know how to use it correctly. In any case, aggressive strategy can feel intimidating. And especially when it’s not a strategy, it may cause discomfort.

When you remember that your negotiation partner – no matter what’s their title – is also another human-being, you are already one step ahead. That is when you can use your people-skills and win.

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