How to Negotiate With an Antagonistic Adversary

Nelson Mandela was arguably one of the greatest negotiators of the 20th century. In his country’s best interests, the anti-apartheid revolutionary bargained with a government that put him behind bars for 27 years. 

Mandela hated the apartheid regime of institutionalized racial segregation. He could have decided to reject negotiating with what he no doubt perceived as a morally challenging and antagonistic adversary. And yet he was able to achieve what many believed was unthinkable, without violence and resistance, for the people of South Africa: He ended apartheid.

How different history would have been had Mandela decided he couldn’t find it within himself to negotiate with those who had caused him so much hurt and literally taken years of his life.

Another example of a great negotiator is Winston Churchill. He vowed he would never negotiate with those “boastful and bullying” Nazis. However, did you know that papers unearthed in 2004 revealed he did consider negotiating with Adolf Hitler when the Allied forces were being destroyed by German troops? Churchill allegedly thought brokering a peace deal would potentially bring less bloodshed.

So, what would make these two men even consider negotiating with such hostile adversaries?

Let’s talk about how you can go up against someone in a negotiation whom you perceive (rightly or wrongly) to be difficult and inhospitable.

The Characteristics of an Antagonistic Adversary

There are usually some obvious signs someone is going to be antagonistic or competitive in a negotiation. Here is what to look out for:

  • They are comfortable with intense conflict and competition
  • They enjoy debating substantive issues
  • They aren’t great listeners, because they often have a significant ego
  • They are direct, and use a hostile tone as well as words and body language
  • They are often impatient and aggressive in their offers and concessions
  • They like to take control of the conversation
  • They always want to win; losing is not an option
  • They are very enthusiastic toward being competitive in negotiations
  • They appear stubborn, arrogant and/or untrustworthy
  • They can deal with high-risk and pressurized environments

An antagonistic adversary will think nothing of using leverage tactics including walkouts, threats, ultimatums and bluffing. An example of a negotiator using these types of tactics is President Donald Trump. During his time in office, he has shut down press briefings multiple times, thinks nothing of calling out people on social media with insults, and frequently uses ultimatums. Case in point, his unblinking, unwavering threats to ban video-sharing platform TikTok from the US. 

Professor Robert Mnookin is chair of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. In his book Bargaining With the Devil, Mnookin states that people who demonize an adversary often resist negotiating even when it could benefit them. 

So, how do you overcome that feeling of being defeated before you’ve even begun? And what are the best tactics to use when negotiating with an antagonistic adversary?

Techniques to Use When Negotiating with an Antagonistic Adversary

Firstly, be prepared and don’t talk yourself down before you begin.

Forewarned is forearmed, which is why being prepared is so important in this scenario. The more you know and prepare prior to a negotiation, the less likely you will be surprised. It will also improve your confidence in managing difficult negotiators. If it’s the first time you’re negotiating with someone, find out as much as you can about your counterpart. Has anyone else worked with them before? Does anyone in your network know them? What can they tell you about your adversary’s style? If a team is involved, who is on their team? What do you know about each team member?

Don’t be intimidated by your opposer’s reputation. Girls are told from as young as age three that they cannot put themselves forward. That inner critic is the stereotype you have grown up with whispering in your ear. Don’t listen to the voice in your head saying you aren’t strong or capable enough. 

Instead, harness your feminine power. You can utilize your attribute of being a good listener in this scenario. Antagonistic negotiators love to talk and persuade. So let them! In fact, encourage them and implement active listening techniques so you can acquire as much strategic information as possible before you start negotiating. 

Preparation is essential. But as well as research, you may find you’re able to get information directly from your counterpart.

Know Your ‘Why’

When you negotiate, you need to know your “why.” Knowing yourself is one of the first steps to prepare for negotiation. You need to tap into your motivation. If you have emotion and a drive attached to it, you will be more directed to your commitment and resolution. This doesn’t mean for you to get emotional. Rather, it means use that reason to drive your negotiation.

Attaching emotion to negotiations will boost your energy, commitment and resolution. To clarify, I’m not saying to be emotional. I’m saying to mine and draw on the emotional underpinning that really drives a given negotiation. 

However, as well as knowing your “why,” it’s essential to know that of your counterpart. Why are they negotiating — especially when they are antagonistic? Once you understand that, you can anticipate, prepare and then potentially undercut them. I examine this in greater detail in my programs, and in particular, my free e-book, 5 Secret Weapons to More Effective Negotiations. 

Let’s look at your why in terms of negotiating a salary increase with a less-than-amicable boss. Think about why you want the salary increase. It’s almost never just about the money itself; it’s about what that money represents.

Is it to get a bigger house? Is it to be able to go on vacation twice a year? Look at the more significant motivation. Women often struggle with the idea of wealth and money. Knowing your “why” will reframe it for you. Now, why would your boss say no? Because they could lose their job if they can’t make salary cuts? Or they need to come in under budget so they can get a bonus to go on their own dream holiday?

Be Focused and Calm

Remain focused on your objectives, and don’t let your counterpart’s styles and behaviors take you off track. Take the view that the style being used by the difficult negotiator results from past learning. They use it because they believe it has worked for them in the past and will work for them now. 

No matter how your counterpart acts, or what strategy they use or what behavior they demonstrate, you need to stay in control and be calm. This is especially true when you feel blindsided or surprised. If you react without thinking — in anger or with heightened emotion — you will almost certainly regret it later. 

Before your negotiation session, prepare yourself to be calm. You can do this by running through scenarios in your head. This is a technique utilized by athletes, who visualize each part of the race and anticipate the favored outcome.

Take your time to imagine what you will say and how your counterpart might respond. What will you do and how will you deal with each of the possibilities? Run through the scenarios to see if they trigger an emotional response from you. What would you do or say if that happens? This also enables you to avoid the feeling of regret when the negotiation is over. Thinking about it in advance will help you control yourself in the room. You won’t be thinking about what you should have said and done because you prepared your reactions in advance.

Don’t be afraid to admit to what you want, stick to it, and be blunt.

If you go into a negotiation thinking, “Oh, no, if they find out what I want, that gives them the power to say no,” then you must change your narrative. Instead, think to yourself, “Telling them what I need gives them a reason that they have to give me what I want. If they can’t give it to me, then we can’t make a deal.”

An antagonistic adversary appreciates strength. Standing firm will gain their respect. Don’t allow them to steamroll you. If you do, they’ll come at you again and again. Instead, require a reasonable rationale before moving forward and insist on reciprocity. If they’re tough, you need to be assertive in an equal or more considerable measure. 

However, you should always be unconditional, constructive and respectful. That doesn’t mean that we let others walk all over us. Assertiveness is one of the qualities I extol in my A.R.E. F.I.T. model at the crux of my teachings in my negotiation programs.

I’ve had people try to steamroll and bully me in negotiations. A few even tried physical intimidation. Calling them out on the tactic usually served to defuse it. Most tactics lose power when identified. Or sometimes, I simply smiled and kept repeating my position calmly, over and over. This usually causes increasing frustration with an antagonistic counterpart and gets them off their game, so they lose their edge or advantage, or it causes them to give up the point, recognizing that you’re not budging (or buying into their approach).

Be Flexible and Highlight Your Leverage

Have you heard the saying, “Never be so sure of what you want that you wouldn’t take something better”?

As a woman, you are likely a great listener, and listening is vital when negotiating with someone antagonistic. There’s a good chance, if you have gained their trust (and you should be able to do so by using empathy and intuition), that your counterpart will reveal something that will make you better off than you expected to be. Antagonistic negotiators aren’t afraid to talk directly about leverage. If you have something that fulfills their needs, point it out matter-of-factly as you and your adversary discuss both your needs and their alternatives.

Put Your Needs in Their Words

An antagonistic negotiator loves to hear what they want. If you express what you want in terms of their needs, they will be far more open to listening. What do they really need? For example, don’t say, “I want X amount because I think I deserve it/I’ve been working too much overtime.”

Instead, say, “I need X salary because that will enable me to fully apply to the project you want me to do/Will help the whole department get stronger and compete for resources within the company.”

Check Out Other Options

If you have a plan B, then you aren’t as desperate to achieve a set result. Look at what other options you have if you don’t get what you want — this will give you confidence.

In negotiation, this is where BATNA comes in — your best alternative to a negotiated agreement. I discuss this in greater detail in my post, know your BATNA before bargaining.

Create a Time Frame

It is very important to know exactly when the negotiation is starting. Timing can make or break your success in negotiation. When your counterpart is gunning for you, they are likely to be like a bull out the gate with their process. This means you could be in the path of a wrecking ball before you even realize it! Take control and lay the foundation to stop that happening. Remember when you were a child and would wait for Mom or Dad to be in a good mood before asking for something that may cost them money, like a new toy or a trip somewhere fun? If either of them was in a bad mood, intuitively you knew it was the worst time to ask.

Always consider the time of year you are carrying out your negotiation. If you are going for a pay increase or raise, it’s not wise to do it just after there have been cuts! What time is best for you to get the most out of your negotiation? Is it the morning or the evening? What about your counterpart? Be tactical and be deliberate.

When it comes to your negotiation, make sure you are on the same page. If you think, “This will be 20 minutes,” and they come back and say, “This will be 20 weeks,” you have a mismatch. Agree your timeframe first, and don’t be frightened to call out your counterpart if they don’t honor it.

In conclusion, when you’re facing an antagonistic adversary, the best way to tackle your negotiation is to:

  • Be prepared and research your counterpart
  • Make sure you are laser focused on your “why” so you can tailor your negotiation to realizing your goal
  • Stay focused and calm when you are bargaining with them
  • Always try to put yourself in their shoes. What do they want? Then you can reframe your points to make them feel like they’re getting what THEY want
  • Stay strong and so that you can achieve the outcome you want, highlight your leverage 
  • Make sure you always have a plan B. You should never be frightened to walk away 
  • Lastly, put a timeframe on your negotiation so that you have an end in sight. This gives you control

By taking this advice to heart, you’ll be surprised at how easy your next negotiation will be, even if your adversary has a tough reputation.

If you liked this blog post, be sure to read how to effectively use concession in negotiations.


Order our Women On Purpose Planner, designed and dedicated to helping you step into a purposeful and purpose-driven life!


A.R.E.F.I.T. Model, antagonistic adversary, BATNA, confidence, intention, Negotiation, trust yourself

You may also like

How to Negotiate Effective Relationships with Mentors and Sponsors to Advance Your Career Pt 1

How to Negotiate Effective Relationships with Mentors and Sponsors to Advance Your Career Pt 1

Page [tcb_pagination_current_page] of [tcb_pagination_total_pages]

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Subscribe to our newsletter now!