The Power of Choosing Not to Bite Back in Negotiations

While vacationing in Turks & Caicos this week, I got bit by a dog and lost a half-day waiting to get stitches. As I believe all of life is a negotiation, it’s no surprise the experience reminded me of some valuable negotiation lessons. I thought I’d share them with you.

The day started with great expectations. We were participating in a unique program where people volunteer to ‘adopt a puppy’ for a few hours to help socialize pups waiting for placement. We got our bundle of energy, Maddy (with warnings that she tended to be ‘a bit bossy’) and headed to the beach as suggested.

On arriving at the beach, my son started rough housing with the rambunctious pup. I cautioned him not to and reached down to intervene. The pup snapped at my outreached hand. I saw the moment when she committed to the bite – something flashed in her eyes – but I didn’t react in time and bore the full brunt of her razor-sharp puppy teeth sinking into my hand, splitting it open to reveal tendon and bone. The family got to enjoy the next few hours with the pup while I headed to a local clinic for stitches.

You may be wondering what this has to do with negotiation. Well, negotiation is an art. Like any art, bringing intention to the exercise is key. Here are a few lessons from my canine mishap …

I Manage Expectations

Like most negotiations in life, we’d started our day with great expectations. While setting high expectations can be a powerful force in negotiations, it’s also important to not get too attached to any one outcome. I’ve seen too many negotiations go sideways even though there were great opportunities on the table, because one or more parties couldn’t let go of their expectations.

II Do Your Homework and Pay Attention

We were so excited about the prospect of a magical day with the pup that we didn’t do any groundwork. We blithely lined up to get our puppy without asking any of the obvious questions (i.e. about her likes/dislikes, preferences, do’s and don’ts, etc.) In any negotiation, preparation is the key to successful outcomes. Know who you’re negotiating with, what the issues are, who you should show up as, what the likely objections are that you’ll need to overcome, what outcomes you seek … and strategize accordingly. We’d been warned that Maddy was bossy, but I didn’t factor that into my approach … to my detriment.

III Have a Plan

Every move in a negotiation should be taken with forethought. Be mindful of your language (the words you use), your tone, your desired response, your body language, the likely impact of your chosen actions, etc. I reached down to an agitated puppy with no thought of the potential consequences. We often act on impulse and reactivity in our daily negotiations and as a result our outcomes are seriously compromised.

IV Heed Warning Signs

Not only had I been warned about Maddy’s temperament, but I saw the warning signs of her impending bite. I was not present enough in the moment to react appropriately. The results were most unfortunate. The same applies in our real-world negotiations. Be present. Be fully engaged. Be intentional. Be aware. Watch for the reactions from the other party and modify your strategy as necessary if you want to achieve best possible outcomes and not derail a negotiation through carelessness.

V Don’t Bite Back

It’s often our human instinct to bite back when challenged. This is particularly so given the myths we’ve be conditioned to accept about negotiation (i.e. that toughness carries the day and that bark & bite are valuable tools – neither of which are valid). Reactivity rarely yields good outcomes. In fact, it’s to be avoided. Instead, I invite you to ground yourself before responding. Allow your reptilian brain to adjust and release the triggered state. Take a deep breath and invoke a mantra that gives you choice in how to respond. i.e. “I’m powerfully grounded, calm, collected, and compelling.” From that state, you can choose how you ought to respond.


Hope you got some value out of my dog-bite experience. These simple take-away lessons can up-level your negotiation prowess to get you more of you want and deserve (without the necessity of biting or getting bitten).

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Are you looking to up-level your negotiation skills?

Please enjoy my TedX Ocala talk

- Rise of the Feminine Voice


Art of feminine negotiation, junk-yard dog

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