Under the duress of being backed into a corner, protecting her cubs from a threatening member of the species homo sapiens, a female grizzly bear is likely not to notice if he is holding a camera or a gun. 

Fear is one of the strongest motives or drivers that make people do things. Unfortunately it also can result in aberrant behavior. If a negotiation is threatening someone’s livelihood, cash reserves, or ability to survive, they should not be expected to respond in a civil, rational manner. They are more likely to strike back in anger or simply walk away from the table. In either event, the settlement process has not been impaired. 

Mediators and negotiators alike need to understand there are critical flash-points that need to be avoided to keep the process intact. For any negotiation to work, both parties have to want it to be resolved and reasonably satisfied with the outcome. Hurting one party too much will stymie talks unless one side has enough overwhelming power to force the other to acquiesce. But, in such a situation, they are no longer negotiating. The stronger person is dictating the outcome. 

There are times when unilateral tactics are appropriate in a negotiation. Typically both parties have the ability to walk away from a negotiation. Few are life and death situations. If one side is pressed to far and decides ‘enough is enough’ he may say something like, ‘This is my last and final offer.’ The other side then must consider if the person is serious and the offer should be considered or if the person is angry and bluffing. If the latter, should he call the other’s bluff?

When considering such a situation take into account the duress the other person is under. If you sense there is a lot of pressure, then you may have pushed him to the brink and he does not have the ability to negotiate further. This would be a bad bluff to call.

As an aside, if you are the one throwing out such a bluff and it is called, if your bluff is called and you back down you will lose a lot of credibility. If you are under pressure to reach an accord, a bluff is ill advised. If the other party can’t accept your offer they may simply walk away without rejecting or countering. Now you don’t even have the chance to back down. 

Duress can have the following impact on a negotiation: 

-It may result in irrational behavior or responses from one of the parties.

-It may block open communications. 

-It may serve to disguise the real issues that need to be addressed. 

-It may make one party vulnerable to power tactics. 

-It may result in an agreement destined to eventually be broken by the party agreeing to the terms under duress. 

Identify duress in a negotiation and understand how it impacts achieving your goal. There is nothing wrong in using another’s duress to gain concessions so long as the ultimate agreement is binding and will stand the test of time. Otherwise you are wasting time that could be better spent elsewhere. 

In Seven Secrets to WINNING Without Losing a Friend, I discuss the challenges pressure and duress can impose on clear communications.

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