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Mad Skills

Rage can be a powerful negotiating tool, but only if you practice a little anger management first.

In ordinary life, we classify anger as an emotion--a catalytic and cathartic one that provokes comment, discussion and often backlash. At the bargaining table, however, anger is better viewed as nothing more than a tactic. Perhaps this is not a popular point of view among negotiation pedagogues (at least, not publicly). But master deal-makers know that anger is just another weapon in their well-appointed arsenals that, like any other, can be used and abused.

Put aside for the moment any aspirations toward gentility, universal win-win outcomes and the brotherhood of man. Anger is powerful. When we stonewall our opponents, it strengthens our resolve. Anger is energizing. When we feel strongly about a point, it adds fire to our arguments. Anger is just. When we've been wronged, it cloaks our indignation in righteousness.

But the thick-skinned realist takes this idea a few steps further. Why engage an opponent in a protracted argument? Just bark. They'll back down. It's efficient, economical and, if you're ego-tripping, a delightful sensation. Want to subvert an opponent? Make him lose his cool while you keep yours; the first one to scream loses. In fact, some deal-makers build a career around being mad-the professional rage-aholic. Everyone around them tiptoes on eggshells; no one dares to ask for a thing-and that's exactly the way they like it.

But anger, poorly employed, can also be counterproductive, even for the opt-in Machiavellian. You just never know how the other side will react; some people can handle it, and some can't. Certainly, if your opponent is incensed, he is not going to be easy to work with when trying to reach an agreement. Anger can easily degenerate into incivility and personal insults-a lose-lose outcome. Your fury may be misguided, misdirected or mistaken. If you're dealing with a passive-aggressive type (and who hasn't?), rage will go underground and sabotage you later in a thousand petty ways. And if your opponent likes to carry a grudge, pray that you never run into him again, especially in the dark alleys of deal-making.

To use anger in negotiation wisely, at the right time, with the right tone and in the right amount, is an art. Here's my best advice: From time to time, it's OK to dish it out, but do so only after you think about it. Try not to use it too frequently, or you will dilute its power. If you're the type who automatically fights anger with anger, get over it. More often than not, you are contributing to a downward spiral; even if your opponent doesn't know any better, you should.

Above all, learn to manage your anger. Venting may feel great in the moment, but you'll never go the distance in business, or in life, if anger is your master.


A speaker and attorney in Los Angeles, Marc Diener (diener@pacbell.net) is the author of Deal Power.

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This article was originally published in the April 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Mad Skills.

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