Negotiation Tip #2: When Should You 'Go Nuclear' and Detonate the Nuclear Option?

Fatimah Gilliam Founder, and CEO The Azara Group

October 31, 2017

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This is the second article in a three-part series providing negotiation tips and advice—encouraging professional and business success. The guidance in this series promotes your ability to skillfully get what you want, negotiate, influence, and navigate difficult conversations.

At some point in every negotiation—especially when things become tense or you are dealing with people who are pricklier than a porcupine—you are faced with the decision of whether you should alter your negotiation style. Is it time to reach into your ugly bag, inflict some pain on the other side's pressure points, and "go nuclear" to try to end their tomfoolery?

While you may have some lofty fantasy that negotiations will play in your favor like you are "going to the mattresses" in The Godfather, proceed with caution! The people with whom you are negotiating may not line up to bow and kiss your ring. Instead, they may elect to "take no prisoners" and deploy countervailing measures, such that you become the real collateral damage. That being said, there may be times when deploying "the nuclear option" is your best option.

There's No Turning Back

"Going nuclear" may mean different things to different people. In many instances, it involves changing your posturing to a more hostile and aggressive tone. This tone could involve indirectly or overtly threatening things like litigation or crushing someone's business, or engaging in strategic plays that put external pressure on the parties, their business, or their affiliates. This change mainly involves playing on people's fears with the pressure of losing something they value—like money, business, or key relationships.

When you decide to "go nuclear," you have to understand that there may be no turning back. It is difficult to rewind things once you begin shifting course. Becoming nastier often invites an equal or higher level of nastiness and threatening counter-moves. Also, if you threaten to turn up the heat, then prepare to back this up with real action. If you make empty threats, you could lose your credibility, and you could relinquish power, leverage, and respect.

Be Ready to Walk Away

You should only pursue this course when you are also ready to walk away from what you want. The result could mean leaving everything on the table. If what they have agreed to up to that point is valuable enough, then consider if you are truly ready to turn that down.

If you are comfortable losing everything, then it's acceptable to consider "going nuclear" as one of your strategic options.

Ask If "Dropping the Mic" Can Help You Reach Your Goal or Shoot You in the Foot?

Before dropping the bomb, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Are your emotions getting the best of you?

  • Are your opponents pushing your buttons, so you react with hostility?

  • Do your opponents suspect you have no backbone?

  • Is this move going to help bring you closer to what you want?

  • Have you considered the big picture?

  • Is this move in alignment with your core priorities?

  • Do you have the stomach to ride out the aftermath?

  • Does the other side need to see you flex to know you are not a doormat?

  • Will this move burn bridges and test relationships?

  • Are you being petty?

  • Evaluate where "going nuclear" will leave you after asking yourself these questions.

    Do You Care About the Relationship?

    No matter how much you may want to "stick it" to the other side, remember that no negotiation takes place in a bubble. Consider the long-term repercussions on your relationships with the parties, colleagues, and business partners. Even if you determine that in this particular instance you either do not care to continue a relationship with the parties and couldn't care less about them, this does not mean that your reputation or business will not suffer.

    If this move negatively impacts yours or your company's brand, you may have to buck up and continue to play nice in the sandbox. Under no circumstances should you ruin your reputation or cut off other business opportunities. If part of your goal is for people to know you are not a pushover, then make sure you are never disrespectful, cruel, or evil when "going nuclear." It's one thing to be firm and inflict some amount of pressure or pain; it's a different thing to be a jerk. Avoid being malicious and despicable when pressing that red button that unleashes stress on people.

    Maybe It's Time to Just Go for It

    If you decide the time is ripe to give your opponent a taste of bitter medicine, fight with as much integrity as possible. Only inflict the minimum amount of pressure needed to achieve your desired result. If you can crush your opponent, consider stopping short of obliterating them so they can retain some pride, and you can maintain your self-respect.

    Final Thoughts

    Whatever you decide to do, the only thing you can control in any negotiation is yourself, how you behave, and what actions you pursue. You can turn up the heat, but you may not get what you want in the end. People push our buttons all the time. Sometimes they intentionally want to illicit this precise response from you in a Machiavellian attempt to play on your emotions. It could be that they want you to become hostile or ramp up the pressure on them.

    Just remember—as you try to show you are strong, foolishness is right next door to strength. When you decide that you prefer to go down with a fight and elect to go out with a potential bang instead of a whisper, you may end up doing just that—going out!

    Choose your strategy wisely. If you have evaluated the consequences, are comfortable with the downside, and hope it will shift things in your favor—then and only then should you drop that bomb and see if the radiation drifts in your direction too. When the path of destruction heads your way, have a plan ready and some ointment to ease the sting.

    For priority-setting advice, check out the first article in this series.

    For advice on compromising, check out the third article in this series.

    The Azara Group (TAG) is a consulting firm that promotes the development of leaders in an increasingly competitive and diverse marketplace—providing strategy consulting services and leadership training services to advance professional and life success. TAG leverages expertise in career strategy, diversity, negotiation skills, and business acumen to provide strategic advice and consulting services to help people and organizations get what they want, achieve their goals, and advance their business and career objectives. TAG also helps companies better attract, retain, and promote diverse talent, and develop robust diversity platforms and strategies to create a more inclusive workplace.

    The Azara Group welcomes your direct comments and feedback. We do not post comments on our site at this time, but we value hearing from our readers. We invite you to share your thoughts with us. You can contact us directly at [email protected].

    Originally published on The Azara Group.

    Click here to read our first article on the importance of focusing on key priorities and here to read our third article on the importance of compromise and the "art of no deal."

    Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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