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Fight or Flight?

Published: May 17 , 2021
Author: Brian Buck

“I never saw it coming.” That’s what I remember thinking when it was all said and done. I remember having a lively debate about the topic. Then I remember frustration and, before I knew it, it was over. My client had just asked me to do them a “favor.” Only it wasn’t a favor — it was a significant scope change. I put up a rigorous argument for why they couldn’t change the scope, but as they got more frustrated with me for not simply acquiescing, they finally said, “I’m the client — do it.” That’s when I realized I’d made a terrible mistake, but I was going to be ready for it next time.

Conflicts create a fight-or-flight response — an automatic physical and psychological reaction to a perceived threat. This perceived threat activates the sympathetic nervous system and triggers a response that either propels us into a fight or recoils us into cover. It’s an evolutionary adaptation of survival skills in both life and business.

When my client called to break their promise to me (i.e., our contract), I instinctively went into fight mode. Defending my position, I attempted to use all of my persuasive faculties to convince them that their idea was bad. I even tried to impose the strength of our contract to bend them to my will. All of my instinctual efforts to fight through the conflict only turned up the heat on an argument that I eventually lost at the expense of my relationship with the client.

When we’re faced with a fight-or-flight choice, our psychological reactions include a quickening of thought and sharpening of focus on either threatening targets or escape routes. On that day, I was focused on fighting the threat, because the only other option I could see was giving in. I knew if I were to give in, I would establish a precedent that I couldn’t change. So, fight it was . . . or so I thought. What I failed to see is that there’s another route between fight and flight. It’s called negotiate.

Since I saw no other option, I couldn’t see that my fight was futile, that no amount of persuasion or fist-pounding was going to resolve the conflict. It also meant there was no way I could see that negotiation offered an exit from the conflict. Therein lies the problem for most: We fail to recognize when it’s time to negotiate.

Most think about negotiating only when it comes to contracts or dealmaking. But we’re constantly engaged in negotiable conflicts. There are so many micro-negotiations that go on throughout our day, from “can I get some time on your calendar?” to “what’s for dinner?” 

I’m not suggesting that you try to negotiate everything. You’ll lose a lot of friends if you do! However, if you begin to recognize situations that warrant consideration of negotiation, then you’ll find yourself fighting less or giving in less. Here are the most common scenarios that you should be on the lookout for:

  • When someone wants you to do something different from what you’ve already agreed to. The reason for the change is irrelevant, but a desired change to a — verbal, written, or understood — agreement does create an opportunity to negotiate and alter other terms of the agreement. After all, if they want to change the agreement, why can’t you change it too?
  • When someone wants something from you. Most of us want to be viewed as helpful or magnanimous, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a martyr regarding every request that comes your way. If they want something from you, why can’t you ask for something from them?
  • When someone causes a grievance. Most of the time, if someone has a grievance, they complain about it . . . and then they complain even more when the restitution is not what they want. Instead of complaining, negotiate. Tell them what you need to make the grievance go away. If they want to make it right, then why not tell them how they can do that?

Like I said, I wouldn’t try to negotiate everything. However, you also don’t have to fight or run away from every conflict. There’s another option. Recognize opportunities for negotiation, and you’ll open the door to an entirely new realm of possibilities.



We Can Help You Recognize Opportunities for Negotiation.

When faced with conflict, our natural fight-or-flight response kicks in. But there’s frequently a better solution — negotiation, which offers us an entirely new realm of possibilities (minus fighting or giving in). How do you recognize opportunities for negotiation? We can help! Drawing on 45 years of real-world negotiating experience, we’ll assist you with getting better deals, saving time, and creating value for all involved — not to mention preserving and even strengthening relationships. Let us partner you with one of our advisers, ensuring that you’ve got the broadest view of your deal.


Talk to one of our experts today.


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About the author:

Brian Buck
Sure, we could whip up a snappy bio about Brian’s experience as an entrepreneur, business owner, and Fortune 500 executive. While we’re at it, we could go on for an afternoon about his 20 years in marketing and advertising, developing brilliant consumer-engagement strategies for the likes of Google, Amazon, Samsung, Virgin Mobile, Microsoft, and Sony. But knowing Brian, he’d rather we not. Instead, he’d likely ask us to focus on something else — namely, other people ...

Read more about Brian Buck

More posts by Brian Buck

Latest Blog:

Negotiating Anxiety Is Real!

The pit in your stomach . . . constant worrying . . . lack of sleep, trouble concentrating, procrastinating, and/or needing unusual amounts of reassurance. These are all signs of anxiety — and anxiety is something that nearly 1 in 4 people report feeling when they know they have to negotiate. My suspicion is that most people don’t recognize anxiety when they feel it and that negotiation anxiety is a bigger issue than people think, particularly when 51% of them report a lack of confidence in their negotiation skills.

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