How Aggressive Is Too Aggressive When You’re Negotiating?

I was at a social event where aggressiveness in deal negotiations was discussed. The main questions being asked were how aggressive should a party be in negotiations and when have they taken it too far.

This gathering was attended by founders (early-stage and mature), VC investors, people in the start-up ecosystem, people not involved in start-ups, and a few non-start-up lawyers. The perspectives were diverse, which made for an interesting conversation.

After a while, people mostly ended up in one of two camps:

  • There’s a point in deal negotiations where you can be too aggressive and jeopardize the long-term viability of a deal. Negotiate to that point but don’t take it further (even if you have the leverage to do so), because it will have negative consequences down the road.
  • Deal negotiating is an example of what has applied to humans for a long time: survival of the fittest. You must fiercely negotiate for your best interest in any deal. Not doing so leaves an opening for others to take advantage of you. Negotiate like your survival depends on it.

The conversation was much more involved than that, but I’ve tried to simplify it. I really enjoyed hearing the different perspectives. At the end of the conversation, most agreed that how people thought about aggressiveness was influenced by their upbringing and professional experiences.

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to think about aggressiveness. I’ve come to believe that the answer to how aggressive one should be in negotiations is it depends. It depends on the dynamics at the time, on what you’re negotiating, on what leverage you have, and on the parties you’re negotiating with.

One thing holds true in all negotiations. Be mindful of this when deciding how aggressive to be: no one will look out for your interest more than you will. If you don’t look out for yourself, don’t expect the other party to do so.