Dealing with Difficult People—Such As Putin?

By on / BATNA

In negotiation, we are often confronted with the task of dealing with difficult people—those who seem to prefer to set up roadblocks rather than break down walls, or who choose to take hardline stances rather than seeking common ground.

How can you deal with such difficult people?

One tactic you might consider is avoiding the conversation altogether by finding more collaborative negotiating partners, but this is not always an option.

When avoidance is impossible, strengthening your best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) can help give you the confidence you need to deal with obstinacy among negotiating partners.

If you have a strong BATNA before beginning negotiations at the bargaining table, you will have the confidence to demonstrate the positives of collaboration and you can more effectively head off opposition by knowing what direction you will take should talks fail. Finally, you can express your disapproval of your counterpart’s obstinate nature in an effort to coerce her into more productive negotiations.

The European Union took this latter approach with Russian president Vladimir Putin during an E.U.-Russia summit in late January. Putin had fallen into disfavor with the European Union for the Kremlin’s policy toward Ukraine, reports the New York Times. In November, Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych canceled a broad trade and political agreement negotiated with the European Union. The about face came in the wake of pressure from the Kremlin and the promise of a $15 billion loan and lower gas prices to Ukraine. Mass protests followed Yanukovych’s decision in Ukraine, leading to a tense standoff with the government.

Russia and Europe each blamed the other for interfering in Ukraine’s affairs. The Kremlin issued a report alleging human rights abuses in the European Union and criticized the attitudes of European governments toward homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, E.U. officials have visited Kiev, Ukraine, to meet with government and opposition leaders.

Putin’s scheduled visit to Brussels was scaled back from two days to just three hours, and he was not offered the customary dinner typically offered to visiting heads of state. But the two sides did reportedly discuss the conflict in Ukraine, among other matters.

For business negotiators, the frosty relations between the two parties illustrates the challenges of dealing with difficult and powerful partners. The European Union may have been able to withhold dinner from Putin, but it recognizes the value of keeping the Kremlin at the table.

Discover step-by-step techniques for avoiding common business negotiation pitfalls when you download a FREE copy of our BATNA Basics: Boost Your Power at the Bargaining Table special report from Harvard Law School.

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