Dealing with Difficult People

Dealing with difficult people involves negotiating with counterparts you mistrust, dislike, or even think are “evil.” Nonetheless, a skilled negotiator knows where to find and create value in any negotiation. When dealing with difficult people, integrative bargaining strategies, including knowledge of your BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) and ZOPA (zone of possible agreement), will help you overcome any perceived differences between yourself and your counterpart so you can succeed in dealing with difficult people in your next turn at the bargaining table, no matter of who or what your counterpart may be.

William Ury, author of Getting Past No: Negotiating with Difficult People, describes his five-step strategy for dealing with hard bargainers and difficult people. He calls his method “breakthrough negotiation,” a way to “change the game from face-to-face confrontation into side-by-side problem-solving.” These steps are:

  1. Don’t react: Go to the balcony – or anywhere you can go to step back from the brink.
  2. Disarm them by stepping to their side. One of the most powerful steps to take—and one of the most difficult—is to try to understand the other person’s point of view. Ask questions and show genuine curiosity.
  3. Change the game: Don’t reject—reframe. Instead of locking into a battle of will or fixed positions, consider putting a new frame on the negotiation.
  4. Make it easy to say yes. Look for ways to help your opponent save face and feel that he’s getting his way, at least in some matters.
  5. Make it hard to say no. Use your power and influence to help educate your opponent about the situation.

Other strategies for handling hard bargainers or unpleasant people include:

  • Sandwiching the “no” between two “yeses” to express your difference of opinion in a more positive light
  • Building a golden bridge to help your opponent view the outcome as a partial victory
  • Listening actively to disarm your opponent by asking open-ended questions

Articles explore other strategies such as saying “no” firmly, clearly, and in a way that respects your opponent’s position; active listening and asking open-ended questions; and allowing your opponent at least a partial victory to save face. Concepts covered also include how power affects negotiators, building trust, preparing for interactions with difficult people, and dealing with threats.

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Dear Negotiation Coach: Building Trust with Reluctant Counterparts

PON Staff   •  06/08/2021   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

Building trust

Tetsushi Okumura is a professor at the Tokyo University of Science and has been a visiting scholar at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. His research articles have appeared in leading management and psychology journals, and he has translated into Japanese many popular books on negotiation. Recently, Okumura has been interviewing Japanese government negotiators to … Read More 

How to Handle Difficult Customers

Katie Shonk   •  05/04/2021   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

difficult customers

Every salesperson has his or her war stories: tales of difficult customers who made extreme demands and threats, tried to take advantage, or were extremely rude. Dealing with difficult customers is inevitable in the sales world, and the question of how to handle difficult customers looms large. The following three guidelines can help you stay … Read More 

Negotiating with the Enemy

PON Staff   •  04/15/2021   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

negotiating with the enemy

Should negotiating with the enemy always be off the table? The 2014 Bergdahl exchange offers insights for negotiators who are deciding whether to do business with a known enemy.

On May 31, 2014 the White House made the surprise announcement that the Taliban had released Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the sole American prisoner of war in the … Read More 

Negotiation Tactics for Bargaining with Difficult People: The Comcast Merger

Katie Shonk   •  04/15/2021   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

negotiation tactics

If a competitive bargaining session shifts in a counterpart’s direction, your anger could send the wrong signals to your negotiation counterpart. In this instance, strong emotions portray desperation rather than strength. Here are some bargaining and negotiation tactics for dealing with difficult situations in relationships. … Read More 

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