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: The Case for Lowering Your Salary Expectations

PON Staff   •  12/14/2021   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

salary expectations

We received a question regarding salary expectations and the potential problems with lowering those expectations. Francesca Gino, Tandon Family Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and author of Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013) shared an answer that’s applicable not … Read More 

How to Have Difficult Conversations During the Holidays and Beyond

Katie Shonk   •  11/29/2021   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

how to have difficult conversations

In the United States and many other places, people seem more divided than ever before. Disagreement on political issues is common, but often we can’t even seem to agree on basic facts. As families come together during the winter holidays or simply post-quarantine, many wonder how to have difficult conversations regarding hot-button issues while preserving … Read More 

M&A Negotiation Strategy: Dealing with an Unpredictable Counterpart

PON Staff   •  10/18/2021   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

M&A Negotiation Strategy

In the high-stakes world of mergers and acquisitions (M&As), negotiation missteps can amplify into disasters, and lucky breaks into triumphs. As a result, there is much that business negotiators can learn from stories of M&A negotiation strategy in the news. To take one case study, the 2015-2016 bidding war between hotel chain Marriott International and … Read More 

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 

Bargaining in Bad Faith: Dealing with “False Negotiators”

PON Staff   •  12/31/2020   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

bargaining in bad faith

We tend to forget—at our peril—that not everyone at the bargaining table wants to close a deal and may be bargaining in bad faith.
Consider the following negotiations:

A competitor approaches you about a potential partnership. After a series of meetings that seemed promising, however, your counterpart stops returning your calls. You are left with the … Read More 

How to Deal with Difficult Customers

Katie Shonk   •  12/31/2020   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

how to deal with difficult customers

To hear some salespeople and service representatives tell it, difficult behavior from customers is at an all-time high. Stories of demanding customers proliferate in the press and on social media, while customers likewise complain that their needs increasingly are not being met by companies focused on the bottom line. … Read More 

Dealing with Difficult Employees

Katie Shonk   •  12/28/2020   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

Dealing with Difficult Employees

When dealing with difficult employees, leaders often feel overwhelmed and frustrated by a task that can seem like a distraction from broader organizational goals. But managing personnel issues, including conflict among employees, is a pivotal leadership task—and one that can be improved with knowledge and practice. The following solutions for dealing with difficult employees will … Read More 

Negotiating with Difficult Personalities and “Dark” Personality Traits

PON Staff   •  12/10/2020   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

Negotiating with Difficult Personalities

Have you ever found yourself negotiating with difficult personalities, or negotiating with someone who seemed entirely ruthless and lacking in empathy? From time to time, we may end up in the deeply unsettling position of negotiating with someone who appears to have no concern for us or our outcomes.

People who are antisocial, lack empathy, and … Read More 

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