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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Macron tries to strong-arm a peace deal

PON Staff   •  11/30/2019   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

If you’ve ever tried to play peacemaker between sworn enemies and failed, you might sympathize with the difficulties French president Emmanuel Macron had trying to engineer a face-to-face meeting between U.S. president Donald Trump and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York City this past September.

After Trump pulled … Read More 

Successes & Messes: Negotiating in reverse

PON Staff   •  10/31/2019   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

To get what we want, we sometimes ask more powerful parties to intervene on our behalf. But what happens if they go off course? That’s the predicament automakers in the U.S. market find themselves in after asking the Trump administration to loosen fuel-economy standards for their vehicles.
Pedal to the metal
When Donald Trump became president in 2017, … Read More 

Negotiation research you can use: When all we can see is red

PON Staff   •  02/28/2019   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

The ability to take another person’s perspective is a valuable negotiation skill. Perspective taking enhances the discovery of joint gains in negotiation, makes groups more effective, reduces stereotypical thinking, and aids in conflict resolution, to name just a few benefits.

Some people are naturally better perspective takers than others, but all of us have the capacity to pay closer attention … Read More 

Thoughts from Harvard Business School Faculty Member James Sebenius: A Negotiated Solution to the Government Shutdown

PON Staff   •  01/14/2019   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

In a recent article for The Hill, James Sebenius, Vice Chair for Practice-Focused Research and member of the PON Executive Committee, writes about a negotiated solution to the government shutdown.
He writes:
“Normal hard bargaining would transform the wall into some kind of physical barrier to be erected in key places; a compromise on money and other border security … Read More 

How to Handle Difficult People—Including Your Rivals

PON Staff   •  12/31/2018   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

difficult people

One of the most common questions raised by businesspeople is how to handle difficult people. This question contains a hidden assumption: Faced with abrasive, competitive, and even unethical behavior, we view ourselves as being in the right and the other party as being wholly wrong.

Yet it’s important to consider that, in our real-life conflict scenarios, … Read More 

Negotiation in the news: How Jeff Flake went from “Yes” to “Maybe not” (and back to “Yes”)

PON Staff   •  11/30/2018   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

On the morning of September 28, Republican senator Jeff Flake of Arizona announced he would vote in favor of U.S. Court of Appeals judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. A week later, on October 6, Flake did just that. But in between those two events, the intervention of two protestors and a Democratic … Read More 

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