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.

Dealing with challenging negotiators

PON Staff   •  09/30/2020   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

We often enter negotiations with a new counterpart with excitement. Unfortunately, our high expectations are sometimes dashed when our new negotiating partner exhibits behavior that’s puzzling, upsetting, or downright bizarre. A trio of new articles by negotiation scholars offers advice that can help us respond effectively to bargaining partners who threaten to throw us off … Read More 

Coping with Difficult Coworkers

Katie Shonk   •  09/28/2020   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

At one time or another, most of us have found ourselves coping with difficult coworkers. We might experience flare-ups over workload, funding, or personality issues, to name just a few sources of workplace conflict. The experience of coping with difficult coworkers can be extremely stressful. The following conflict negotiation skills can help you address this … Read More 

Dealing with Difficult Clients: Price Negotiations

Katie Shonk   •  08/10/2020   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

When dealing with difficult clients, we sometimes can trace our struggles to the early stages of our interactions—including our price negotiations. If initial price negotiations are contentious and frustrating for the client, their unhappiness is likely to leave you handling difficult situations and managing difficult people in your ongoing business relationship. In this post, we … Read More 

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