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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How to Deal with Difficult People

Katie Shonk   •  06/25/2018   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

how to deal with difficult people

We’ve all met them: people who prefer competition over collaboration, stonewalling over problem solving, tough talk over active listening. Think of the boss who refuses to allow you time off to help an ailing relative, or the potential customer armed with a “nonnegotiable” proposal.

When considering how to deal with difficult people, we tend to write … Read More 

Negotiation in the News: Dealing with an unpredictable counterpart

PON Staff   •  06/17/2016   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

Many negotiators swear by the element of surprise. When the New York Times asked Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump about China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea, for example, he responded, “I don’t want to say what I would do because . . . we need unpredictability.” He continued, “I wouldn’t want them to … Read More 

Building Momentum Through Goodwill Gestures

PON Staff   •  10/07/2015   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

Sometimes disputes are left to fester for years, even decades, until parties decide there is something to be gained from reaching agreement. The nations of Bangladesh and India recently seized on an opportunity to push the “restart” button on their bumpy relationship by resolving one such ongoing dispute.
Living in no man’s land
Until recently, on each … Read More 

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