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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Dealing with difficult people— even when you don’t want to

PON Staff   •  01/14/2015   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

In your negotiations, have you ever faced a truly difficult negotiator—someone whose behavior seems designed to provoke, thwart, and annoy you beyond all measure?

For some Western leaders these days, the negotiator who best fits that description might be Russian president Vladimir Putin. Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, the Russian leader has seemed … Read More 

The battle for the LA Clippers

PON Staff   •  10/15/2014   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

On April 29, the National Basketball Association (NBA) banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league for life and fined him $2.5 million in reaction to racist remarks he made during a phone call, which were made public. The NBA’s announcement, as reported by Scott Cacciola in the New York Times, set off … Read More 

Negotiating with the enemy

PON Staff   •  09/15/2014   •  Filed in Dealing with Difficult People

On May 31, the White House made the surprise announcement that the Taliban had released Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the sole American prisoner of war in the 13-year Afghan conflict, in exchange for five Taliban detainees who had been held for years at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The intricate, top-secret negotiations behind Bergdahl’s release unfolded over the … Read More 

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