How can you get through to people who seem uninterested in finding common ground? How can you deal in negotiation with seemingly irrational negotiators who use insults, threats, and other hardball tactics to try to get their way?
“A tough guy with a thin skin”: That’s how former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton summed up Vladimir Putin during a speech in Portland, Oregon, in April 2014.
“He is always looking for advantage,” she continued. “So he will try to put you ill at ease. He will even throw an insult your way. He will look bored and dismissive.” Saying she had a lot of experience dealing with people who acted like Putin, Clinton concluded, “Go back to elementary school. I’ve seen all of that.”
Clinton’s dismissive attitude conveys the exasperation and sense of annoyance that many of us have felt when dealing with difficult people in negotiation.
In his book Good for You, Great for Me: Finding the Trading Zone and Winning at Win-Win Negotiation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Lawrence Susskind offers the following steps for coping with difficult counterparts who seem irrational at the bargaining table:
- Don’t respond to irrational behavior in kind, lest you make a bad situation even worse.
- Don’t make unilateral concessions in an effort to win over the other party. Doing so will only encourage them to continue their bad behavior.
- Don’t lose your cool out of frustration. Instead, take a break before you lose your temper.
- Consider bringing others from your organization to the table, and encourage your counterpart to bring colleagues with him or her as well.
- Put forth proposals that meet your interests very well and that seem to meet your counterpart’s interests at least reasonably well.
- Prepare for each interaction carefully. Before sitting down to negotiate, talk with others in your organization and rehearse as often as possible.
- After each meeting, summarize what transpired in writing and distribute copies to everyone involved. This will put your counterpart on notice that you are aware of his game.
- If your counterpart refuses to respond to a set of reasonable proposals by a reasonable deadline, understand that it may be time to walk away and pursue other alternatives—then do it.
Related Mediation Article: Real-Life Examples of Mediation: How Mediation Works
Originally published May 2014.