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.
Good article and suggestions. What I see missing is “bridging the gap” mindset. In order to bridge a gap, you have to see where you are standing and how far you are from the other end. You cannot close in if you are only looking outward at other person. You have to “look inward,” take stock of yourself and your “friend, not foe” across the table, and devise a strategy. The approach in the article takes a “judgmental” approach. It is like communicating with another culture – understand your value system and the other’s – just looking across makes you see only the tip of the “iceberg,” coming to incorrect conclusions.
I found this as no strategy. Clinton from most of her international policies and negotiations seem to always go with preconceived notions and seem to want to win or nothing. I would rather use Nelson Mandela in this context who, instead of responding to seemingly bored and dismissive difficult people, opted for non forceful consistent strategies . I don’t believe in walking away if the life of the organization depends on that negotiation. You don’t also build enmity between your opponent before going for negotiation. Hilary Clinton did all she could to ensure Putin did not come into Power when he wanted to return to power. When he eventually got into power, she went for negotiation. I don’t think negotiation works like that.