Dealing with Difficult People

Claim your free copy from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

How to Deal with the Devil and Live to Tell About It

Dear Business Professional,

Gretchen’s story says a lot about how to handle the difficult people in your life. Here’s how she tells it:

I pride myself on being a collaborative, easygoing person. I’ve experienced a few serious conflicts in my life, but by using my strong communication skills, I’ve been able to resolve most situations amicably.

At my asset management firm, I was recently promoted to Operations Manager and now report directly to John, the Chief Financial Officer. To be frank, I’ve never met a more unlikeable person in my life!

To say he is difficult is an understatement. When it comes to company-wide issues, he is manipulative, competitive, stonewalls instead of trying to solve problems, and refuses to listen. From hiring decisions to materials management, there’s no area that’s free from his divisive opinions.

Because he’s my boss, I can’t just write him off. Not only is he in a position of power and influence in my company, he is well known throughout the financial industry.

With a big staffing decision on the horizon, I knew I had to be ready for when John inevitably deep-sixed the candidate I selected. So I talked to a colleague who always seems to have the right words to say, and she suggested a free report called Dealing with Difficult People written by the folks at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

While reading Dealing with Difficult People, I realized that most of our problems stemmed from John’s hard-bargaining, “my-way-or-the-highway” approach. The report detailed the three types of hard bargainers:

1. The accidental hard bargainer: A person who makes a mistaken snap judgment.

2. The reluctant hard bargainer: A person whose tough stance is based on constraints that are shrouded in mystery.

3. The intentional hard bargainer: A person who deliberately uses anger and manipulation to get what he wants.

When I read about “intentional hard bargainers” a light bulb went off in my brain. That was John.

But then I thought: What can I do about it?

Dealing with Difficult People suggested several concrete ways to deal with challenging people and have difficult conversations.

– Prepare in advance for challenging conversations or negotiations

– Make sure my boss knowns I can only be pushed so far – by being less flexible and easy-going, I demonstrate strength and conviction despite the difficult conversation

– Consult other members of my organization and copy colleagues on emails so he knows other people are monitoring his statements and actions

– Change the game – instead of head-to-head confrontation, I should instead position challenging situations as joint problems that we can solve together

– Say “no” firmly, clearly, and in a way that respects his position as my boss

– Listen actively by asking open-ended questions and then repeat his answers back to him so that he knows I understand what he said

– Let him save face and view the outcome as at least a partial victory

But one of the most important things I came to realize was that I don’t have to like him to negotiate effectively and, ultimately, get the results I want.

The next day, when John started arguing with me about my new hire recommendation, I immediately put my techniques for dealing with difficult people into action.

I clearly explained my rationale for the new hire and positioned the individual as the best option for our company. I actively listened to John’s opinions and questions so he felt heard.

By the end of the conversation, he begrudgingly agreed to the hire. I could barely contain my joy.

In the days that followed, I began to make more headway with John. Training difficult people is hard work but by the end of the year, I slowly but surely earned his respect.

John can still be confrontational on occasion, but now I have the strategies I need to deal with people like him.

Does Gretchen’s story sound familiar? At the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, we make it our mission to help people deal with hard bargainers in their lives.

To help you handle difficult people, our free special report Dealing with Difficult People is packed full of concrete tips and strategies. Discover how to collaborate, negotiate, and bargain with even the most combative opponents.

“No” is Just the Beginning

What do you do when someone tells you “no”? For many of us, we may take them at their word and back slowly away. But for those of us who are skilled in training difficult people, “no” is just the beginning of the negotiation.

In Dealing with Difficult People, you’ll learn how to get past “no” with advice from experts like William Ury, author of Getting Past No: Negotiating with Difficult People.

In this free special report, Ury shares five critical strategies for dealing with challenging people whether they’re stubborn, hostile, greedy, or downright dishonest:

1. Don’t react. When someone is difficult, your natural reaction might be to get angry – or to give in. Instead, step back from the difficult conversation, look objectively on the dispute, and plan your resume.

2. Disarm them by stepping to their side. Another technique for dealing with difficult people – and one of the most challenging – is to try to understand the other person’s point of view.

3. Change the game. You don’t have to play along with a difficult person’s game. Instead of locking into a battle of will, consider putting a new frame on the challenging conversation.

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. If he understands the consequences and your alternatives, he may be open to reason.

Combat Difficult People with Multifaceted Strategies

While it may seem hard to believe, you can bring a negotiation back from the brink of failure. You just need the right strategies.

In Dealing with Difficult People, you’ll find several techniques for having challenging negotiation conversations, including:

Set standards of behavior: Before you have a difficult conversation, discuss acceptable norms of behavior like respectful listening.

Avoid dismissive labels: Even if you’re certain someone’s behavior is foolish or destructive, understand that he is acting out of very real concerns and find out what they are.

Take the pressure off: Time pressure can cause negotiators to say “no” to a deal when it would be better to say “yes.” So call for a break to help cooler heads prevail.

Probe the other side’s point of view: Figure out what your counterpart’s motives are by asking extensive questions. It may lead to clues about why this is such a challenging conversation.

Put forth multiple proposals: By developing several ideas that meet your interests and also address the other side’s needs, you convey the message that you’re listening.

Be ready to walk: Threats may be necessary when you’re dealing with difficult people. However, you must be prepared to follow through.

Share your feelings: By articulating your frustrations, you help encourage the other party to understand your perspective and foster collaboration.

Weigh the benefits of concession: Offering a concession can be a dangerous strategy, as it may encourage someone to push for more, but it may be your best option when dealing with difficult people.

Build a coalition: Make a list of those who have an interest in the deal, consider how they might influence the hard bargainer, and then present your case.

Accept “no” for an answer: If you’ve exhausted all of your strategies and you still can’t get to “yes,” then it’s time to move on.

Turn Your Devils Into Angels

Whether you’re dealing with an angry public or having a difficult conversation with your employee, you can ease tensions, solve problems, and build relationships with the strategies you find in Dealing with Difficult People.

If you want to learn how to:

– Deal with difficult people who won’t give you what you want

– Hold your ground in trying situations

– Negotiate effectively in the face of adversity

– Solve disagreements faster and easier than ever before

Then immediately download Dealing with Difficult People. Curated from several articles, this free report is exactly what you need to build consensus where there was conflict. Turn “no” into “yes.” And get what you want time and time again – in business and in life.

I urge you to download your complimentary copy of Dealing with Difficult People, right now. Simply click the button below.

The next time you’re up against a hard bargainer, I know you’ll be glad you did.


Gail Odeneal

Director of Marketing

Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School

P.S. With the right tools, you can handle even the most challenging conversations. So download this complimentary report now to start dealing with difficult people more effectively than ever before.


5 Responses to “Dealing with Difficult People”

  • Dominic C.

    Can we do the program online. This will give us the benefit of the doubt for the risks of quarantine and immigration procedures. Moreover, the Trump administration is making it difficult for foreign nationals for travelling to the US. In addition, PON can reach out more people as well.

  • L, Therese W.

    Thank you ever so much for the 15 Free Reports! Your generosity is sooo appreciated. L>T> White

  • Thank you for publishing this wonderful article. I am negotiating a difficult legal deal with two classmates that have a reputation for hard balling. These tips will definitely come in handy.

  • Behrouz H.

    I’d like to know about Talent Management though I think its a strategy in case of dealing with Difficult People.


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