Discover how to collaborate, negotiate, and bargain with even the most combative opponents with, Dealing with Difficult People, a FREE special report from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


dealing with difficult people

What is Dealing with Difficult People in Negotiation?

Dealing with difficult people involves negotiating with counterparts that you mistrust, dislike, or even think are “evil.” Nonetheless, a skilled negotiator knows where to find and create value in any negotiation.

One of the most common issues raised in negotiation, whether in high-level talks or in daily life, is around dealing with difficult people. This perception, however, contains a hidden assumption: Faced with abrasive, competitive, and even unethical behavior, we view ourselves as being in the right and the other party as being wholly wrong.

Similarly, when we are dealing with difficult people, we tend to write them off as irrational and avoid difficult conversations with them. Yet few people are truly irrational. Rather, they likely have motivations that we have trouble identifying. When confronted with difficult people (and those who just seem difficult), spend some time exploring the possible motivations behind their obstinance.

It would be unwise, however, to assume that we won’t ever come across intentionally difficult or deceptive people in some of our negotiations. When you are dealing with difficult people at the bargaining table, beware of these tactics:

  1. Lies about bottom lines and alternates
  2. “Too good to be true” offers
  3. Escalation of commitment on your part – especially considerable time or an up-front payment
  4. Lack of reciprocity
  5. Last-minute nibbling – especially without matching concessions

One of the best routes to success when you are dealing with difficult people in a negotiation is to look toward integrative bargaining strategies, including knowledge of your BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) and ZOPA (zone of possible agreement).

And never hesitate to break the cycle of reaction and counter-reaction in negotiation by “going to the balcony”—that is, by imagining we are stepping back from the stage to the balcony. In doing so, we can step back, gather our wits, and look at the situation objectively. This sense of psychological distance can give us the clarity we need to identify the motives behind unfair tactics and avoid responding in kind.

To find out more about success in dealing with difficult people and making the best of stressful negotiation situations, download a complimentary copy of our special report, Dealing with Difficult People, right now!

The following items are tagged dealing with difficult people:

Negotiation and Leadership: Dealing with Difficult People and Problems

Posted by & filed under Negotiation and Leadership.

IN-PERSON

THREE-DAY COURSE | June 20-22, 2023 Negotiation and Leadership: Dealing with Difficult People and Problems BONUS DAY | June 23, 2023 Unlocking Value in Complex Business Deals

Three-Day Program Agenda Negotiation and Leadership: Dealing with Difficult People and Problems DAY 1: Tuesday, June 20, 2023UNDERSTANDING KEY NEGOTIATION CONCEPTS MORNING: Registration, Continental Breakfast and Overview 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. ET Negotiation Fundamentals—Key Concepts and … Read  

Dealing with Difficult People

Posted by & filed under Free Report.

Top 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. … Read  

Negotiation and Leadership: Dealing with Difficult People and Problems

Posted by & filed under Negotiation and Leadership.

IN-PERSON

THREE-DAY COURSE | May 15-17, 2023 Negotiation and Leadership: Dealing with Difficult People and Problems BONUS DAY | May 18, 2023 Negotiating the Impossible

Three-Day Program Agenda Negotiation and Leadership: Dealing with Difficult People and Problems DAY 1: Monday, May 15, 2023UNDERSTANDING KEY NEGOTIATION CONCEPTS MORNING: Registration, Continental Breakfast and Overview 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. ET Negotiation Fundamentals—Key Concepts and Core Vocabulary 9:00 a.m. … Read  

Negotiation and Leadership: Dealing with Difficult People and Problems

Posted by & filed under Negotiation and Leadership.

IN-PERSON

THREE-DAY COURSE | April 3–5, 2023 Negotiation and Leadership: Dealing with Difficult People and Problems BONUS DAY | April 6, 2023 3D Negotiation: Powerful New Tools to Turbocharge Your Effectiveness

Three-Day Program Agenda Negotiation and Leadership: Dealing with Difficult People and Problems DAY 1: Monday, April 3, 2023UNDERSTANDING KEY NEGOTIATION CONCEPTS MORNING: Registration, Continental Breakfast and Overview 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. ET Negotiation … Read  

Negotiation and Leadership: Dealing with Difficult People and Problems

Posted by & filed under Negotiation and Leadership.

IN-PERSON

THREE-DAY COURSE | December 5–7, 2022 Negotiation and Leadership: Dealing with Difficult People and Problems BONUS DAY | December 8, 2022 Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Three-Day Program Agenda Negotiation and Leadership: Dealing with Difficult People and Problems DAY 1: Monday, December 5, 2022 UNDERSTANDING KEY NEGOTIATION CONCEPTS MORNING: Negotiation Fundamentals—Key Concepts and Core Vocabulary 9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. ET Negotiation … Read  

MESO: Make Multiple Equivalent Simultaneous Offers to Create Value in Dealmaking Table

Posted by & filed under Conflict Resolution.

MESO negotiation, a negotiation strategy for creating value with a counterpart who may be reluctant to negotiate, allows negotiators to propose multiple offers without signaling commitment or preference for any one option. Business negotiators that practice integrative negotiation strategies often complain that although they try to focus on creating value, they run into far too many difficult … Read  

How to Resolve Cultural Conflict: Overcoming Cultural Barriers at the Negotiation Table

Posted by & filed under Conflict Resolution.

After recently losing an important deal in India, a business negotiator learned that her counterpart felt as if she had been rushing through the talks. The business negotiator thought she was being efficient with their time. In this useful cross-cultural conflict negotiation example, how should this negotiator improve her negotiation skills? … Read  

Top Ten Posts About Conflict Resolution

Posted by & filed under Conflict Resolution.

Conflict resolution is the process of resolving a dispute or a conflict by meeting at least some of each side’s needs and addressing their interests. Conflict resolution sometimes requires both a power-based and an interest-based approach, such as the simultaneous pursuit of litigation (the use of legal power) and negotiation (attempts to reconcile each party’s … Read  

How to Control Your Emotions in Conflict Resolution

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To guard against acting irrationally or in ways that can harm you, authors of Beyond Reason: Using Emotions As You Negotiate Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro advise you to take your emotional temperature during a negotiation. Specifically, try to gauge whether your emotions are manageable, starting to heat up, or threatening to boil over. … Read  

Managing Difficult Negotiators

Posted by & filed under BATNA.

In negotiation, we are often confronted with the task of dealing with difficult people—those who seem to prefer to set up roadblocks rather than break down walls, or who choose to take hardline stances rather than seeking common ground. If you’re skilled in BATNA negotiations, you’ll have an easier time dealing with such people. … Read  

How to Handle Difficult Customers

Posted by & filed under Dealing with Difficult People.

Every salesperson has his or her war stories: tales of difficult customers who made extreme demands and threats, tried to take advantage, or were extremely rude. Dealing with difficult customers is inevitable in the sales world, and the question of how to handle difficult customers looms large. The following three guidelines can help you stay … Read  

Famous Negotiators: Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin

Posted by & filed under International Negotiation.

At a January press conference last year, German chancellor Angela Merkel dangled a carrot in front of Russian president Vladimir Putin: the possibility of a summit in Kazakhstan aimed at easing the Ukraine crisis, to be attended by her and the leaders of France and Ukraine. That carrot, however, was dangling from a significant string. … Read  

Negotiation Tactics for Bargaining with Difficult People: The Comcast Merger

Posted by & filed under Dealing with Difficult People.

If a competitive bargaining session shifts in a counterpart’s direction, your anger could send the wrong signals to your negotiation counterpart. In this instance, strong emotions portray desperation rather than strength. Here are some bargaining and negotiation tactics for dealing with difficult situations in relationships. … Read  

Dealing with Difficult People and Unethical Negotiation Tactics

Posted by & filed under Business Negotiations.

The fallout from unfair and ill-advised negotiated agreements can reverberate for years to come, as the City of Miami learned from its 2009 stadium deal with former Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. The story highlights aspects of dealing with difficult people, including their threats, questionable claims, and other potentially unethical negotiation tactics. The Great Switcheroo Back in … Read  

How to Deal with Difficult Customers

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To hear some salespeople and service representatives tell it, difficult behavior from customers is at an all-time high. Stories of demanding customers proliferate in the press and on social media, while customers likewise complain that their needs increasingly are not being met by companies focused on the bottom line. … Read  

Police Negotiation Techniques from the NYPD Crisis Negotiations Team

Posted by & filed under Crisis Negotiations.

Few negotiators can imagine negotiation scenarios more stressful than the kinds of crisis negotiations the New York City Police Department’s Hostage Negotiation Team undertake. But police negotiation techniques employed by the New York City Police Department’s Hostage Negotiations Team (HNT) in high-stakes, high-pressure crisis negotiation situations, outlined in an article from Jeff Thompson and Hugh … Read  

10 Popular Business Negotiation Articles

Posted by & filed under Business Negotiations.

Here are ten popular business negotiation articles on the Program on Negotiation website. Drawn from a variety of negotiation case studies as well as negotiation research, the following articles offer strategies for engaging in integrative negotiations aimed at creating win-win scenarios for each party at the negotiation table. 1. What is the Right of First Refusal? Rights … Read  

How to Handle Difficult People—Including Your Rivals

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One of the most common questions raised by businesspeople is how to handle difficult people. This question contains a hidden assumption: Faced with abrasive, competitive, and even unethical behavior, we view ourselves as being in the right and the other party as being wholly wrong. Yet it’s important to consider that, in our real-life conflict scenarios, … Read  

How to Deal with Difficult People

Posted by & filed under Dealing 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  

Dealing with Difficult People – In and Outside of Congress

Posted by & filed under Dealing with Difficult People.

In business negotiations, we sometimes face the task of dealing with difficult people—those who seem to pick fights, hold offensive views, or rely on hard-bargaining tactics. Some of us naturally turn away from such difficult negotiations. Others choose to try to overlook or overcome the flaws they see in potential negotiating partners. … Read  

Worst Negotiation Tactics of 2015

Posted by & filed under Negotiation Skills.

Here are some of the worst negotiation tactics displayed during calendar year 2015 – from hard-bargaining, distributive negotiation strategies aimed at getting the whole pie to stonewalling strategies intended to stymy the development of a negotiated agreement. … Read  

Worst Negotiation Tactics of 2015

Posted by & filed under Negotiation Skills.

Here are some of the worst negotiation tactics displayed during calendar year 2015 – from hard-bargaining, distributive negotiation strategies aimed at getting the whole pie to stonewalling strategies intended to stymy the development of a negotiated agreement. … Read  

What You Can Learn from Putin’s Negotiation Style

Posted by & filed under Negotiation Skills.

In January 2015 the Negotiation Briefings newsletter featured an article, “Dealing with difficult people – even when you don’t want to,” discussing the impasse NATO leaders had reached with Russian President Vladimir Putin with regards to his unilateral actions in the Crimea. Aside from exhibiting obstinacy in the face of a unified European front, Putin … Read  

Business Negotiation Advice: When Your Image is Everything

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Turning to another questionable negotiation from Illinois politics, in 2005, then–U.S. senator Barack Obama and his family bought a house in Chicago. On the same day the Obamas closed on the property, the wife of real estate developer Antoin Rezko bought an adjacent parcel of land. Rezko was a key fundraiser for Obama’s Senate campaign. … Read  

You Have Less Information Than You Think

Posted by & filed under Business Negotiations.

Most negotiators understand the importance of preparation and will dedicate significant time and energy to analyzing important negotiations in advance. Chances are, however, that powerful negotiators will undertake less informative and less accurate analyses than their weaker counterparts will. For instance, in a hypothetical salary raise negotiation, a negotiator may be so confident of her contributions that … Read