“He was demanding, unorganized and he didn’t know what he really wanted. And he took a shotgun approach to the issues, all of which needed to be resolved immediately. It lasted six months, and it was incredibly frustrating.”
This comment by a client sums up a situation most negotiators have faced in the past or will face in the future:
How do you deal effectively with “difficult” people in a negotiation? Use this five-step approach:
1. Identify what it is that makes them “difficult.”
Take a step back from the table and identify those specific traits and behaviors. If they are angry and vindictive and want a pound of your flesh, you won’t want to take the same approach that you would if their emotionalism makes you uncomfortable and frustrated.
2. Find out why they are being “difficult.”
Put on your psychologist hat — all negotiators have a bit of a psychologist in them — and explore why your counterpart is behaving in such a fashion.
Evaluate if their behavior is:
a) simply their personality style or approach to conflict;
b) a cultural tendency or trait;
c) a specific tactic they are using to intimidate you;
d) due to something that recently happened in their life; or
e) something else.
How can you find out? You could ask your counterpart directly about it and describe your frustration. Ask what they would do if they were in your shoes.
Or you could contact others who have dealt previously with your counterpart and find out if their experience paralleled yours. Learn from their experience. Ask for their advice. Explore how others have dealt effectively with it.
Perhaps lightening the mood with some humor or finding you both dislike the New York Yankees will build some rapport and defuse the difficult dynamic.
As the saying goes, don’t reinvent the wheel.
If you can find out why your counterpart is behaving in a certain way, your best approach may become clear.
3. Be firm and principled.
Sometimes, individuals act difficult because they perceive it as an effective negotiation tactic. The more difficult they act, they believe, the more likely you will give in to their demands just to move on. This might be especially true if they believe you have relatively weak leverage.
In these cases, resist whatever urge you have to concede. Be firm and principled, and don’t back down simply because of their difficult nature. Find an independent, objective standard to justify what you consider to be fair and reasonable, and stick to it unless they provide a good reason why it’s unfair. Such standards include market value, precedent or an expert opinion.
Consider asking or hiring an independent third party, such as a mediator or a mutually trusted individual, to help you resolve the situation.
I vividly recall litigating a matter many years ago with a particularly difficult opposing lawyer. In almost all of our dealings, he was a real jerk. He even used tactics some would consider unethical. At the time, I was a young and relatively inexperienced lawyer and he had been practicing for years.
What did we do? After establishing our decent leverage in the litigation, we hired an ex-federal judge with a tough but fair reputation to mediate our dispute. We figured it would be far more effective to bring in this mediator — who could and did keep this lawyer in his place — than to spin our wheels trying to penetrate his arrogance and unethical tactics ourselves.
4. Develop a good Plan B.
The stronger your leverage in the negotiation, the more likely you will be able to ensure your counterpart deals with you properly. And the biggest element of leverage is developing a good Plan B if your deal with them doesn’t work out.
If I’m negotiating to lease space in an office building and the leasing agent or owner is particularly difficult, initiate negotiations to lease space in another building. It doesn’t mean you will go with your Plan B. But having the option often will give you the power to get what you want with that difficult person.
5. Don’t sink to their level.
Your reputation as an ethical, credible, professional individual is too important to risk. Don’t. The last thing you need is for someone else to consider you the “difficult” person.
Published May 4, 2007 The Business Journal