Dealing with a difficult person, whether an opposing attorney, party or negotiating partner, is a real challenge. However, there are techniques you can use to make the task easier. January 2015 issue of Negotiation Briefings, published by the Program on Negotiation-Harvard, MIT, Tufts.
- Question Your Assumptions: When negotiating with a difficult person, there is a tendency to assume the person is behaving irrationally. Assuming that the person is irrational is understandable when the person absolutely refuses to cooperate, issues threats, acts erratically or is tree stump stubborn. In fact, the “irrational” behavior may be quite rational when viewed from their perspective. Try to put yourself in their shoes. “The single most important skill in negotiation is the ability to put yourself in the other side’s shoes. If you are trying to change their thinking, you need to begin by understanding what their thinking is.” Getting Past No: Negotiating with Difficult People, p. 19,William Ury, (Bantam Books, 1991)
Instead of taking the other party at face value, try to identify the motivations, feelings and thoughts underlying the party’s actions and conduct, recommends Lawrence Susskind in his book Good for You, Great for Me: Finding the Trading Zone and Winning at Win-Win Negotiations (Public Affairs, 2014). We need to listen to the other party’s story to learn what is behind their “irrational” behavior. After learning their thoughts, feelings and perspective, we may learn that their position or behavior is really rationally based.
- Look for Face-Saving Opportunities: The desire to save face, to view ourselves positively and project a positive image to others, is a major concern for negotiators. Saving face can be just as important to the negotiator as the substance of negotiation. The source of seemingly irrational behavior is often the desire to please others. The need to save face can be very strong when a negotiator has taken a tough position that brings talks to an impasse. In these circumstances, the negotiator might view retreat as a sign of weakness.
An effective face-saving technique is to “Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across.” Sun Tzu. When you become frustrated by a party’s resistance, it is easy to be tempted to push, to insist, and apply pressure. “But, pushing may actually make it more difficult for the other side to agree. Instead of pushing the other side toward an agreement, you need to do the opposite. You need to draw them in the direction you want them to move. Your job is to build a golden bridge across the chasm. You need to reframe a retreat from their position as an advance toward a better solution.” William Ury, Getting Past No, pp. 105, 108 and 109. After all, the opposing party will say yes for their reasons, not yours.
You might build a golden bridge by asking for your counterpart’s ideas and then adding to them rather than trying to sell him on your ideas. This strategy gives him ownership of the deal and saves face.
Quote: “Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have it your way.” Daniele Vare