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Posted about 1 year ago

Dealing with Difficult Negotiators

In the business world, we will all find ourselves in situations where we need to negotiate with others. Sometimes, our interests are aligned and other times they are not. Either way, we often find ourselves needing to work out deals with others in order to achieve our goals. Unfortunately, even if you negotiate honestly and with integrity, there’s no guarantee that the other person will do the same.

Two Approaches

Though they often go by various names, there are basically two attitudes or types of negotiating. A distributive approach takes the attitude that there is a winner and a loser. That in order for one person to gain something, someone else must sacrifice. Imagine a married couple sharing a car. Each wants the vehicle so that they can go do the things they need to do. One person wants to visit friends and the other plans to go shopping. But there’s only one car, which means that while one person will get to use it, the other will have to change their plans.

By comparison, an integrative approach looks for ways that people can work together instead of assuming that their interests are inherently at odds. Using the same example, rather than one person staying home while the other uses the car, the couple may decide that they can work together. The person who plans to go shopping will likely be going to multiple stores, while the partner visiting friends only has one destination. A simple fix is for the first partner to drop their spouse off and then go shopping, picking them up later in the day.

Not Everyone Works Together

Even if you’re the type of person to take a more collaborative and integrative approach, and you’re willing to put in the time to come up with a solution that makes everyone happy, there’s no guarantee that the person you’re working with will do the same. Some people lie and cheat, some may be discretely deceptive without outrightly lying, and others may simply refuse to budge insisting that it’s “my way or the highway”. In these situations, there are a few things you can do.

Be Willing to Listen

The first is to realize that people often resort to more confrontational and aggressive tactics when they feel defensive. Helping the other person to see that you’re willing to work with them and that you’re not out to screw them over, can help them to ease up. Start by having a conversation about your goals and why you’re asking for what you’re asking for, and be sure to ask what the other person is hoping to get out of the deal. The simple act of listening is very powerful. When a person doesn’t feel heard, they tend to take a stronger stance. Once they feel that you understand their side of the issue, most people will be more open to working collaboratively.

Imagine a person who is all worked up. Odds are that in the moment they won’t be able to focus on a coming up with a creative solution to the issue. In this situation, it’s best to address their emotional concerns first in a way that doesn’t come across as judgmental. For example, “I can see that this is an important issue to you.” You might also suggest taking a ten-minute break to allow the other person a chance to calm down. “This is clearly an important negotiation and we both want the best possible outcome. Let’s take a short break to get organized and then come back and discuss what we each are hoping to get out of this arrangement.”

Contingencies and Incentives

When you’re negotiating with someone new or someone that you suspect may be likely to take advantage of a situation, it can be helpful to come to an agreement that makes sure your interests are aligned. In other words, you want to incentivize the other person in such a way that they’ll get more out of the deal by working with you than against you.

Consider a contractor and a homeowner. The contractor wants to make a profit, while the homeowner wants to save money. The homeowner also wants the job done quickly and properly. A contractor may be tempted to do a rush job if they’re being paid minimally and they know that they’re about to be paid well on their next job. In this case, the homeowner could offer the contractor a deal where they’ll be paid a lower amount for finishing the job after taking the other higher paying job. This isn’t what the homeowner wants, which is why they’re offering a lower rate. On the other hand, if the contractor is able to finish the homeowner’s job quickly (and without compromising quality), then they receive a bonus. This incentivizes the contractor to be both quick and focused on quality. Further, the contract could state that if a certain clearly defined level of quality is not met, that the contractor’s final payment will be discounted by the amount needed to hire a different contractor to come in and correct the work.

This approach gives the contractor both options and incentives. The contractor has a financial motive to complete the job quickly as well as a potential penalty if they compromise on quality. It also gives the contractor the option to complete the work more slowly should another, higher paying job be available. Finally, it protects the homeowner by saving them money if the job takes longer or the quality isn’t up to par.

If All Else Fails…

Sometimes, despite your best efforts another person just seems insistent on making things difficult. You may be open and willing to work with them, but they still refuse to budge. In fact, they come across as aggressive, or even threatening.

When this happens, remind yourself not to take it personally. Odds are that if a person is using an aggressive negotiation style it’s because they lack the skills to achieve their goals in a more productive way. But if you allow them to rile you up, then you’re falling into their trap. Try reminding yourself that if they insult you, or make a threat, it’s nothing more than a tactic.

If a person says “take it or leave it”, “this is my best offer”, “you’d have to be a moron to turn this down”, or anything of the sort, try to stay calm. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you or get you distracted. Instead, respond calmly. In a respectful way, acknowledge what they’re doing and gently suggest a more collaborative approach.

You might say something like, “I appreciate you putting an offer on the table, though I’d like to take some time to consider all the issues. It’s quite possible that we could find a creative solution that’s actually a better deal for both of us.”

You may also want to remind them that they may get a better deal by working with you. “You’re offering to sell this to me at $200,000. While I obviously want to get the best price possible, if we’re able to identify enough value in the deal, for all we know I might be willing to pay more”.

Finally, if all else fails and the other person insists on being aggressive, you may need to issue a quick counter-threat to establish credibility with them, before reminding them that you’re both better off working together. “Yes, you could sue me and try to make your case in a courtroom. But, there’s no reason why I couldn’t countersue. In fact, there’s a good chance that I would win and that you’d end up having to pay all the court fees. That being said, I think it would be in both our interests to avoid the time, expense, and hassle of suing each other. Let’s see if we can work together and reach a deal that works for both of us.”