Remember the boss who wouldn’t approve your leave for a sick parent? Or the client who presented a take-it-or-leave-it deal? Or perhaps the neighbor who lost their temper when you mentioned their dog’s incessant barking? When someone thwarts our goals, it’s easy to label them as difficult or unreasonable. However, experts suggest that few people are truly stubborn for no reason. More often, we all have motivations that may not be immediately apparent to others. So, before you throw in the towel on a negotiation, or give in without getting anything in return, consider the possible reasons behind your counterpart’s resistance.

Let’s identify and tackle some common hurdles:

  • Difficult personalities: navigating the rogues’ gallery – We all have to negotiate with difficult people at times, they might come across as stubborn, arrogant, hostile, greedy, or dishonest. Even ordinarily reasonable people can turn into adversaries under certain circumstances: A teenage daughter can be charming one moment and hurl insults the next. Your boss can be collaborative and understanding most of the time but make unreasonable demands on a Friday afternoon.

Facing difficult people can be extremely challenging, especially when they resort to tactics like ridicule, bullying, insults, deception, and exaggeration. The key is to stay calm, listen actively, and rephrase their points to ensure you’ve understood them correctly. Keep the focus on facts and shared goals, and don’t hesitate to propose creative solutions that address their underlying concerns. Sometimes, the most obstinate negotiators just need to see things from a different perspective. For more insights, you might find ‘Dealing with Difficult People’ from Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation helpful.

  • Emotions: steering heated debates towards win-win solutions – Negotiations can become heated, but allowing emotions to take the driver’s seat is a surefire way to crash and burn. Here’s a tip: Take a deep breath! Express your concerns without pointing fingers and concentrate on finding common ground. Build a ‘golden bridge’ by looking for ways to help your opponent save face and feel that they’re getting their way, at least on some issues. Using objective standards of fairness can help bridge the gap between your interests. Remember, empathy and respect are invaluable in building trust and reaching mutually beneficial agreements. For further reading, consider ‘Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most’ by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen.
  • Deadlocks: breaking through when talks hit a wall – So, you’ve hit an impasse. Take a break, either literally or figuratively. When you reconvene, explore alternative solutions, make concessions, or even consider entirely new approaches. A useful strategy is to involve your opponent in finding a solution. Encourage them to open up by giving them options: ‘Would you prefer to meet at your office or mine?’ or ‘I could either pay a lump sum or make payments over time; which works better for you?’ Remember, the most innovative solutions often stem from your opponent’s unexpressed needs—so get them talking. For more on this topic, check out ‘Emotion and the Art of Negotiation’.

The next time you find yourself in a negotiation, arm yourself with these tips, recommended readings, and a willingness to learn. Remember, successful negotiation isn’t about winning or losing, but about creating value and fostering sustainable relationships.

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