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How to negotiate with difficult people

Each of us has dealt with a hard negotiator sometime or the other. There are always people who prefer competition over collaboration, who prefer to talk more, listen less, play tough, and create more win-lose games than win-win. The question is how to deal with them?

1. Identify what motivates them.

More often than not, we tend to label such counterparts as irrational or difficult, but we fail to identify what really motivates them. If we could do that, then negotiating with even these supposed hard negotiators would become easy.

2. Identify their biases.

Usually, people with biases are accidentally being tough. They don’t intend to be tough, but often they not aware of how their bias is affecting their decision in the moment. So, give them a lot of time to negotiate and decide. That way, it allows them the time to think rationally.

3. Try to probe their interests.

Sometimes negotiations are tough because the other party has external constraints or interests that may not have been revealed to us. However, it is always possible to inquire into what is it that’s stopping them from giving you what you want from the deal. Be genuinely interested in helping them overcome their negotiation roadblocks.

4. Investigate what’s affecting them.

Probing and investigating into what is affecting your counterpart (emotions, logistical constraints, hidden interests, financial factors), will either help you negotiate powerfully, or at least make you a preferred partner in their eyes, when the circumstances are better, or constraints fewer.

5. Suggest possible trade-offs.

In most negotiations, this IS possible to achieve. There are always creative outcomes and exchanges possible. However, this will also need you to be aware of your own assumptions / biases about what you think they might need. Once you start suggesting trade-offs, you’re modelling good negotiating behaviour. This allows them to get in a problem-solving mindset.

6. Avoid inducing tough statements when negotiating.

That way, your counterpart doesn’t feel pushed or cornered. A tough negotiator always needs to feel in charge. We’re not saying manipulate them. Just that it’s a good idea to let them feel in control and deal with them through suggestion and role modelling.

7. Be collaborative in your approach.

This is modelling good negotiation behaviour. If your negotiator wants to skip negotiation because of tight deadlines, help them with the timelines, before you withdraw. As a negotiating counterpart that makes you more appealing.

8. Involve more stakeholders.

Everything said and done, there is only so much you can negotiate. There will be the accidental hardballs, the reluctant hardballs, but there will also be the manipulative and domineering hard negotiators.

With people like this, the first step may be to involve more people to the negotiation from both sides of the team. This helps with reality check. Make sure you send a memo after every meeting, so that conversations are not forgotten, twisted, misrepresented, taken out of context etc.

9. Be willing to walk away

While it’s not a preferred choice, know that sometimes you may just have to walk away from a deal. Don’t forget, it’s important to draw boundaries, draw lines about how far you can be pushed, and then respect these boundaries, should it come to that.

Remember negotiation is not a cookie-cut process, not even when dealing with a tough counterpart. So, use these techniques flexibly and practice them well. The more you practice, the better you will get at negotiating with tough people.