Negotiations with bullies and other unreasonable people
December 11, 2017 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Are there any effective negotiation tactics when dealing with people who refuse to compromise or explain unreasonable demands, bully and threaten, deny facts, and other similar methods? If I can avoid those kinds of people I do, but it's not always possible (professional contexts, not personal relationships).
posted by sepviva to Human Relations (10 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Suzette Haden Elgin's Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense series has methods that can defuse some of the hostile approaches. (If nothing else, they will make it clear to any onlookers who is actually being reasonable.) One of the series is focused on how to deal with verbal hostility in the workplace.

The methods that work depend on their reasons for bullying/not compromising/etc. Do they want to be King of the Office? You convince them that the idea sounds like it came from them. Do they have an agenda? (e.g. women belong at home; programmers make lousy managers; affirmative action is nothing but quota hiring for racist purposes.) You document everything and be ready to show to HR that they're obstructing on illegal grounds, and in the meantime, you use very small bits of logic to point out that this woman or coder or person of color is, in fact, very good at this job. Do they just want attention? Make sure it sounds like you're consulting them, then ignore what they say. ("Glad to have your thoughts, dude; I'll make sure to keep them in mind while I'm writing up the report.")
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:11 PM on December 11, 2017 [7 favorites]

Sorry, not to threadsit, but realized I was vague - this is for contract negotiations or similar, not coworkers (for which I am very thankful! )
posted by sepviva at 2:56 PM on December 11, 2017

It's not a negotiation if you can't walk away from it, but in general you should be familiar with the term BATNA.
posted by rhizome at 3:54 PM on December 11, 2017 [7 favorites]

Ultimately, no. There are negotiation tactics that involve 'building a bridge' and 'sitting on their side of the table', 'being hard on the problem/soft on the person', etc. (All the getting to yes stuff) which essentially means trying to put yourself in the person's shoes and using language that in non-escalatory to get them to the good outcome that they somehow want to get to. It assumes that people can align on interests.

But for contract negotiation, what you win is the chance to work with the person, so you're just setting yourself up for round 2 through infinity. This person has shown you how they are (I'm assuming that the person isn't a super aggressive/unethical negotiator, but a good collaborator afterwards), and in the end, assuming that you won't get deported for visa issues, it's often just better to walk away. Some people just are more on the competitive side of the Killman model. That's what feels right to them. They are relentlessly aggressive. They either aren't focused on the relationship at all, or can compartmentalize like a M@)#(#- F##($, and right after the negotiation is over, they are like, 'hey, no hard feelings, wanna go get a beer?"

In either case, the other choice is to be equally aggressive - so if they anchor at $10 an hour, you anchor at $200 and you basically battle all the way down, as you call them on every piece of their shit. Think - "And that's why I can only pay $5 an hour". "Bob, look, I love ya, but you need to stop trying to piss on me and tell me it's raining. There's no way that anyone could do this for less than $150 an hour. Not if you want quality work. You know it and I know it. So what's your serious offer?" This can be exhausting, but it *can* work. But you still are working with someone where every subsequent thing you need to negotiate is equally draining. And everything needs to be in writing, because you have no trust. Where there is no trust, there are ironclad contracts.

But if you want advice - Chris Voss, a former hostage negotiator for the FBI wrote a pretty good book called 'never split the difference'. Basically, when the person asks for something unreasonable, say a plane to escape or for you to work for $10 an hour - you just say neither yes nor no, but 'how am I supposed to do that? and then you look to see if there is anything you can leverage and you keep talking. Interesting stuff.
posted by anitanita at 6:10 PM on December 11, 2017 [8 favorites]

Wait til they're well fed and flatter them.
posted by serena15221 at 6:59 PM on December 11, 2017

One tactic which I read about and then used effectively a couple of times when faced with a power imbalance against a bully was to calmly keep returning to my point. Again. And again. And again. Part of the method of an unreasonable person is to distort and distract and get you into arguments about unrelated things. "I will agree to X if you agree to Y." "But ABC and you're wrong about N!" "I'm not interested in that side issue right now. I will agree to X if you agree to Y." "You're a bad person and your mother hates you!" "I'm not interested in that side issue right now. I will agree to X if you agree to Y." "I'm going to smash your face into a wall as soon as we leave this room." "I will agree to X if you agree to Y." "I think we should resolve J, K and L instead." "The issue at hand is X and Y. I will agree to X if you agree to Y."

Be prepared to do that 20 times or so, as they run through all of their usual tactics. Stay calm and stick to the point that you need resolved, no matter what they do. Once you have a clear answer, record it and move on to your next point.

One thing I like about it is that it doesn't require you to fight in their arena, where they have been honing their skills for years.
posted by clawsoon at 7:21 PM on December 11, 2017 [8 favorites]

The author who wrote Getting to Yes also wrote a short helpful book called Getting Past No that I found helpful for contract negotiations when I was worried about this kind of stuff.
posted by creiszhanson at 9:28 PM on December 11, 2017

Clawson has it. Eyes on the prize, don't get riled up and you'd be surprised what you can lull them into agreeing with.
posted by fshgrl at 11:43 PM on December 11, 2017

One tactic which I read about and then used effectively a couple of times when faced with a power imbalance against a bully was to calmly keep returning to my point. Again. And again. And again.

This is the broken record technique.

It works on kids - eventually bores them into compliance. Just ignore all the eye rolling and you're golden.
posted by flabdablet at 4:25 AM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

The High Conflict Institute might have some useful resources you could use.
posted by dancing leaves at 5:08 AM on December 12, 2017

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