Negotiating With Difficult People

Larry Price
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Wednesday - March 16, 2011
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There have been a lot of comments recently - here and on the Mainland - about negotiating with difficult people. With so many problems between management and labor, you’d think there would be some scientific way to deal with difficult people.

Well, surprise, there is a lot of research on how to deal with difficult people.

It’s a kind of a process for developing a counterintuitive pattern of responding to these kinds of people. In Hawaii, the natural reaction to aggressive tactics is to strike back, give in or go silent. The problem is, these behaviors do not serve anyone’s cause.


Experts say the solution is to psychologically remove yourself from the interaction and become an observer. I know, easier said than done. But this does create breathing space and gives you time to give a more-reasoned response. Sounds a little thin? Maybe so, but it works. I must admit that, in Hawaii, this is almost an anticipated response, not only at the bargaining table, but at a fender-bender on the highway.

There is no question that negative and attacking behaviors tend to breed more of the same from the other party. Something else happens as tensions heighten - the exchanges tend to escalate. The challenge is to act counterintuitively, which means to deflect or sidestep the other person’s negative behavior through positive, constructive communication.

I can’t tell you how to do it, but I guarantee you it starts with active listening. People born and raised in Hawaii, those who have never left the Islands, will very seldom acknowledge the other party’s points, without necessarily conceding their truth for subsequent agreement. Have you ever heard the saying, “Give a devil authority and you’ll have a saint”? It works, especially if you ask open-ended questions like “No kidding, really?”


Another thing is to make it hard to say no. The trick here is to help the other party think about the consequences of not reaching an agreement with you. Some of this is simplistic, but it works.

As you watch all the conversations going on about budget deficits and who should shoulder the blame, it’s better to approach the conversation with an active strategy for dealing with difficult people.

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