So North Korea has successfully miniaturized a nuclear weapon and President Trump has threatened to “totally destroy them.”
How’s your week going?
It takes smart, level-headed people to negotiate solutions with grade-A assholes like Kim Jong Un. No, not people like Dennis Rodman. People like you. Because let’s face it: Assholes are everywhere. Being able to diffuse the non-nuclear problems in your own life is a skill that will serve you well.
Whether you’re trying to knock of a few bucks from your cellphone bill, selling a huge project at work, or debating whose turn it is to do the dishes, these negotiation tactics will help you get a win-win.
Tactic #1: Study Your Target
You should have a strategy going into any negotiation, but it’s especially important when you’re dealing with someone who’s difficult, according to Lee Miller, author of The U Perspective: The Art of Getting What You Want.
“Difficult people are consistent, and there’s usually a reason they’re difficult and a predictability in how they’re difficult,” Miller says. “Before you formulate your strategy, do your homework. Watch their behavior, listen, do research, and talk to others who’ve dealt with them before.”
Tactic #2: Ask Leading Questions
Peter Stark, author of The Only Negotiating Guide You’ll Ever Need, says difficult people don’t like to be told anything, which means you need to have precise, pointed questions prepared that will move your negotiating position forward.
Stark says these questions should lead your counterpart to a place where they need to consider the consequences of not reaching a win-win solution.
They might look like this: “How do you see this all playing out if we don’t work this point out?” or “If we don’t include XYZ people in this decision, is it possible they’re going to block us when we go to launch?”
“They may not answer your question in the moment,” Stark says, “but they’ll be forced to think about it. It might change their response or position in the negotiation.”
Tactic #3: Don’t Flinch
Not all assholes or asshole behaviors are created equal. You might be dealing with a know-it-all or someone whose philosophy is my way or the highway. Other assholes are non-responsive and use silence to make you squirm.
However, the most common is the belligerent bully—someone who pounds his fists and screams obscenities because he’s trying to elicit a weak response from you.
“Don’t give them an inch,” Miller says. “If their behavior has no visible effect on you, it makes them uncomfortable. You throw them off their game.”
Stark agrees. “Getting emotional in response to a bully in negotiation just revs them up, and the whole thing gets out of control,” he says.
The best way to counter is to make them explore or confront their own behavior. Just ask a good question, Stark says. Something like: “Some people get upset and frustrated when you raise your voice, but just between me and you, it excites me. I love your passion, but I’m curious, why do you feel the need to do that?”
Or, if you’re expecting it, preemptively challenge them. “I brought Larry with me today because he heard you usually blow a gasket in these meetings, and he’s never heard it. You have to promise me you’ll do it today.”
Tactic #4: Call Out His Bullshit
A common tactic of assholes is to make up or manipulate information. Stark says it’s important to confront alternative facts. If you can do it in the moment, great. If not, follow up as quickly as you can through email or with a phone call.
“If you back away from something like that, it reinforces the behavior and encourages them to do more of it in future negotiations.”
The same goes when your counterpart changes the terms of the negotiation.
“When they take something away that has already been agreed to, you need to do the same,” Stark says. Doing this focuses their energy on getting that something back, rather than finding something else to take away because you didn’t put your foot down with the initial change of terms.
Tactic #5: Master the Non-Verbal
Miller says it’s important to remember that a negotiation isn’t a job interview in which your first impression might make or break you, but if you spend the opening minutes of chit-chat listening more than talking, you could pick up a thing or two that will help you later on.
Listening is more impactful, though, if you look engaged, Stark says.
Crossing your legs, your arms, or leaning back when your counterpart suggests something is an obvious tell that you don’t want to do what he’s suggesting. “Those gestures are more accurate than the words coming out of your mouth,” Stark says.
Instead, you want to keep your hands and arms open and slide forward on your chair, leaning a little on the table.
And always make eye contact. “That’s the ultimate symbol of credibility and competence,” Stark says.
Tactic #6: Surround Yourself with Non-Assholes
Of course, the simplest way to deal with assholes is to not have to deal with them at all.
This isn’t foolproof. Business—whether it’s sales, finance, or nuclear diplomacy—will put you face-to-face with an asshole eventually.
But when it comes to building your own team—in business and in life—you have a choice.
“I work really hard not to have difficult people in my life,” Stark says. “You come across enough of them already. Despite whatever else they’re bringing to the table, there’s no point having them around, if you can help it.”
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