Dealing with Difficult Negotiators as a Project Manager

By Mark Jankowski

The most common approach of the difficult negotiator is the use of emotional tactics – intimidation, threats, short-temper, arbitrary deadlines, unreasonable demands.  Instinctively or consciously, they are trying to get you to react emotionally in return, and accept a bad deal.  The best way to counteract emotion is to recognize it for what it is, a tactic.  Stay calm.  Stick to your strategy.

Gett someone to play devil’s advocate and be ready for each tactic they may employ.  We suggest you use what we call “tacking.”  Just as sailors don’t sail straight into the wind but rather at an angle, zigging and zagging their way forward, you should do the same with a difficult negotiator.  Don’t go right at them.  Understand their pressures, the factors that may be making them behave in a difficult manner.  Acknowledge their concerns.  Let them know they’re not alone.  You have issues, too.  And let them save face.  Use their ideas, modify their offer rather than rejecting it, give up secondary points. Don’t respond to emotion with emotion.  If they try to bully you, don’t get your back up.  Dig into what they asked for, not how they asked.  If they make an unreasonable demand, don’t demand back.  Ask why they want what they asked for.  If they impose a harsh deadline, try to determine what pressure they’re under.

The key is, when the difficult negotiator uses emotion, see it as a tactic.  Re-focus on the goals of the deal.


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