Sharks, Lions, and the Big Bad Wolf – How to Deal with Difficult People

by Ron Shapiro,

Let’s face it, negotiation has a bad reputation. Often an analogy is drawn between negotiating and swimming with the sharks or entering the lion’s den. You could just label all other N.I.C.E. is a philosophy that maps out how to beat them without joining them.bullies, tyrants, and impossible people and lump them together under the title of the Big Bad Wolf. Though I’m no history buff, but I like to rename all impossible people Robespierre, because sometimes dealing with them is like being at the epicenter of the Reign of Terror.

So how do we deal with these sharks, lions, big bad wolves, and Robespierre types? Well Thomas Jefferson thinks it’s as easy as counting, “When I am upset, I count to ten. When I’m very upset, I count to one-hundred.” That may be easy enough but how many times have your reactions mirrored the attitude towards you? Do you yell when yelled at? When someone challenges you, do you accept?  How do we harness these emotions and keep them in check? How can we become better negotiators to avoid becoming a screaming and yelling Big Bad Wolf?

A strategy of intimidation is often the easy way out (the easy and often ineffective way out). To get around this we’ve developed a new approach that answers all of these problematic questions. N.I.C.E. is a philosophy that maps out how to beat them without joining them.

  • N: Neutralize Emotions
  • I: Identify a Type
  • C: Control the Encounter
  • E: Explore Options

This general approach will hopefully calm the boiling blood in your veins. It’s important to remember that emotions trump reason, the better you’re able to neutralize your emotions, the more rational you’ll become. You should know the type of person you’re dealing with also. Identifying their personality on a scale based on their relative difficulty, that will help you hone your approach towards them. Once you have a feel for their personality type you can try to use appropriate techniques to help shape and better determine the outcome of the encounter. Finally, if you find yourself stuck, look for alternative solutions within your strategy.

If you found these tips from Ron Shapiro of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in his self-paced, downloadable courses at


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