Saturday, January 07, 2012

The difficult negotiator

I freely admit that I am only taking the MBA course in Negotiation because of timetable scheduling. If I had more freedom and were prepared to take more than one course per semester, then I probably would have taken a financial course. Even so, the Negotiation course is intellectually stimulating.

Today, when reading the course book, I came across the following paragraphs, written about handling the difficult negotiator (I have edited it slightly to make it more comprehensible when taken out of context; the 'Thompson' referred to is not Richard Thompson but rather an argumentative and unpleasant trade unionist).

It might therefore be useful to tie together some general advice on how to handle a difficult negotiator. First, you must separate people who are difficult only with you from those who cause problems for everyone. It might be you that is the cause of the difficulty and not them. What are you contributing to the difficulty of the relationship? What have you done, or been perceived to have done? Whatever it is, you had better put it right.

Some people, however, are deliberately difficult because they have found that their behaviour usually produces what they want. For them there is a direct connection between their behaviour and the outcomes they seek. Their behaviour intimidates their ‘victims’ into submission and where it does not have this effect we get the kind of problem represented by the Thompson situation – bitter contests of will, much stress and tension and a totally Red–Red manner from both him and the managers. Dealing with these types of difficult negotiators sometimes prompts a debate on whether to match or contrast their behaviour. 

The choices of matching or contrasting look like another dilemma because neither response answers the key question of what you are supposed to do next. The clue to the answer lies in what outcome the difficult negotiator is seeking from his behaviour – he intends that you will submit. Hence, your tactical aim is to deprive him of that purpose by disconnecting his behaviour from the outcome.

The response to all forms of difficult behaviour can be summed up in the statement that ‘your behaviour will not affect the outcome’. Whether you express this statement directly to the difficult negotiator must depend upon the circumstances, but you certainly must articulate its meaning to yourself in all circumstances. Let it become your mantra!

By disconnecting his behaviour from the outcome you will also cease to make his behaviour an issue – how he chooses to behave is his business not yours. Hence, all temptations to advise him on how to behave must be resisted. Statements like there will be no negotiations until ‘he changes his manners’ or until the ‘union is back into procedure’ and so on, are a waste of time and re-connect the behaviour with the outcome. Realising that his behaviour is not going to influence the outcome – you are not going to submit to it – does more to change his behaviour than confronting the behaviour directly.

I too have my private Thompson, my bete noire; this is someone who runs a subsidiary company to mine. For some reason I was designated the point of contact regarding the inventory which he holds on a consignment basis (ie it's our inventory which he pays for when he sells). Every few months, relations grow very hot under the collar, and at one point I refused to have any more to do with this person, so unpleasant is he. In a discussion with my company's president, it turns out that everybody feels the same way as our private Thompson.

The above quoted paragraphs from the Negotiation text should be my mantra: his behaviour will not affect the outcome!

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