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Negotiating Despite Frustrating Opponents

By JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr (JB Shelton)

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Ah! Humankind’s free will. Used for good and evil. Let’s put those frustrating negotiators in the evil category and examine how best to deal with them.

Negotiating can be defined as attempting to achieve a mutually agreeable solution, often in a challenging situation. When we’re faced with an opponent who lives to be self-important, easily angers and detests compromise, we are entitled to be frustrated.

Learning to control our thoughts, words and physical reactions when we feel frustrated can be a major achievement. We have a choice, either to transform ourselves into calm, composed, successful winners, or suffer as masochistic cynics with unachieved negotiating goals.

Looking Inward

Examine your own negotiating behaviors and you may be surprised to discover they replicate the most annoying behaviors you find in others. These are the behaviors that set off your hot buttons, even if you’d prefer not to admit it. No matter how difficult to do, swallowing your pride and admitting such negatives exist within you is essential.

Behavioral examples include, but aren’t limited to:

  • off-topic distractions
  • promises without follow-through
  • poor verbal and/or written communication skills
  • sarcasm
  • not responding to multiple requests
  • making excuses
  • explosive anger
  • illogical over-reactions
  • being afraid to tell hard truths

Once you are self-aware, take time and energy to change each behavior for the better. You will discover these behaviors frustrate you less in yourself and in others. Only you can dig deep and examine your history to figure why you behave in certain ways and how it will benefit you to change.

Basics in Place

Preparing the basics necessary for every negotiation — knowing your goals, doing your research, preparing your communications — form your foundation for negotiating with frustrating people. When you are satisfied that your basics are in place, you can expand your negotiating expertise with these challenging opponents.

Before the Meeting

Before your initial negotiation meeting is scheduled, control as much as you possibly can by confirming details in writing as to time, place, agenda and participants. The mantra “A verbal contract is as good as the paper it isn’t written on” is a good reminder of the importance of also not relying on phone conversations or voicemail messages.

Professional, Friendly Attitude

Start your face-to-face encounter with confident body language, a smile, a sturdy handshake, and eye contact. Use small talk judiciously to relax yourself and your opponent. Your research will provide information about him that you can use to show interest and optionally massage his ego. Maintain a positive attitude above all.

Taking Control

When your opponent is behaving and talking in a manner that frustrates you:

• Review the agenda together. Determine which topics are essential for the day’s meeting. Agree on which topics to delay to another meeting. Do not waste time on non-essential topics that require lengthy discussion. Agree to disagree about them and remove them from the negotiation.

• Deal with his angry outburst with calmness. A calm demeanor engenders clear thinking. Instead of encouraging his rage, it will motivate him to mirror your composure.

• Remember that no response is a strong message in and of itself.

• Know how much decision-making authority your opponent holds. Your opponent may claim that he must seek approval from a power-that-be above him. If you know full well that he is the final decision-maker, tell him so.

• Use the meeting agenda to stay on topic. The moment your opponent tries to kidnap the conversation inappropriately, interrupt him and quickly return to the negotiation’s focus.

• Respond to irrationality with logic. Figure out why your opponent is being unreasonable and counter with your own information. Prioritize intellect over instincts.

• Give everyone an old-fashioned time-out. Be clear how long the break will take.

Negotiating Limbo: When to Let Go

You have tried every sensible, logical and creative response. Despite your efforts, the negotiation is still going nowhere and has little hope of even arriving there. Decide how best to let go. Prepare and deliver your communications aloud and soon thereafter confirm your message in writing. Be crystal clear that you are unwilling to continue wasting your time and efforts.

Choosing to say it is over in a perpetually wait-wait instead of win-win negotiation is a decision to leave the frustrating confines of masochistic limbo.

As Albert Einstein wrote, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

JB Shelton Photo
JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr (JB Shelton) is a journalist based in Raleigh and Oxford, NC. She writes about children growing up and grownups reinventing themselves. JB teaches Professional Negotiating Skills: Transforming Life’s Challenges into Win-Win Results at Duke University in Durham, NC.  Angel in Your Mirror: Musings from the Curly Mind of JB Shelton-Spurr is available on Contact her at [email protected].

Copyright © 2013 JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr
Copyright ©   2013  The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  September 2013