NEGOTIATING WITH DIFFICULT OPPONENTS

September 25, 2012

When individuals negotiate with others, they occasionally encounter rude and difficult opponents. These are usually persons who find the bargaining process stressful and think that if they don’t behave in a tough manner they will be exploited. They fail to appreciate the fact that such rude and unprofessional conduct is the least effective way to induce others to agree with them.

What should people do when they encounter such persons? First, they should not respond in kind. Such behavior will exacerbate the situation and cause greater difficulties. They need to respond in a highly professional manner that is designed to make their opponents feel guilty about their inappropriate conduct. They should also indicate politely – but forcefully – that such behavior will not be beneficial. If they are trying to structure business deals, they should indicate that their clients are looking for long-term, mutually beneficial relationships and will not enter into business arrangements with parties that treat them so disrespectfully. If they are litigators working to resolve legal disputes, they should indicate that they assume that their opponents have no interest in resolving their controversies. If their adversaries reply that they truly wish to try the cases, they should suggest that they work to stipulate legal and factual issues and try to streamline the discovery process. When they are in court at a status or motion conference and the judge asks them if they are trying to resolve the case, they should respond – usually in front of the opposing client – that the other attorney has made it clear that they wish to try the case. Most clients do not wish to assume the expense and risk of trial, and will direct their lawyers to reopen settlement discussions.

Two excellent books exploring this issue were written by William Ury: Getting Past No: Negotiating with Difficult People (1991) and The Power of a Positive No: How to Say NO and Still Get to YES (2007).