Dealing with assholes when you’re negotiating

One of the greatest misconceptions in business these days is that you have to be an asshole when you're negotiating. Many have come to believe that being abrasive we'll get you better results. We've clearly watched too many television shows that depicted witty, well-dressed tough types using threat and misdirection to win at a deal that it has altered reality.

Negotiating is a learned skill that required an enormous amount of human understanding and empathy. Awareness of the other sides’ preoccupations is key to formulating, then executing a good negotiation plan. The best negotiators are not so because they simply understand how to apply pressure on leverage. They are so because they are expert at human and situational dynamics. These people are the best and nicest to deal with.

What we have come to understand is that the assholes are usually acting as such because they are ill-prepared or deeply insecure. It an be very intimidating to enter into a negotiation with a person that is experienced and well-regarded in the field. As such they over-compensate with aggressiveness and what we call: ‘the No syndrome” which is to say that they counter every offer or point not based on strategy but reaction. This usually makes for painful negotiations.

Here is what we suggest you do when dealing with these types:

Follow the plan: You build a negotiation plan which includes your target, reservation point and offer parameters. You’ve carefully assessed your BATNA (see other posts for details) and the other side’s so now stick to the plan. Don’t get influenced by the person’s responses and limitations. Remember, typically they are unprepared so their only goal to drive your benchmarks down; regardless if that provides them a benfit. In other words, they have no clue where they are heading so sticking to your plan allows for general guidance of the negotiation.

Be nice except for 30 seconds: Timing here is everything. Because they are bullies by nature assholes generally react best to a slap in the face (figuretively) in order to give you some respect. We suggest waiting some time before pulling out this card and the response should mirror their level of aggressiveness/forcefulness. The time is important because the initial connection may have been painful but be changing as the negotiation proceeds. They may not be assholes after all. Perhaps they were just having a bad day.

It may look like this: “It’s clear you didn’t come here to actually negotiate but be unpleasant so it seems we are wasting our time. What do you suggest we do now?”. It’s key here not to make threats or attempt to dicate the schedule. Make the pushback personal without linking it to an ultimatum. Allow them to suggest the next move. If they are passive-aggressive, consider stepping away form the negotiation table as you are likley wasting your time. If they are understanding and show some willingness to adjust, you are on the right path.

Have empathy: Once you have pushed back, be sure to throw some compliments and validate some actions as the negotiation advances. Due to insecurity, this will help in breakdown barriers in facilitating communication. It will also open up more information gathering which will assist you in delivering your strategic goals.

Connect personally: Attempt to find ways to connect on a personal level by offering them to go for a walk or grab a coffee at a local shop but talk only about them. Find out more about their history, careers, family, etc.. They are more likely to open up and the bond will provide better flow at the negotiation table. This must be genuine.

Never personal: Never take any of this behaviour personally. The attacks are not directed at you. It’s simply a by-product of their insecurity and lack of experience.

Shelving: Shelving means that you introduce multiple insignificant (to you) issues into the negotiation which cause friction and appear to be unsolvable. You agree to return to these later (hence, you put them on the shelf) but as the negotiation proceeds, you give in to some of these issues from the shelf and provide gains to the other side. This is very useful when dealing with assholes because the wins provide a boost of ego which requires validation at close.

Remember that being nice and accommodating always will win. Stick to your plan and let it play out. They usually come around.

Negotiate away!