Problematic Situations when Negotiating

No matter how seasoned you become at negotiating, you will encounter problematic situations from time to time. Difficult people and circumstances, walkouts, hostility, and arguments are all possible challenges you may face during negotiations in your business career. In this article, we cover the most common volatile situations that occur at the negotiating table and discuss how best to handle them with a reasonable amount of poise and grace. You may not always be able to change the problem or disarm an angry opponent, so it is important to also know when to walk away. Try not to jump into the fray by contributing to a hostile environment. Always try to remain neutral and aware of what is going on. Most importantly, do not let your pride blind you into pressing the issue when things become very heated, as this can often make things much worse. As the adage goes: "Don't poke an angry gorilla with a stick!"
Handling Difficult People
The first thing you need to clarify when you encounter a difficult person during negotiations is whether the person is antagonistic in general or if he or she has some specific reason for giving everyone a hard time. If the former is true, then you have several choices based on just how aggressive the person is being. If the situation is not entirely out of hand, you can:
    1. Go with the flow and just let this person be the way she or he is.
    1. Call for a break and speak to this person in private or to the leaders of the group, letting them know that their colleague's behavior is not conducive to the negotiations and will not be tolerated.
    1. End negotiations with that particular person or, if that is not possible, with the other party completely.

If the person is extremely agitated, then a break needs to be called or negotiations need to be ended immediately pending a resolution to the problem.
If the latter is the case and there is some specific issue that is causing the difficulty, then this is a simpler issue to deal with. Find out exactly what is troubling the individual and work on finding a solution to the person's obvious discomfort. Confront the person's angst head-on and address the situation before it gets out of hand. You may want to do this in private or discuss the matter with one of the individual's colleagues first.

Take the temperature in the room and, if necessary, call a break to decide with your own group how best to deal with the situation. Ignoring the problem when the person in question is making a pointed effort to show displeasure would be unwise. You may discover that it is something as simple as a personal problem that has the person in a bad mood. While this may be unprofessional, it does happen, even to the best of us, and so it should simply be forgiven and forgotten, particularly if an apology is forthcoming.

If the issue is business-oriented and specific to the negotiations, then it needs to be discussed and laid on the table in order to proceed smoothly. Do not allow difficult people to intimidate you. Do not just grin and bear them; face the issue and resolve it. After all is said and done, this type of problem is simply another term for negotiation; it is called conflict resolution. Your ability to resolve conflicts during negotiations will only enhance your skills and beef them up considerably.
Regrouping after Arguments
Many a negotiation has seen full-blown arguments ensue when two parties disagree heatedly. This does not always signal the end of negotiations, but it can be quite nerve-racking to witness firsthand. If you are an observer of one of these heated arguments, you should step back and let it run its course, as long as the parties are not coming to blows. Let them argue it out, so to speak, and let the conflict end naturally.
If things get out of hand, then someone must step in. If you are one of the leaders in the negotiations, then it will be your job to get things calmed down. You can do this by calling a break and speaking in a calm, firm voice. Assure both parties that their anger is not helping anyone reach a mutually beneficial decision and that everyone needs to cool off for a few minutes.
If you are not one of the appointed leaders of the group, then allow those in charge to handle the situation, even if you feel like jumping in. Trust that their experience was why they were chosen to lead the group in the first place and let them do their job their way.
If, unfortunately, you are one of those participating in a heated argument, allow the mediators or leaders to calm things down and agree to their suggestion to break for a short while. Use this opportunity to discuss your feelings with your colleagues so that you can go back to the table with a coherent argument that will not lead to outright anarchy. In either case, do not let animated arguments or heated disputes end negotiations unnecessarily. Give everyone time to calm down sufficiently and decide if discussions can continue in a more civilized manner. Usually, not always but usually, everyone will have a chuckle over the situation later on, once tempers have had a chance to cool. Often those who go head-to-head initially end up being strong allies and even friends in the future. The goal is to have all parties regain their bearings before continuing on with discussions.

It may be hard to believe that a group of adults participating in a negotiation can become so frustrated that they will literally walk out of a meeting, but it happens all the time. Walking out signals a clear end to discussions and communicates a need to leave the situation for an extended period of time or even permanently. This may be done to let the other party know that there will be no more negotiating and that what has been offered stands as is, or it may be done to force the other party into acceptance.
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Either way, it is clear that the departing party no longer wishes to discuss the matter at that time, if at all. When one party feels that its members are not getting anywhere in negotiations or that their needs are not being met or heard continually over a long period of time, the individuals involved may conclude that leaving is a viable option. In many cases this may actually be true. If you are on the receiving end of a walkout, you need to ask yourself if your side of the table was truly listening to the other side.
Was your party making an effort to understand the other's needs? Are the other party's demands unreasonable? Did your side blow the other's position off without consideration? The ball is now in the court of those who are left at the table. In these instances, it is up to the people remaining to decide if they will bend or quit. The other side nearly never will make contact after walking out, so it is up to the other party to extend the invitation if the wish is to continue negotiations. Be sure that if and when you do make contact, you have something to propose that is different from what was offered before the walkout.
When to Call It Quits
There are several circumstances in which it is immediately clear that negotiations should end. The most obvious of these is in the case of severe hostility, violence of any sort, illegal behavior, or unethical practice. In other situations, quitting time might not be so clear. Dealing with difficulty and adversity is part of the negotiating process, and quitting every time you encounter such situations will eventually leave you with no one to negotiate with. When you are on this side of negotiating, you are the party who is walking out, either physically or theoretically, so think long and hard before making that decision. The other party may not reopen discussions with you if you decide to leave. Many situations are ambiguous, and it is hard to make a definitive choice to continue on.

Ask yourself these questions if you are unsure whether you should keep trying or end negotiations. If the answer to any of them is a clear and resounding no, then you should move on:
  1. Do I see a resolution to this situation at any point in the future?
  2. Is the other party willing to bend on its stance at all?
  3. Do I feel that the other party is being ethical and honest?
  4. Is the other party reasonable and willing to meet me halfway?
  5. Do I have more to gain than lose by continuing?
  6. Can I tolerate the other party's behavior any longer?
  7. Will I regret ending negotiations in the future?
There is no way to completely avoid difficult people in business, particularly when it comes to negotiation. By its very nature, this type of communication often elicits strong feelings and emotion. Conflict resolution is simply another form of negotiation, and learning how to handle conflict will make you a stronger negotiator over time. Not all arguments need to signal the end of negotiations; in fact, an argument may clarify communications and create unexpected allies. Walkouts clearly are a signal that the other side is finished with discussion and has left the ball in your court. It is up to you to decide whether to offer a sweeter deal and continue on or let the situation stand as is. Finally, sometimes it is necessary to just know when to walk away and admit that discussions are defunct. See moving on as an opportunity to find more suitable negotiators to do business with.
The Secrets to Powerful Negotiation

Now that you have been introduced to the basics of this art, we offer you some tried and true methods of gaining advantage and leverage at the negotiating table. These are not meant to be used to trick or deceive the other party; they simply serve as good advice and present a higher form of skillful preparation. These methods were developed by some of the country's top negotiators, and they will assist you in making a good deal as often as possible. There is great satisfaction in closing a deal in which everyone walks away with something to celebrate.
The Importance of Patience

A wise negotiator must understand the value of patient waiting when negotiating. This virtue is particularly important after you have made an offer or counteroffer. It is imperative that you allow the other side to ponder what you have put forth without excessive goading and questioning. Making contact too soon could blow the deal completely. A long period of silence from the other side may tempt you into jumping in and trying to influence a yes decision, or it may prompt you to assume that you made an error by asking for too much too soon. If you did your homework and prepared well beforehand, then be confident that you made the right offer. If you did not, you will know soon enough, and why weaken your position by making contact before the other party is ready to talk? Trust that you will have the opportunity to make adjustments when you receive a counteroffer and do not let fear drive your actions; jumping the gun may cause you to lose what you bargained for in the first place.
Go Right to the Top
Every seasoned negotiator knows that it is a waste of time to spend countless hours negotiating with someone who does not have the authority to make decisions. This is true in any negotiation, big or small. Find out who makes the decisions and speak with that party directly. If you are not sure who that is, then ask or do a little research.
Often companies will have you deal first with associates who act as intermediaries between you and the decision-maker. Make it clear that you wish to do business directly with the head honcho, even if it means ending negotiations and going elsewhere. On a macrolevel, consider the example of buying a house. Would you spend time discussing price with the owners' teenage children? With their parents? With their neighbors? No, of course not! You would want to go directly to the decision-maker: the owners.
Likewise, when negotiating a business deal, spend only as much time as is necessary to gain information before going directly to the boss. As with our example of home-buying, if the neighbor of the current owners can tell you if they are anxious to sell or if they are reluctant to move, or if the neighbors can provide any other bits of information that will help you gain insight into the sellers' frame of mind, then by all means, buy them a cup of coffee and chat them up. If, on the other hand, the neighbors really do not know anything about the homeowners except that they like to garden, then wish them a nice day and go right to the source.
The First Offer
It is rare indeed that anyone takes the first offer. There would be no point in negotiating if this were the case. The first offer is the starting place for all that follows. The general rule of thumb for negotiating is: If you are selling, always go in high; if you are buying, always go in low. This allows for counteroffers to be made and lets you get what you wanted if not more.
A good example of this is, again, the house analogy. If you are selling, then set your price slightly above market value and several notches above the lowest price at which you can sell. This leaves negotiating room for the buyer, and you may just luck out and find one who falls in love with the location and will meet your offer. This is unlikely, but it could happen. On the other side, if you are buying, go several notches below the asking price and let the seller pull you up. Somewhere in that first offer is a negotiable figure that everyone can be happy with.
Closing the Deal
If things are right on the edge and the other party needs just a slight nudge to say yes, do not hesitate to throw in a little something extra to assure the opponent's acceptance. Point out what the other party has to gain and why what you are offering will be beneficial. Give the other party many reasons to say yes. If assurances are needed, then by all means give them, but only do this if you are prepared to follow through.

Once you have an affirmative answer, move quickly to get it finalized in writing. Be sure to go over all agreed-upon points and clarify any ambiguous points. Once things are finalized, all points agreed upon and all papers signed, it is appropriate and customary to celebrate in some way. Some gesture, whether as small as sharing a bottle of champagne or as grand as an extravagant dinner out, is appreciated and builds rapport. It is also a great release to the tensions of negotiating and allows everyone to feel good about the end of a successful negotiation.
The secrets to powerful negotiating are not really secret; rather, they are common sense points that many choose not to take advantage of. The best secret to powerful negotiations is to make honesty and integrity your guiding principles; know your own value, and trust that someone else will know it, too. If you have made and closed a deal in an honest and ethical manner that is a triumph, you should take the time to celebrate that success.

The first basic tool in your negotiating toolbox is the ability to listen well. Preparation, research, and knowing what situations are negotiable and which are nonnegotiable will help you build a strong base for learning to handle yourself at the table. Remember to practice with friends and family and note your style; make adjustments if you find you are lacking in any particular area.

We all negotiate on a daily basis. Use these instances to sharpen your ability and master the nuances of body language and nonverbal communication. When dealing with foreign nations, keep in mind the protocol and customs of other countries and respect their way of doing things, just as you would want them to respect the American way of doing things. Make an effort to understand difficult negotiators and get to the root of what is driving them; problematic situations will aid you in developing excellent conflict resolution skills. After all is said and done, negotiating is simply another aspect of business communication. There really is no great mystery or secret to doing it right. Build your reputation for being ethical and honest, act with integrity, and know your worth. These are the most important tools you need to negotiate with anyone, anywhere.