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6 Negotiation Techniques to Manage Relationships with Challenging Coworkers

By |August 07, 2023

Challenging coworkers exist on almost every team. Some are assertive and charge forward without collaboration or approvals, whereas others don’t contribute to the team at all. Some are disgruntled, dismissing or defying the team or supervisor at every opportunity.

Although you can’t avoid working with challenging people, you can use Black Swan techniques to make working relationships more productive. With the right approach, you can make positive, long-term changes in your most difficult relationships, transforming challenging coworkers into people you don’t want to work without.

With all this in mind, let’s look at six negotiation techniques you can use to manage challenging relationships and take your business to the next level.

1. Listen.

Listening is a powerful skill. However, most people just listen to get the gist of what the other side is saying or rebut the counterpart’s position. You can do better by listening at a higher level and trying to hear the other side’s internal logic and emotion.

When you listen at a higher level, it helps you get out of your head. At the same time, it ensures you are not listening solely to refute the other side, allowing you to communicate more effectively.

2. Stay curious.

Challenging coworkers will trigger negative emotions in you every time you engage with them. Unfortunately, those strong emotions stifle productive communication.

Combat this by always staying curious. If you are curious when entering a conversation with a difficult person, it becomes difficult to get angry, triggered, or emotional, because you will be genuinely interested in figuring out what makes the other side tick.

3. Build Tactical Empathy®.

We teach our clients that they should always aim to build Tactical Empathy®, which is the cornerstone of The Black Swan Group’s lessons. Everyone wants to feel understood, and this is what Tactical Empathy facilitates.

Using Tactical Empathy helps you build better relationships with difficult coworkers. It doesn’t mean you necessarily have to agree with what your coworker is saying. Instead, you need to hear and understand the motivations and dynamics behind what they are saying.

When you use Tactical Empathy, difficult coworkers will feel heard and understood.  This will create a desire to reciprocate and listen to what you have to say.

It’s time to get unstuck! Here are five tactics for negotiating with difficult  people. Download here  >>

4. Apologize.

If a conversation with a difficult coworker moves in the wrong direction, take responsibility, apologize, and move the conversation forward with one of the other Negotiation 9® techniques, such as Labels™ or Mirrors™.

A genuine apology will shut a lot of people down when they attack. The only caution here is that you don’t want to apologize too often because your counterpart might see that as a sign of weakness, which could derail your efforts.

5. Use an Accusation Audit®.

When dealing with a challenging coworker, Accusation Audits® (AA®) are pure gold. When you begin a difficult conversation, throw out some Accusation Audits® before you deliver bad news or make an ask.

You might think I don’t understand our mission.  You probably think I’m just here to give you a hard time. You may think I don’t give you enough time to get your work done.  I know you think I am too demanding.

By leading with an AA, you defuse negative sentiments that might cloud your coworker’s mind. Quite simply, AAs clear fear from the mind, allowing your coworker to listen more closely and making them more willing to share.

6. Practice daily.

Ultimately, effectively managing relationships with challenging coworkers requires getting your daily reps in by engaging in low-stakes practice. So practice listening, staying curious, building Tactical Empathy, and utilizing the Black Swan skills.

You are in complete control of the effort you put forth and the preparation you execute. By practicing daily in low-stakes situations—like at a coffee shop or restaurant—you will be ready to shine when you get into a difficult conversation.  Nobody ever rises to the occasion; we all fall to our highest level of preparation.

When will you build a better relationship with a challenging coworker?

In most cases, coworkers become challenging because they don’t feel heard or understood.

When you use the Black Swan techniques and build Tactical Empathy, you develop trust-based influence because you show the other side you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. The more your coworker feels understood, the stronger your relationship will become.

Who knows? With the right approach, you might even open up lines of communication that didn’t exist before.

Now that you have a better idea about how to negotiate with challenging coworkers, continue your learning by checking out our free e-book, 5 Negotiation Tactics for Dealing with Difficult People.

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