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Negotiating When You Don’t Like (or Respect) Someone

By |May 06, 2024

How to Negotiate Effectively Even When You Don't Respect the Other Side


"During a negotiation, it would be wise not to take anything personally. If you leave personalities out of it, you will be able to see opportunities more objectively." - Brian Koslow, Author


When it becomes necessary to negotiate with someone we have a personal dislike for or that we lack respect for, it can often make us feel uneasy, aggressive, or even timid. We start to break the rules…listening to respond, making presumptions about their motivations, and other counterproductive actions.  It is times like this that we remember what President John F. Kennedy said in his 1961 inaugural address, "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate." This quote underscores the importance of negotiating effectively, regardless of personal feelings.

Collectively, the Black Swan Negotiation Instructors have responded to thousands of incidents. They all agree it would be challenging to think of even a handful of times that they actually 'liked' the person they were negotiating with. This highlights the fact that personal feelings towards the other party are often irrelevant in achieving a successful negotiation.

We must focus on the issue, not the person. Dean Rusk, the former Secretary of State under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, reminded us that, "One of the best ways to persuade others is by listening to them." Rusk's quote applies to those we like as well as those we do not. Active listening and understanding the other party's perspective are crucial skills in any negotiation, regardless of our personal feelings toward them.

Emotions can hinder effective negotiation. Personal biases and negative feelings can cloud judgment, leading to suboptimal outcomes.  Separating the person from the problem is crucial. This means addressing the issue, not the individual, and maintaining professionalism and objectivity throughout the negotiation. Understanding the other party's perspective, even if you disagree, is key to applying Tactical Empathy®.

Easier said than done. Start with CAVIAAR™.

To effectively negotiate with someone you dislike or lack respect for, it's essential to prepare mentally and emotionally - starting with CAVIAAR™, a process that involves starting with being curious and acknowledging your feelings, and setting them aside to focus on your goals and the desired outcome. The process will get you in the right mindset to start the negotiation and guide you through the negotiation. 

Once the negotiation starts, staying curious with Empathetic Listening….paying attention to the words that are said (and not said), and understanding the driving forces behind their statements will keep negative emotions at bay.

 "A negotiator should observe everything. You must be part Sherlock Holmes, part Sigmund Freud." Victor Kiam, past owner New England Patriots

Tone is more important than content

”You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist.” - Indira Gandhi

When it is your time to talk, it's imperative to avoid confrontational or judgmental language and tone. Throughout the negotiation, maintain a calm and professional demeanor. Remember, your tone conveys more than the actual words you use. A harsh or aggressive tone can quickly derail a negotiation, while a calm and respectful tone can help create an atmosphere of collaboration and understanding. Focus on speaking, slowly, and with a measured cadence to ensure your message is received as intended.

When emotional outbursts or personal attacks must be addressed, or you are getting a poor reaction from your counterpart — think anger, frustration, or narcissism — “I” Messages are a good fit.   Simply put, “I” Messages are designed to confront persistent, counterproductive behaviors.  “I” Messages consist of three parts:

  1.  When you [the unwanted behavior (e.g., yell)]
  2. I feel [the way you feel (e.g., frustrated )]
  3.  Because [what they stand to lose if they don’t cease (e.g., I’m not sure how we are going to continue this discussion constructively)]

By using "I" Messages, you are addressing behaviors or statements that are disruptive to the interaction while avoiding accusatory language that can put the other party on the defensive. This approach tells the counterpart to “knock it off” without sounding confrontational.

The Black Swan Method® is indispensable in managing emotions and maintaining objectivity during negotiations.

With knowing how to prepare and the right mindset anyone can approach any negotiation with confidence and skill, regardless of the relationship with the other party.