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2 Ways To Negotiate With Jerks

How can you negotiate well with someone you don’t like?

How can an attorney still do a good job when they have emotionally turned against their client?

This question has been on my mind since watching one of those cooking competition shows the other day. The last two contenders couldn’t have been more different.

One was calm, professional, focused, and quiet – and working, literally, one handed because of an injury.  The other was an obnoxious showboat – an inconsiderate bully with a holier than thou spiel about fatherhood.

Even the judges were rolling their eyes about the latter.  You couldn’t help but pull for the valiant, one-handed contestant.  I found myself not only wanting to see the one-handed contestant win but also hoping to see the other guy lose…

The obnoxious guy won though.  They do that sometimes.

Afterwards I couldn’t help thinking about the people who will run across that guy in negotiations.  He’s out there and he certainly negotiates.  How would you handle a negotiation with him?

With people like that, negotiation is a game and they will likely use tried and true bully techniques and verbal attacks – we’ll talk more about that next week.

Most seasoned mediators and negotiators could handle a guy like that.  They know how to handle difficult people, but what about despicable people?  Sometimes you have to negotiate with them too!

What about the REAL jerks?

Tree at Toomers the morning after winning National Championship

Tree at Toomer's getting rolled after winning National Championship

For example…

So far three attorneys have withdrawn from representing Harvey Updyke Jr. a/k/a “Al From Dadeville”.  He’s the University of Alabama fan who bragged about poisoning the two beautiful, 130 year old live oak trees that anchor Auburn University’s victory tradition.

On a radio show in January 2011, he admitted to poisoning the trees in November – and was pleased with himself for doing so.  Still unrepentant, when he was released on bail, he gave the TV cameramen the “bird”.

Conflicts of interest were cited in every attorney withdrawal.  It makes sense because, here in Alabama, it’s hard to avoid affiliation with one school or the other.  Not to mention that representing this guy could seriously jeopardize an Alabaman’s law practice and reputation.

John Carroll, dean of the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, commented that three withdrawals in a row seemed excessive.  He further noted. “It’s not only whether or not you have an actual conflict of interest; it’s also whether you and the client can get along.”

So even if they bring in counsel from another state, one with no affiliations with either school, that counsel will still be dealing with a difficult, unlikable client.  They will still be dealing with an unrepentant tree killer who flips off the press…

Legal representation is often one, long negotiation between attorney and client.  They work closely together and need to communicate well.  How can you negotiate well with someone you don’t like – or worse, find despicable?  Here are a few ways that come to mind:

Look for something, anything in the other person that you can congruently like, respect, appreciate or commend.

In his book “Infuence: The Psychology Of Persuasion”, Dr. Cialdini talks about the power of “Liking”.  Indeed, it is a very powerful negotiation and rapport tool.  Most people think that it means getting them to like you.  While that certainly helps, liking the other person can be even more powerful as a negotiation tool.  It disarms the other party and validates their need to be liked and appreciated.

Everybody has something good going on in his or her personality or life.  Even if you can’t see it, even if it happened a long time ago, everyone has done something positive.

Maybe they are a good parent.  Maybe they are good at their work.  Maybe they are active in some community effort.  Maybe they just haven’t caused as much trouble as they could have (this is almost always the case!).

If you can find just one positive thing to focus on, you will begin to elicit better behaviors from the person with whom you are negotiating.  If you have ever had to pull a frayed shoelace through a grommet by one single thread, you have the general idea.  Find that one thing and work it until you sense a shift in attitude.

If you can’t do that, try this:  Unconditional Acceptance.

Years ago my acting professor said that good theater helped people to “willingly suspend their perception of reality” so that they could fully experience the fantasy of good theater.  Life can be pretty good theater that can sometimes benefit from a “willing suspension of reality”… When nothing else works, that reality suspension can help you get the job done.

The late, great humanist Dr. Carl Rogers advocated using Unconditional Positive Regard to help patients express themselves more fully during therapy.  He encouraged therapists to unconditionally accept and support their patients, regardless of what the person said or did.  In other words he encouraged them to accept the patient and suspend judgment about the patient’s value or worth as a person.

Dr. Carl Rogers

Unconditional Positive Regard creates an environment that helps people take responsibility for their actions and grow emotionally.  Basically, it’s about accepting and valuing a person despite any perceived failings – always keeping in mind that there is good in everyone.

This is a very powerful negotiation tool!

The positive regard part might be hard for most mortals, so acceptance seems an easier route.  What that entails is accepting the person for who they are and accepting that their act was congruent with their personality.

When you use unconditional acceptance with someone (a coworker, negotiation partner, client) you tacitly give them permission to drop any façade they may be using and reveal their true feelings in a safe environment.  You validate their experience and help them to feel more comfortable sharing information with you.

In the case of bullies, jerks, and Al From Dadeville, it may open the door to some of their more redeeming qualities.  Finding and focusing on those better qualities can help an attorney or negotiator willingly do their job – and do a better job.

Try these techniques over the weekend and let me know the results!

How do the people around you react to you differently when you actively suspend judgment (even about small stuff) and accept them without condition?

Happy Friday and Happy Negotiating!


{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Will Hand February 26, 2011, 12:07 pm

    Great article, Nancy! I think both techniques would work well in group atmospheres also. There are many situations in which you have to work with people you do not like. This also means that there is a good chance that the other members do not like that person. Using either congruence or unconditional acceptance not only helps you in these circumstances, it helps the rest of the group get along, making it easier for the group to become more productive.

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