Negotiating in Difficult Situations

Breaking Barriers for Cooperation

There are 5 steps to change the game from face-to –face confrontation to side –side problem solving. 

The breakthrough strategy is counteractive- it requires you to do the opposite of what you might naturally do in difficult situations. 

The essence of the breath through strategy is indirect action. You try to go around the resistance. You manipulate the opponent to reach consciousness by helping them figure it out for themselves, without any resistance. 

In short, this type of strategy is the art of letting the other person have your way. 

william uri

Step 1

The most natural thing to do when faced with a difficult situation is to react. However, the first thing that needs to be done is to be able to control your opponent’s behaviour by controlling your own. There is a need to suspend action in so that you can name the game.

This can buy you some time to think, which can be utilised to keep your eye on the prize. The agreement should allow you to satisfy your interests and better your BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). This is the key to negotiating power.

It is a resource that can be used when all else fails and under heavy attack. 

How does reacting affect quality of communication exchanged ?

Reacting makes us loose sight of our interests. It is easy to confuse getting even with getting what you want. Your opponent often is trying to make you react which feeds to the unproductive cycle of action and reaction. By reacting you become part of the problem. 

Your component will pose one kind of reaction from the 3 types of reactions. The natural thing to a human is to strike back when being attached without thinking.

  1. Striking back (fighting fire with fire)

This reaction will most likely cause confrontation. Striking back damages relationships and most likely lead you to play their game instead of resulting in a win-win negotiation. 

  1. Giving in 

Your opponent makes you feel uncomfortable with the negotiation which in turn makes you give into their interests. This results in an un-satisfactory outcome. It rewards your opponent for bad behaviour and gives you a reputation for weakness. 

  1. The break off 

Costs are too high and nasty reaction happen. When something is too difficult to resolve you feel the easiest way is to just walk away. It is a hasty decision and more likely to cause regret later on. You will never reach agreements because you always have to start over.

How to prepare yourself

Going to the balcony 

By going to the balcony you are stepping back, collecting your wits and seeing the situation objectively. ‘The balcony’ is a metaphor for mental detachment. You are able to think constructively from both sides and look for a mutually satisfactory way to resolve the problem. Also helps you to distance yourself from natural impulses and emotion. 

Keeping your eyes on the prize

The prize of negotiation is not to obtain your position but to satisfy your interests. Interests are an intangible motivation that leads you to take a position. However, you cannot satisfy your own interests unless you satisfy your opponents. 

Stay focused on the goal

Once you have an idea what the prize looks like, the challenge is to stay focused on it. 

Name the game

Find out your opponents tactics

  • Stone walls –refusal to budge there is no flexibility 
  • Attacks – intimidation and make you feel uncomfortable that in turn you give in 
  • Tricks – taking advantage of you. 

Once you have neutralised the tactic you are more likely not to fall into the trap. 

Step 2  – Step to their Side

This is to create a favourable climate, by diffusing the opponent’s anger and fear. Acknowledging their point by actively listening does this. Listening requires patience and self discipline, so staying focused on what your opponent is saying is crucial so that they becomes less reactive. 

Actively listening helps you acknowledge their emotions for example feeling unappreciated. This will also show your understanding, and acknowledging them as a person (showing respect). This creates cognitive dissonance; this is changing the opponent’s perception.  Initially in a classic negotiation stance there are two conflicting views but by you seeing their view and going onto their side will create an imbalance within their perception. In this stance they will feel inclined to create a balance again by solving the problem instead. 

By stepping to their side you will create a better working relationship. By having a positive relationship your counterpart will be more inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt.

This will be easier for you to express your interests better. It is better to give I-statements, as it describes the impact of the problem on you. By giving information on their behaviour based on your experience makes it harder for them to react. 

Step 3 – Reframe the Game

Never reject the opponent’s position as it reinforces it. Direct their attention to the problem of meeting each other’s interests, this can be done by asking problem solving questions. 

Problem solving questions focus attention on the interests of each side. As there is an element of satisfying them and a standard of fairness for resolving the issues at hand. It disables the attack of the negotiation.  

Ask why and what if questions as again this shows respect and interest in their position. Also asking for their advice helps too. Reframe tactics as well i.e go around the stone walls, deflect attacks and expose tricks. 

Step 4 – Build the Golden Bridge 

Here is time for negotiation. Draw their attention to where they would like to go. Act like a mediator, involve them in the process by incorporating their ideas. Identify and satisfy their unmet interests especially their basic human needs to make them out to be the victor. Make it easy for them to say yes by building them the golden bridge. 

Step 5 – Bring them to their senses not their knees

Make it hard for them to say no by educating them.  Threats and force will backfire and push into the corner, this leads to lash outs and throwing of more resources to fight against you. 

Instead, educate them about the cost in not agreeing by asking reality testing questions, warnings instead of threats and demonstrate your BATNA. 

This breakthrough strategy must be only used to minimise their resistance , it is important to understand that your goal is not a victory, it should be framed for mutual satisfaction. Always make sure that the golden bridge is always open.

Separating People from the Problem

People have emotions, deeply held values and different backgrounds. They are prone to cognitive bias. 

A working relationship where trust and understanding respect and friendship are built by negotiations.

Misunderstandings can reinforce prejudgment and lead to reactions that produce counte-reactions. Most commonly relationships become tangled with the problem. People take comments about the problem and interpret them to be personal attacks. There are three basic categories that facilitate effectiveness of communication within a negotiation process; perception, emotion and communication. 


Difference are defined by the difference between your thinking and theirs. 

People tend to hear what they want to hear so they can justify their perceptions and disagree with any information if it questions their own views.  To remedy this put yourself in their shoes. (important skill a negotiator can possess) by seeing their point of view allows you to understand empathetically the power of their point and feel their emotional charged belief. 

Another way is to discuss each others perceptions, as this will disable you to blame each other and to deduce their intentions from your fears. Additionally, a way to frame the negotiation process is to give them a stake within the process, as they are unlikely to approve the product if they do not feel they are involved. This also gives a way for face saving as they are likely to feel it is a fair outcome, rather than them feeling like they have backed down. 


Emotion can quickly bring the negotiation process to an end. The need to recognize and understand emotions can greatly help the process. Attention should be driven to core concerns like autonomy (the desire to make your own choice) appreciation (desire to feel valued and recognised) affiliation ( the feel like you’re an accepted member ) role ( the feeling that you have purpose) status (desire to feel acknowledged)

Not acknowledging these concerns can generate highly negative emotions and attending to them can build rapport and positive climate for problem solving.  Allowing the other side to let off steam is a effective way to deal with negative emotions and by not reacting to the emotional outburst you are not tangling the problem with the person. 

Tangle tangled and untangled. Abstract metaphor, concept of solving problems in business.


Negotiation is a process of communicating back and forth for the purpose of reaching a joint decision. But there are common problem where negotiators do not actually listen to what each other has to say, this can lead to misunderstanding because sometimes it is hard to say what you mean, however by ‘actively ’ listening you acknowledge what is being said. It enables you to understand their perceptions and what emotions are being felt and most importantly what they want to actually say. By engaging in active listening the opposing party will feel satisfaction of feeling they have been herd. 

Focus on interests not positions

Fighting hard on the issue rather than the person increases pressure for effective solution. Giving support on human beings helps you improve relationships and increases the likelihood of reaching an agreement. 

You need to find interests by examining why is this of their interest and look behind the position because most likely you will find their motivation and what makes them tick.

Negotiations are not likely to make much progress as long as one side believes that the fulfilment of their basic human need is being threatened by the other.  The purpose of negotiation is to serve interests. The chances of that happening is when you communicate them. 

Invent options for mutual gain

Problems that people may face in creating options for mutual gain is because of premature judgment. People feel that whatever they may say would be judged, ridiculed or wrong.

Searching for a single answer may short circuit the negotiation process as there is no decisions made from a large number of possible options. 

Some may assume that there is a fixed pie. where normally negotiation should be seen to as zero sum game, it’s either /or . 

Many fall for this trap and do not see that thinking that there is a problem is the problem. Every problem has a solution, if one cannot be found it is not a problem ;).

Essentially negotiation is to serve and to benefit your own interest. But looking at the other side, it enables you to attack the problem together and reluctantly both sides are satisfied.  Both sides leave has happy customers.

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