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July 17, 2017
How to Negotiate With Bullies
Behaving like a bully reduces negotiation skills because it blinds one from understanding the other person’s point of view. Victoria Pynchon, co-founder of She Negotiates Consulting and Training, puts it this way: “If you believe you have to force people to do what you want in order to get what you want, you won’t bother learning how to ‘sell’ them.”
This is a serious detriment because negotiating is all about understanding the other person. When you feel the sensation of dominance, it sweeps away your ability to consider any feelings the other might have. If you can hang in through the unpleasant feelings being bullied causes, you will gain the advantage.
Knowledge. Know your opposite
Learn as much as possible about the person, their organization, and why they are talking with you. Trump negotiates with little knowledge of his opposite and you can see his frustration when he’s caught not knowing and the look of surprise in the faces of the world leaders at his lack of knowledge. That’s when he’s most vulnerable.
More than once I’ve recognized that the other side really didn’t have full command of the facts. When that happens, wait. Take your time. Listen and take notes, even if sometimes just to show the activity of note-taking. And, when they feel confident that they’ve made their point, present your insights, in a polite voice.
Expertise is where the power lies
Your experience working with the issue under negotiation is your advantage. Don’t give it up. If you’re negotiating with a bully, they want something from you. Otherwise they wouldn’t waste their time. Trust in your expertise and direct your energy into discovering precisely what they need from you and why. Then use your insights to confirm or correct your intuitions. Use your experience to frame your observations by saying things like, “In my experience, the most effective way of meeting your needs is to…”
Action bias
Bullies act first and with absolute confidence. They know that fast action puts the opposite on defense. If you’re not prepared for the power of their aggression, you’ll be overwhelmed. The trick is to wait them out. Don’t respond. When they’re finished, empathize. If they demand something ridiculous, just smile and say no.
The heat of it
When you are in the thick of it with a bully, remind yourself that they are not in charge of me. Being prepared and falling back on that preparation is one sure way to keep your cool.
Bullies need assurance that they are all powerful
When negotiating with a bully give them the assurance that they have the power. “Mr. President, your campaign was remarkable. What you did has never been done before. Absolutely brilliant. Congratulations.” Stroke their ego, allow the dominance. Then ask for what you need to be successful on their behalf. Believe in your expertise and remember he can’t get what you do from anyone else.
Lawyer, litigator, bully
Once, a law firm commissioned us to design stationery. The firm was headed by a celebrated litigator with an intimidating courtroom style that he famously used in his business dealings.
In an unusual twist, their internal marketing group was entrusted with buying and managing the printing of the new stationery. It was a large print order, over six figures. We protested, as it’s unusual for the designers to be separated from the first printing of an important new look, especially one that depends on the quality of the printing. Nevertheless, we were overruled.
When the newly printed stationery didn’t match the look of the design, our client rejected the order. The printer demanded to be paid, saying that their work met the specifications provided by the designers. That’s when the marketing folks called me on the carpet.
The meeting was in the firm’s imposing conference room. The printer attended, along with the firm’s marketing director, and that famous litigator. In preparation, I asked a printer that we trusted, to print a handful of letterhead to our specs. As expected, they did a beautiful job.
The meeting began with the printer and the marketer explaining why the work didn’t meet expectations. I listened thoughtfully, nodding in sympathy while examining the work with genuine concern. Then the litigator went after me, making an aggressive attack on our carelessness and lack of professionalism, demanding that we not only pay for the printing but pay for damages caused by the delay caused by our “sloppy” work. I listened attentively to his rant, wringing my hands in an act of submission. When the room went silent and all eyes were on me, I continued to nod silently. I don’t think I’d said anything except good morning up to that point.
After an extended pause, I looked directly into the eyes of the litigator and said with kindness, “I’m so sorry this has happened. I know how important the new stationery is. I know the delay has been a serious blow. And I know how disappointed you are with this outcome. Please except my deepest apologies.”
As I spoke I could see them relax. I went, “I was so disappointed myself, wondering how this could have happened.” Then, reaching into the envelop for the correctly printed samples, I said, “In preparation for this meeting, and to check the specifications, I asked a printer like yours to run a few samples.”
The samples were beautiful, matching the design perfectly. There was no further mention of us paying the print bill. The litigator thanked me for my time and turned his attention to his marketing director as I left the room.
Having expertise means you always have the advantage of knowledge when you’re negotiating. Just as in the schoolyard, standing up to the bully is the only path to success. But use your expertise with brains not brawn.

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Ted Leonhardt has provided management consulting and negotiation training exclusively to creative businesses since 2005. He cofounded the The Leonhardt Group, a brand design firm in 1985 and sold it in 1999. In 2001 and 2002 Ted served as Chief Creative Officer for Fitch Worldwide, out of London. In 2003 through early 2005 Ted was president of Anthem Worldwide, a brand packaging design group.     
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