Ask Alignor

How should I deal with someone who seems to be focused on just one issue, such as money?

Some negotiators appear to be obsessed with one issue, such as price. When that happens, those negotiators can be very difficult to deal with. You can easily grow frustrated when you deal with a single issue negotiator because you risk losing a lot of value if you fail to explore other issues. Your discussions can devolve into a back-and-forth battle over competing positions that lack flexibility even when there may be better, more creative ways to satisfy each side’s respective interests. The key to managing this situation is first to acknowledge that the one issue you are dealing with is indeed critical to your counterpart. Once you have acknowledged the importance of the issue, request an opportunity to touch on some other important issues before coming back to this key issue. Make clear that you will not spend too long (you can suggest 5 minutes) on the other issues, and that you will return to that the one issue critical to your counterpart. If your counterpart agrees to this approach, you should get straight to the point: address the other issues in the negotiation, starting with those issues on which you and your counterpart may have interests in common, such as quality or the timing of the deal. By establishing that your counterpart cares about other issues, and identifying your common interests, you may find it easier to deal with your counterpart’s critical issue because you have placed that critical issue in a broader context. If your counterpart refuses to give you even 5 minutes to address other issues, then that person is most likely playing a tactical game to control the negotiation. Under those circumstances, you can ask the difficult negotiator why they cannot spare just 5 minutes to let you address other important issues. The difficult negotiator may then either reluctantly agree to discuss other issues or insist that there is no point in “wasting time” talking about anything until this one issue has been resolved. If your counterpart takes the latter approach, you can acknowledge the point and again ask for just five minutes lattitude to discuss other issues. If your counterpart still refuses such an obviously reasonable request, then you may need to begin communicating consequences and how your counterpart’s critical interests may be harmed if you do not come to agreement.

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