Negotiating with the Most Difficult People

Civil Negotiation and Mediation by Nancy Hudgins

I’m a fan of Bill Eddy’s. Bill is a clinical social worker who became a lawyer and then a mediator. He has made a study of working with high conflict personalities. He founded the High Conflict Institute, which is also on Facebook, here. You can join his discussion group, High Conflict Institute, on LinkedIn. I highly recommend his book, High Conflict People in Legal Disputes.

Bill outlines four personality types: borderline personalities, narcissists, antisocial personalities and histrionic personalities. Common to each of these personalities is that they see conflicts or problems as external to themselves. When a conflict arises, they can’t see their own part in it, which makes their involvement in solving it very difficult.

As lawyers, we are not well-qualified to diagnose personality disorders, and I caution against doing so with any certainty. But, from time to time, we all have run into those negotiators who are obstinate and whose behavior we just can’t figure out, because they seem so illogical and overly contentious. If you are negotiating with someone and getting nowhere, you might want to follow some of Bill’s advice:

• Resist the urge to get angry back

• Don’t over-react to mood swings

• Stay unhooked from the party’s (lawyer’s) intensity

• Listen non-defensively

• Don’t blame the party (lawyer) for faulty thinking or criticize too intensely

• Validate the person rather than criticizing the behavior

• Focus on what to do next—the next step

Try some of these strategies. Let me know if they work for you.


Nancy Hudgins

Nancy Hudgins, a San Francisco mediator and lawyer, began specializing in civil litigation in the 1970's. She has represented both plaintiffs and defendants, chiefly in personal injury, medical malpractice, elder abuse and product liability lawsuits, but also in a wide variety of complex litigation, including civil rights, fraud and class… MORE >

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