Dealing with “Irrational” Negotiators

HBS Working Knowledge recently ran another useful article discussing how to deal with “irrational” negotiators — you know, the kind who in the midst of negotiations behave recklessly, seemingly without a strategy, and even act in ways that seem to contradict their own self-interests. Anyone who has faced a seemingly “irrational” party on the other side of a negotiation knows that dealing with them can be more difficult (and frustrating) than dealing with an even moderately sane individual. Rather than throwing up your hands (or throwing the nearest object across the table), the article suggests considering whether the other side is truly irrational. More often than not, the seemingly irrational behavior has a rational — albeit hidden — cause, such as a lack of accurate information, hidden constraints or hidden interests. According to the authors, the key to stopping the behavior and smoothing the negotiations requires discovering that hidden cause and working to overcome it with the other party — rather than simply dismissing it as irrational.

The article is excerpted from a book titled: Negotiation Genius: How to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Brilliant Results at the Bargaining Table and Beyond. I have not yet picked up a copy, but based on the excerpts in this article, I have added it to my list.

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