You have been there: you find yourself having to do business with someone who is rude, cuts you off, breaks the rules, disregards things outside their immediate interests, wings it on deals they voraciously pursue, breaches contracts with abandon but demands trust, is unable to empathize, and is totally indifferent to your asks in a negotiation. Frustration, speechlessness, and temple kneading ensue when at the negotiation table with opponents exhibiting this behavior. So is this a “tactic” or something else?
In writing my third book, I worked with psychologists to help understand the most difficult negotiation situations. One recurring theme I write about is the “difficult person” syndrome. Actually, there are several personality disorders that my collaborators have educated me on. This week, I will discuss what the American Psychiatric Association describes as a “Cluster B” Personality Disorder, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition. Specifically, I want to look at anti-social personality disorder (“ASPD”). This can manifest in many ways, but we want to narrow our view. I am thoroughly unqualified to diagnose anyone, but if a few boxes get checked on my DSM-5 cheat-sheet I can take an educated guess to deal with the situation and prevail in a negotiation.
This behavior is part of humanity and, therefore, it is part of negotiation. It is frequently and unfairly labeled as something only “others” exhibit in desperate environments. Indeed, it is discussed in the DSM-5 as culturally prevalent with males in low-income urban settings as a survival strategy. So you may think this is an urban poverty issue, but this is not true. Many highly successful C-level executives, actors, politicians, and non-profit executives may exhibit these traits. So what is it? And how do you deal with it?
We have all been in negotiations or other situations where we have encountered others who seem more than rude. These people are offensive and abusive. Violation of others’ rights is the hallmark of negotiators with ASPD. Most negotiators, such as police officers, come in contact with this “tactic” often, as disregard for the law is a hallmark. But you need not be a violent type; breaching legal agreements and contracts also falls within the spectrum of behaviors associated with ASPD.
I label it as a “tactic” because it is often faked or imitated. The person may not be exhibiting these traits as a disorder, but as an act on the stage of negotiation to obtain a result. As a deception, this tactic helped the actor obtain positive outcomes in the past, so why stop? We tend to repeat behavior that rewards us. The DSM gives various elements:
(1) failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
(2) deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
(3) impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;
(4) irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
(5) reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
(6) consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;[i] this can be seen as inability to perform or honor signed contracts in western cultures;
(7) lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.
The elements I often see in negotiations include deceitfulness, theft, or serious violation of rules. Some inexperienced negotiators think as a default construct, “this is a negotiation and no rules apply.” So once these traits appear in a negotiation, how do you deal with them?
There is no doubt that this is a very difficult negotiation style to work with, so if you can avoid it, spend time and money elsewhere. If you have no options, unfortunately, it is a very tedious path. Sufferers of this in a negotiation will sometimes respond to rewards for appropriate behavior and apply negative consequences for bad behavior. “Teeth in the transaction” as I like to say at my seminars.
With this type of dynamic, naked concession-making is totally inappropriate as there must be a balance of give and take. Incremental planning and rule-setting prior to the negotiation is a start. But knowing that rules don’t matter to various forms of ASPD, you may be saying, “Martin, why bother? You just said they don’t follow the rules.” Rule-setting at the outset or when it first appears will allow you to walk out with authority and terminate the negotiation. If this appears mid-negotiation, you may present a one-strike-and-you’re-out rule: “If you do that again, this negotiation will be terminated.”
It can be very convoluted. At the outset, you may agree to take issues off the table one at a time as an accord is reached, but even then an ASPD sufferer may not close even if 19 out of 20 issues are agreed upon, and attempt change the rule for an all or nothing. That is why reward and consequence must be dealt out incrementally with a reservation to take the rewards away in the event they do not honor the rules. Again, put “teeth in the transaction.”
If they are faking it, call them out and ask why they are not acting like themselves, if you have a baseline of their behavior in other settings. Otherwise, carrot and stick, step by step.