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Countering Hard Ball Tactics

Inevitably, you will run into people whose behavior pushes your buttons. How can you minimize the impact of such tactics? Fundamentally, you have to “change the game.” Too often, people feel forced into a corner. Choosing any of the following behaviors will allow you to stand up for yourself, get the results you want and not intensify the conflict in these situations.

Stop the presses

When a counterpart gets on your nerves, share what is bothering you focusing on the impact of the behavior. Rather than assuming bad intentions, you might ask that person why they did what they did. Ask if there’s a problem or concern they have that caused them to say what they did. You might say something like this: “Sally, I am really frustrated. I feel like the four times I put an idea out there it’s always put down. Am I missing something here? Is there some concern of yours that we need to discuss?”

Ignore it

Pretend it never happened and stay positive. This can be disarming if done well. You are really saying, “What you are doing has no effect on me.” If the same behavior comes up repeatedly, however, you will have to use a different strategy.

Come back to the issue

Sometimes you’re just caught off guard. Taking a step back will allow you to deal with the issue more constructively. For example, you might say, “John, I need time to think about your proposal. Can we discuss it at the next meeting?” Or, simply wait until the next meeting, when you have had time to calm down, before raising your concern. Try saying, “John, in the last meeting you said something that puzzled me. Can you explain what you meant by…?”

Ask that person for advice

Tell the other person that you are stuck because of what has happened, and ask what they would do if faced with the same behavior. You might say, “I am really at a loss on how to proceed forward. We both seem frustrated. How might we deal this so we’re both OK with the outcome?”

Enlist support

Find others to help. These people can be there with you next time to help deal or defuse the difficult behavior. This might include a person in a facilitator role, who presence is agreed to by both parties, or it might include a person on your side who can help you stay calm and focused when the going gets rough.

Use appropriate humor

Use humor to change the dynamic of the interaction. Getting people to laugh is disarming and can often turn around a bad situation.

Leave the game

Exit the situation and analyze your best alternative. If it’s a difficult boss, maybe it’s time for a transfer or new job. If it’s your car’s mechanic, maybe it’s time to look for another one. If you know your walk away alternative, you can be more objective about how you should handle a difficult situation.

In order to be able to use these above strategies well, you should prepare for difficult situations ahead of time. Here are some tips to help you get ready for hardball tactics.

Understand your own reaction

First, figure out why a specific behavior bothers you. For instance, is this an ego issue? Do you feel they are treating you disrespectfully? Understanding the root of your own reaction will help you determine a constructive way forward.

Remember when you’ve been difficult

In the past, when you you’ve behaved irrationally (and we all have), what was the cause? Keeping this in mind will allow you to understand the other person better. Why might a person be doing what he or she is doing? What might he or she be trying to accomplish?

Keep your eyes on the prize

Hardball tactics generally cause anger and can change focus from the goal to revenge. Sometimes when a person acts in an inflammatory way, we focus only on their behavior and lose track of what we really wanted in the first place. Our reaction may drive a larger wedge between us and our original purpose for negotiation or mediation. Be sure to stay focused on your goal and take steps to get there no matter what the situation.

By preparing in a reflective manner and diagnosing what’s happening in the room, you will be able to select an effective and appropriate strategy to deal with hardball tactics. You will be able to regain your balance faster, respond in ways that help defuse the tactics, and ultimately get the results you want.


Grande Lum

Grande Lum is the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Menlo College in Atherton, California. Prior to joining Menlo, he was Director of the Divided Community Project (DCP) at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Previously, Grande Lum was nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed… MORE >

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