He or she is the top dog in his or her organization, the alpha negotiator. The person might be an attorney, business owner or executive who may have bulldozed his opponents and professionally bludgeoned his or her colleagues to get to the top. Now that person is across the table and you and your client are viewed as the next people to be vanquished. What’s the best way to actually work with this person and help your client reach its goals?
1.) Effective listening
Some of the tools you can use when talking include,
- Label the emotions you think you’re hearing: “You sound…”, “I sense…”
- Summarize and paraphrase what was said: “So what you’re telling me is…”
- Ask open ended questions: “How/why/who?”, “Tell me more about that.”
- Use ‘I’ messages: “I’m as frustrated as you are…
2.) Emotional Intelligence
Take into account how that person is feeling and try to manage those feelings appropriately. Knowing what makes a party or negotiator tick will enable you to get make the best of the situation.
3.) Causes of Conflict
Beck sees five basic causes of confrontation:
- Appreciation (we all wanted to be valued by others),
- Affiliation (we want feel part of a group),
- Autonomy (we like to be in control),
- Status (we want to be recognized), and
- Role (we want our role in the group to be meaningful).
The alpha negotiator will likely respond aggressively if one or more of these concerns is attacked or undermined to restore the self-esteem which has been compromised. Learning which of the five causes is applicable can help you begin the reconstruction process. Responding in kind, with more aggression, won’t accomplish anything.
Beck states there are four basic types of personalities: antisocial, inadequate, depressive and psychotic. Alpha negotiators will most likely be of the antisocial type, but that doesn’t mean the person is an angry loner. Beck sees these people as often the life of the party, but are self-centered and lacking in empathy or remorse. All things in life, including this negotiation, are a means to further his or her own position, and are discarded without a second’s thought once their purpose is served.
Whatever their shortcomings, you need to know how best to deal with the alphas. During the stress of a mediation or negotiation, you could use the following plan:
- Play to the ego,
- Identify ways for him or her to save face or carve out ‘deals’,
- Involve him or her in the problem-solving process, stressing the value of his or her contribution, and
- Get him or her to see beyond the immediate issue and project the long term benefits of a proposed agreement.
Becks suggests the following for dealing with an alpha:
- Encourage speaking by using effective, active listening techniques.
- Expect criticism of you and/or your client and avoid replying in kind.
- The most likely cause of anger will be loss of status, so acknowledge his or her attributes uncritically and talk about his or her area of expertise.
- He or she will need plenty of ego-massage.
- Help him or her save face. Get the negotiator to identify areas he or she feels comfortable with, because he or she is not “at fault.”
- Come up with an agreement that will allow getting his or her place back in the organization’s hierarchy.
Dealing with an alpha negotiator may be especially challenging, but it is manageable if you and your client are prepared and can see through the bluster and attempts to control the situation. Sitting across the table from a master manipulator may require you to raise your game in a negotiation or mediation and will make a successful resolution that much more satisfying.