Negotiating with Difficult Parties: Strategies for Working with Narcissists and Those who Abuse was an information-packed presentation juxtaposing sound negotiation practices with traits and characteristics of both narcissists and abusers. Pamela Rak, LCSW and Barbara Siegel, LCPC, SHALVA clinical director were the speakers for this program.
Pamela Rak has nearly 35 years of experience in clinical social work, corporate consulting, court-related services, case management, and teaching appointments at the college level. Barbara Siegel has been with Clinical Director at SHALVA for over 25 years. She is dedicated to SHALVA’s clients and generously shares her depth of knowledge and experience with other social service and domestic violence agencies.
What is different about negotiating with narcissists and those who abuse?
Negotiation is a strategic process where each party must be willing to engage in asking questions and active listening. Negotiation is not necessarily adversarial, but when one of parties lacks maturity, insight and empathy and exhibits narcissistic traits, or a person who is abusive and even violent, the skills used in a typical negotiation are not always effective. Negotiating with someone who is abusive can also be dangerous.
Difficult parties do not bargain in good faith and use negotiation as a way to manipulate the situations or control the parties (negotiators included.) While appearing to be engaged in the process, ultimately, they have no intention of complying with any of the terms of any agreement. They just want to drag on the process for as long as possible, until the other party has run out of money and is emotionally exhausted. There is no mindset of WIN-WIN, only WIN-LOSE, or even as peculiar as it sounds, LOSE-LOSE.
What does the cycle of abuse in negotiation look like?
A typical negotiation would look like this:
1. The parties reach an agreement
2. Difficult party fails to comply with the agreement OR waits until the last minute to comply
3. Difficult party demands new agreement
4. See step 1
You and your client will be stuck in an endless cycle, unless you can recognize the behavior of the difficult party and change your strategy.
How do you know you are working with a difficult party?
One warning sign that Pamela mentioned is when you notice that one party tends to behave in a manner that is more agreeable. They are the one making most of the concessions because they have the lived experience of discouragement and futility and will acquiesce to end both the process and the relationship. Notice who is making most of the concessions and you will likely be watching the two parties replay their relationship dynamic in the negotiation process. This is not to be interpreted as a successful negotiation strategy or outcome.
Why do difficult parties behave this way?
Barbara explained that through this cycle, the difficult party continues to maintain power and control. For example, abusers may agree to mediation, but then deplete family resources by refusing to negotiate or settle. She also described how difficult parties use the legal system and negotiation. They will ask for continuances, file excessive motions, and are non-compliant with orders. They will change lawyers and substitute judges. They will insist on expensive evaluations, then not like the evaluation, and insist on another one done. This should be considered litigation abuse.
So, how do you negotiate with difficult parties?
Pamela suggests that you do not get into parallel struggles with them. Make sure you self-regulate and remember that emotions are contagious. If you can, keep physical space between yourself and the difficult party. You do not want to get triggered by what’s happening.
You can also use these questions to keep the negotiation on track.
What needs to happen to move forward?
What do YOU need to move forward?
What do YOU need to do (or not do) that would be best for your kids?
Using these questions shifts attention away from the difficult party’s behavior and finds areas where negotiation may be successful. It will also highlight when there is no room for negotiation. In that case, it may be best to end the negotiation and report back to court.