How to negotiate with Trump-ists

April 19, 2018

Is it possible to negotiate with people like DJT?

The media worldwide will probably need a couple of weeks to deal with the election result from the United States. The American choice leads to feelings of anger, frustration, uncertainty and disbelief in many countries. But if you are not living there and if you are not part of that political system with all the impacts on an individuals life, it is always easier to argue. Probably some of us outside the U.S. even recognise in Trump someone from their social or professional circle. A person who fills us with indignation every day.

I’d like to look at Donald J. Trump from a different perspective. How would it be to negotiate with Mr Trump, or with people like him? What should we be aware of? What’s important in such negotiations? An anticipated hint: negotiating with Trump-ists (meaning persons similar to Mr Trump, not people who elected him) can also bear chances.

Potential Chances

The first advantage in negotiating with individuals like Mr Trump is that they verbalise their thoughts. It is not unusual that they say what they are thinking straightaway - because they are impulsive. This means that you as a negotiator get relevant, perhaps critical, information very quickly. It could even be that Trump-ists will already let you know at an early stage of the process which alternatives (BATNA), goals and limits they have. Don't be surprised if these people "deliver“ the information packed with distributive strategies (threats, ultimatums). If you don’t let these strategies annoy you, you’ll learn a lot more about your counterpart and their interests, or at least positions. This knowledge will also strengthen your position at the negotiation table.

The second advantage is the easy recognition of the value system of Trump-ists: individuals like Mr Trump are led by a desire for recognition. For a negotiation this means that you should ask your counterpart for advice, or pack your arguments in requests such as "Help me to understand why…?", "How would you sell the agreement internally if you were me?" and so forth. This also means that you have to enable your counterpart to shine after you’ve reached an agreement. The settlement should be formulated in such a way that your counterpart can proudly present it to his stakeholders. This is an important implication for the documentation of a negotiation.

Potential Disadvantages

You should be prepared for some potential disadvantages, which are more or less obvious too. During the process you will probably struggle with your counterpart’s reliability of commitments. Like Mr Trump did in his campaign, be prepared for your negotiation partner to switch positions on some topics. Often. As a result,  you should be prepared to document even small things during the entire negotiation process. If you spot a discrepancy in your counterpart’s statements, it would be wise to name them. Not in an offensive, threatening way but as a question for clarification (e.g. "I see that … but I didn’t understand how this fits to … Would you help me understand it?").

If you are a negotiator faced with a Trump-ist counterpart, be sure to have a "watchdog" (someone who’s documenting statements and is searching for information) and a "historian" (a person accepted by both parties who is in charge of documentation) in your negotiation team. You should also consider the probability of experiencing serious setbacks during the process. You’ll probably fall behind over and over and the negotiation will take more time than usual. You can avoid getting into trouble by preparing yourself mentally for this probability and by planning the negotiation steps with prudence. You shouldn’t be filled with indignation by falling behind in the process. But become aware of what’s happening: you’re just one step behind, but both of you are still at the table and you already know what’s the next step.

Trump-ists: What else to be aware of

In general, if you’re negotiating with a person like Donald J. Trump you should make sure you are even better and more extensively prepared than usual! Particularly important is your preparation on all - directly or indirectly - involved stakeholders. I recommend drawing a stakeholder map. Research as much about these individuals as you can. Mark all influencers, supporters, decision makers and so forth. Take the map with you in every negotiation session to check your assumptions and to complete it with newly gained information. You should also negotiate dealing with the public if there is a public interest in your negotiation (Who is sending to whom through which channel and what kind of information?).

Your Trump-ist counterpart will seek the media spotlight. But if you negotiate this in the forefront, you can avoid being blindsided, you won’t face indignation and you may even be able to calm your own stakeholders if they’re taken off guard and to contextualise your counterpart’s public statements. This is how you reduce potential damage.

And the most obvious, but at the same time the most difficult task to be aware of, is to control your own emotions. People like Mr Trump use words and actions to flip a switch to make us react impulsively and get upset. Prepare yourself that this will happen. Check your own assumptions, recognise early your counterpart’s strategies, and think about methods for cooling down emotionally. Be sensitive to your own feelings and reactions during the whole negotiation process, and … be as calm as possible. If your name is Mr Erdogan or Mr Putin this might be a real challenge to you...

Good luck!

ISMAN & Partner
ISMAN & Partner ist eine Unternehmensberatung, die nationale und internationale Konzerne, mittelständische Betriebe und Start-ups, Organisationen und Institutionen bei komplexen Verhandlungs- und Konfliktlösungsprozessen begleitet. 2015 von Calin-Mihai Isman gegründet, unterstützen die Experten für Negotiation & Mediation Manager und Mitarbeiter aus den Bereichen Sales, Einkauf, M&A, Contracting, HR oder IT.


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