Dealing with difficult people

OSCE Mission staff will often find themselves having to work with parties who seem neither reasonable nor cooperative in problem-solving. You must be ready for hard bargaining, as well as a range of negotiating tactics. You may be dealing with parties involved in a bloody conflict with long-standing roots. It should not surprise you that they do not trust each other (or you). The following are some of the many tactics and behaviors you may have to deal with without escalating the conflict or working against your own objectives. Recognizing these behaviors and tactics—and not being surprised by them—will make it easier for you to respond.


Bluffers misrepresent facts to convince you that they have a better bargaining position, options or alternatives than is the case. They assume that their misrepresentation is undetectable. One way to evaluate bluffs is through any mismatch between what they say and what you know to be a fact. The better their track record for speaking what you know is true, the less likely that they are bluffing.

No authority

No authority tactics are claims by negotiators that they have no authority to change their position or discuss other alternatives. Their goal is to convince you that you have no alternative to accepting their position if you want an agreement. This is a variety of bluffing. One way to deal with this tactic is to persevere. If the other party holds to its position, you might seek to meet with the party that does have the authority to deal with the issue.


Aggressive negotiators try to put you off balance with outrageous statements, insults or threats. They will interrupt you constantly. They want to get you to forget your agenda, change the focus of discussion and get you to respond to their statements. Their goal is to get you angry and emotional. Your response to this tactic is to hold back from your natural response and reaction. Keep focused on your objective, rather than fall into the trap the other party has set for you. You can be self-assertive as well as avoid a confrontation.


Silent negotiators say little in order to get you to do all the talking. Their goal may be to get you to reveal all of your cards without them revealing any of theirs. You may also be dealing with a culture that places emphasis on avoiding conflict. They may be silent because they do not agree with you, but do not want to say so openly. Never assume silence is agreement. Your response can be to patiently ask open-ended questions and wait patiently. If this does not work, you may have to just state what you plan to do.


Interrogating negotiators respond to every statement or proposal with critical rather than clarifying questions. Their intent is to challenge everything you say to knock you off your position. A response may be to reframe their questions and use your replies to make your points.

Hot potato

Hot potato negotiators try to shift focus from themselves to you or other parties. They will ask what responsibilities you (or others) are prepared to take on or resources you will commit in order to resolve the problem. You can either confront this tactic directly by stating what you are prepared to do to be of assistance. Alternately, you can state that you want to be of assistance but need to know what the primary parties are prepared to do first to resolve the problem.


The most useful guidance for dealing with difficult people is to keep your focus on what needs to be done to achieve your goals, rather than let them pull you into interactions or arguments that will gain you nothing. Focus on your interests, not their positions. Don’t do what the other party may be trying to get you to do; don’t fall into their trap. If a party pushes you, don’t feel you have to repay it in kind. Rather, use whatever they have said to put you in the direction you want to go.

If someone is unreasonable or makes inappropriate comments, you don’t have to debate them. You don’t have to like someone in order to do business with them (Separate people from the problem). You can use questions to refocus discussion, and speak to issues on your agenda instead of letting someone else trap you in a meaningless exchange. A final point to remember is that no one succeeds all the time.