You Can’t Negotiate With Crazy – Or Perhaps You Can…

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This is the last tip in my book.  I have blogged about it before.  It’s an important tip to think about.  How do you deal with crazy when it comes your way?  What does crazy look like? Crazy can take on many forms.  I’m not referring to someone who is mentally incapacitated or has a mental illness.  I’m referring to that person who is angry, irrational, unreasonable, or whatever the case may be when you are dealing with them to make an agreement on something.

Sometimes it may be someone on a power trip that will do anything to make your life miserable just to feed their power such as a supervisor, someone in a position to approve a loan or approve your proposal for consulting.  Perhaps it’s someone who is adamant about their position and gets angry or hostile when you mention anything other than what they have decided they want. This happened to me early in my Air Force career when I was buying an $8,000 paper shredder.  The guy sent me a sole source request for me to purchase from only one source.  When I found the shredder from a different source (same shredder, different supplier, manufactured by the same manufacturer but with a different suppliers logo and $3,000 less), he was not willing to listen and got angry and irrational about it.

How do you deal with situations like that when someone is launching crazy at you?  Well, here are 4 things to consider when dealing with crazy.

  1. Crazy is contagious – often times when there is one person acting crazy in the bunch, it usually spreads.  The important thing is to not join in on the crazy and see if you can figure out a strategy to diffuse the crazy before it spreads to the rest of the people that have decision making ability in the situation.  Don’t engage in the crazy, instead use facts and leave emotion out.
  2. Navigate through the crazy – again, don’t join in on the crazy.  Crazy often wants company and wants you to get on the dance floor with them and do the “dance of drama.”  If you are dealing with someone who is in a position of power that is not likely to be removed from the project due to their tenure or the fact that people don’t typically get fired in their organization (education, government, political etc), you have to find a way to navigate through it and play their game.  If you have disrupted their system and they feel like they have lost power, do something to make them think they have their power intact.  Get allies or a champion for your situation that can help diffuse the situation and push past the crazy
  3. Up Crazy the Crazy – this was an idea shared by a participant at my last Think Like A Negotiator Live Training.  This will work if the crazy isn’t too crazy and the up crazy strategy will diffuse the current crazy.  This involves throwing in an even crazier idea, strategy or behavior than was presented to you. However, you have to have a counter strategy if this doesn’t work because you don’t want the crazy to keep up leveling. Too much crazy is not be good.
  4. Run! – Sometimes the best bet is to turn and run the other direction.  Sometimes a person’s ideas and attitudes are just too far out there to make any logical sense out of it and continuing to deal with that situation will cause the crazy to be contagious towards you.  I recently had a situation where I was explaining something to someone about an inappropriate business action on their part.  Every time I made a point about what they did, they changed their story.  They lied to a colleague about it as well.  No matter what I said to get them to take responsibility for their inappropriate actions, they changed the story to something else in an attempt to avert responsibility.  I finally stopped the conversation because it was a waste of time and energy on my part.  My solution?  No more dealings with that person. Sometimes that is the only way to handle it.

If you decide to negotiate with crazy, you are taking a risk.  Before going in, have a clear exit strategy to know when too much crazy is too much for you.

Eldonna Lewis Fernandez
Eldonna Lewis Fernandez
Veteran negotiation and contracts expert Eldonna Lewis-Fernandez, author of “Think Like a Negotiator,” has over 30 years of experience crafting killer deals both stateside and internationally, many in excess of $100 million. She’s currently the CEO of Dynamic Vision International — a specialized consulting and training firm that helps individuals hone negotiation skills — as well as a nationally regarded keynote speaker, session leader and panelist on the Art of Negotiation. Eldonna may be reached online at

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