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2 Simple Tricks for Dealing with Debbie Downers at Work

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We all know that person: the one who loves to argue, the one with the uncanny ability to get under your skin, the one who is… well, difficult. Let’s call her Nasty Nancy for easier reference (no offense to all you lovely Nancies).

When you’re in her company, you stutter more and you disagree less or she chastises you like a five-year-old because only she knows all the right answers. What are you to do when you do have to negotiate with a Nasty Nancy? (Click here to tweet this question.)

Understand she’s human too (contrary to what you may want to believe) and human psychology gives us clear and accurate clues on how humans, no matter how difficult, act when faced with a negotiation situation.

Below are two psychological techniques (plus the small tweaks you can use in your approach) that can be used with great success when dealing with the nasties in your life:

1. Give in parts, take once

Kahneman and Tversky (1979) did an interesting experiment where they assessed how people respond to gains and losses. They found that incremental gains were far more pleasurable than one-time gains.

But when it comes to losses, people prefer to lose in one lump sum rather than being hit with a loss over and over again. Interestingly, the total number of losses and gains remained the same: It was the recurrence that made it more or less pleasurable.

Takeaway: People are more likely to accept an offer that includes small gains than a single gain, even when equal in magnitude. They’re also likely to accept an offer that involves a single loss than an offer with two smaller losses that add up to the same amount.

The hook and tweak: When negotiating with people in the habit of discounting every term put on the table, frame your side of the offer to include multiple small gains. If you have a discount to offer, a Nasty Nancy will be more willing to accept the deal if the total sum is parceled into a series of smaller concessions.

If you have good news to deliver, such as “I can finish this in one week and include a template for future reference,” it would be best to deliver this as two separate pieces of good news rather than as one.

The opposite is true when you have to deliver bad news, such as a penalty or late payment charges. One big blow would go over more smoothly than multiple smaller ones.

2. Show them what they’ve got to lose, not what they’ve got to gain

In a study conducted at a medical clinic in the United States, women were shown videos aimed at promoting HIV testing. They were either shown videos for the benefits associated with testing or of the personal costs and risks. The women who were exposed to risk framing were more likely to undergo testing than the ones in the benefits framing group.

Takeaway: In negotiation, the principle of loss aversion is a powerful tool of persuasion. You’re more likely to get a Nasty Nancy to agree if your proposal is framed in terms of what she stands to lose if your proposal is rejected. 

The hook and tweak: This works beautifully in almost all negotiation situations and, when coupled with smart pricing, can completely shift the dynamics of a deal. No one, not even a Nasty Nancy can tolerate the pain of a loss.

Instead of pointing out how she’ll benefit if you’re made the manager of your division, point to the bleak future of the division if you’re not made the manager (e.g., lower employee morale and loss in client satisfaction).

When negotiating a proposal, frame your argument not as what they’ll gain by agreeing, but what they’ll lose by not agreeing. “By not buying our package, your company is losing 100 dollars every day in payroll costs” will get you much better results than “Buying our package would save you 100 dollars per day.” Same concept, different framing.

You and Nasty Nancy probably won’t become BFFs following these techniques, but she’ll agree with you more and may even begin to respect your negotiation skills. Try these out and let us know how it goes.

Bushra Azhar is a Persuasion Strategist and creator of The Non-Icky Persuasion Toolkit: Use The Psychology of Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas, Your Work or Yourself! Get your free copy at www.ThePersuasionRevolution.com

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • jrandom421

    So what if the definition of the ‘Debbie Downer”, is the person who points out all the flaws, shortcomings, overly optimistic projections, and ignored problems with a project, and is proved right when the project fails, costs several million dollars and leads to wholesale layoffs?