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How to Negotiate When Someone is Unpleasant

Whether it is a co-worker, a vendor or supplier, a client, a volunteer, or a third party, sometimes you have to deal with those you don’t love or even like. Instead of working through differences and collaborating on solutions, people can gossip, protect their turf, cause delays, ignore mistakes, play politics, and create a negative environment.

When people are unpleasant or create drama, they are often seeking to fill a need. They are seeking different outcomes, from empathy and attention to stability and control.

How To Determine What Unpleasant People Really Want?

Our research identified five common patterns of behavior when people are acting unpleasant or complaining. Based on the findings from more than 1,000 respondents, one or two of these unpleasant styles will irritate you more than others. When you negotiate, each negative behavior style responds better to a different strategy. Important note: Customizing your response to individuals works much better than a “one size fits all” approach.

In order to determine the best way to negotiate with unpleasant people, watch their behavior to seek the need they are attempting to fill. Here’s a quick overview of the negative styles including reasons for their unpleasant behavior and what to do:  

Whiners will show disapproval, vent or withdraw.Reasons they are using unpleasant behavior: Whiners are overly sensitive, moody, sulky, and crabby to seek  reassurance, guidance, direction, and a connection to others.What is the best way to negotiate with Whiners? Listen, empathize, and ask for solutions.

Complicators will attempt to frustrate, complicate, and create confusion.Reasons they are using unpleasant behavior: Complicators impede, delay, criticize and obstruct to maintain their version of order, certainty and stability.What is the best way to negotiate with Complicators? Slow down, over communicate, respect their past efforts, and present changes as an upgrade.  

Prima Donnas will create drama by gossiping, and stirring up trouble.Reasons they are using unpleasant behavior: Prima Donnas (& Prima Dons) appear brash, excessive, reactionary, erratic, and dramatic to get others to focus attention on them.What is the best way to negotiate with Prima Donnas? Acknowledge their behavior instead of ignoring them, avoid getting lost in the drama they create, and be clear in your communication of what behavior needs to happen next.

Controllers will be aggressive bullies in their attempts to control situations or people.Reasons they are using unpleasant behavior: Controllers use demanding, intimidating, and demeaning behavior to get others to yield to their authority, motivate others to act, and get rid of restraints.What is the best way to negotiate with Controllers? Calmly stand up to them, deliver a few choices to help them meet their desire to get things done, and allow them to decide the next steps.

Toxics will use misinformation to manipulate and poison the environment to future their self-absorbed agendas.Reasons they are using unpleasant behavior: Toxics are narcissists, deceitful, deceptive, and disarming in their attempts to gain control.What is the best way to negotiate with Toxics? Protect yourself and your reputation, watch what others do that works, and steer clear of them.

How Can You Stay Calm When Those Around You Are Creating Drama?

Remember, you can always ask for a break. Take the time you need to compose yourself. Perhaps you need to pause so you can breathe and think rationally before reacting to others’ negative behavior. As a leader, you may have to change your responses to get better results. Unlike the antics of many politicians, and maybe some of your co-workers, your success lies in your ability to stay cool, calm and in control. Remind yourself that you don’t have to love or even like all the people at work. However, your leaders are watching how respectfully you treat others, including those who are unpleasant.

How Will You Negotiate Differently?

As a leader, you deserve better behavior and results from those around you. What negative behavior are you seeing at work? Which bothers you the most? Based on the information discussed, how will you negotiate with those making negative choices now?

Best wishes as you successfully negotiate your career!


About Linda Swindling

Linda Swindling is the go-to negotiation expert for leaders who want to negotiate everything from big deals to work drama with proven strategies that drive results without driving others away. For more information visit or contact