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You Can’t Negotiate with Stupid!

Brian Buck
220926 Negotiate With Stupid W Logo
© Scotwork NA

During a recent consult I had with a client, my contact shared a frustrating situation he’d been working through. After he related the particulars, I asked him what he’d learned from the experience. “You can’t negotiate with stupid!” he said. I chuckled because I completely understood what he meant. I suspect many of us have felt that way. Then I started thinking, What do we mean by “stupid?"

I was taught not to use the word “stupid” — it’s not nice. I know I’m not alone in that. However, despite parents’ best efforts, stupid is here. I know this because I’ve done some stupid things in my life (and writing an article about “stupid” might very well add to that list). Being that my own experience wasn’t enough to satisfy my curiosity, I started researching and discovered that there was actually a study done on what we consider stupid!

In 2015, international psychology researchers published the results of that study in a paper titled What is stupid? People's conception of unintelligent behavior. They gathered stories from news sites, blogs, and publicly available articles that described real-life actions as “stupid.” They then asked participants to evaluate those stories. Was the action stupid, they were asked, and if so, just how stupid was it?

Turns out, we tend to agree on what constitutes stupid! In a day and age when we don’t seem to agree on much, I’m glad we can find consensus on this. More than that, they were able to categorize stupidity into three main groups:

  1. Violations of maintaining a balance between confidence and abilities. In other words, confident ignorance. Social media is brimming with epic fails that people love to watch. The study found that this type of action received the highest stupidity score.
  2. Failures of attention. These are actions where we’re not paying attention or just aren’t aware of the situation or our surroundings. Imagine someone walking into a pole while distracted during a phone conversation.
  3. Lack of control. This is when a person has succumbed to obsessive, compulsive, or addictive behavior. Think about someone binge-watching a show to the point where they cancel plans, don’t eat, or lose sleep.

Now that we have a better understanding of what we consider stupid, here’s a follow-up question: Is it true that you can’t negotiate with it? After reading the research, I think there are things you can do to avoid dealing with stupid — from your side or theirs.

How to avoid confident ignorance

Do the work. Plan your negotiation before you sit down to negotiate. Once you’re at the table, test your assumptions. Make sure you’re acting on good information rather than falsehoods.

You can help the other side by structuring their expectations early on. Don’t let them make false assumptions on your behalf. If need be, correct their misunderstandings about you or the situation at hand.

How to avoid attention failures

Be present. Planning can help you with that, but so can taking regular breaks. Marathon meetings are hard to endure, so take plenty of time for adjournments so you can gather yourself and stay in the moment.

You can help the other side by regularly summarizing talks. This will keep them focused on the negotiation’s most salient points while also preventing critical details from getting lost.

How to avoid lack of control

Bring a team. Have people on your side who can help you maneuver through the negotiation, including someone who can take notes or be a second pair of eyes and ears. And give them permission to call a time-out when they see you losing control.

You can help the other side by taking breaks when you notice tensions rise or when both parties begin to repeat arguments. These situations can only lead to hostility and bring unnecessary heat to the conversation. 

And there you have it: With a little bit of awareness and cleverness on your part, you can definitely mitigate stupid so that you don’t have to negotiate with it. That’s good news, because I’ve seen stupid destroy many deals, but I’ve also seen stupid win deals.

We Can Help Your Team Avoid Negotiating with Stupid
Is your team dealing with confident ignorance, attention failures, or lack of control at the negotiating table? There are ways of avoiding this type of stupidity — whether it’s theirs or the other side’s. We can help! Drawing on nearly 50 years of real-world negotiating experience, we’ll assist you with getting better deals, saving time, and creating value for all involved — not to mention preserving and even strengthening relationships. Let us partner you with one of our advisers, ensuring that you’ve got the broadest view of your deal.

Talk to one of our experts today.

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