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How to Negotiate with Challenging People (aka President Vladimir Putin)

Dealing with Difficult People Redux (Ex: Premier Vladimir Putin)

The breakup of the Soviet Union is the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory.

- Russian president Vladimir Putin said in a 2005 speech.


This blog begins with the premise that most reasonable people would consider President Vladimir Putin of Russia to be a narcissistic, bullying, dictator (NBD).

(This blog was inspired by the ongoing difficulties caused by Putin on the world scene in regards to especially Ukraine, but people must engage with NBDs in every aspect of their lives whether it be work, neighborhood, home owner associations, churches, and family. It is amazing how often NBD’s are found in the legal system, sometimes judges, and in the law enforcement system like detectives of the police on the beat.

Further, it is estimated that up to 5 percent of folks are afflicted with narcissism, 20 percent of folks have been bullied, and almost half of the world is living under dictatorships.

Among possible NBD’s may be:

- Former U.S President Donald Trump:

- Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines;

- Jair Messias Bolsonaro, Brazil (endorsed by Trump);

- Venezuelan Nicolas Maduro, “a devastating dictatorship” according to Trump:

- Hungarian Viktor Orban 1998-2002 & 2010-present (endorsed by Trump, 1/3/22);

- Belarusian Alexander Lukashenko, “Europe’s last dictator?

- All of who are hostile to democracy according to the Human Rights Watch.

- Some might add Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki.

This complex set of characteristics that make up NBDs are often misconstrued for leadership, intelligence, and competence.

So, how does one negotiate and engage, when necessary with this complex character? First, each characteristic will be defined followed by a list of recommended approaches with how to deal and negotiate with this type of individual.

One would like to avoid the NBD. The “Gray Stone” mental approach effectuates this idea. The Gray Stone will be explained later. In summary, this theory suggests that one behaves like a boring gray rock ignoring the NBD and doing the best to remove this person from the living situation.

On the international scene, this could work for certain countries in certain situations.

Albeit, today, more than ever the world of countries are super connected. Russia considers itself a super-power, not to be ignored.

Most country leaders, not being NBD, do not know how to handle this character, so often they capitulate. To some degree this was what happened when Russia cleverly took over Crimea and indirectly took over 20 percent of the sovereign country of Georgia. Because the NBD basically got by with these transgressions, this sets the stage for further provocation like the present Ukraine situation.

So many times there is a requirement of engagement. Some will dream that dictators will change, will respect human rights, abide by international treaties and follow along with the international market, but alas, that is a dream. Usually, the goal of a dictator is self-perpetuation.

This means that avoidance, capitulation, and dreaming of change does not work with the NBD in most situations.

What do the NBD’s like Putin want?

- Engagement

- Control

- Dominance

- Significance

- Relevance

- Superiority

Many times the right approach is simply declaring, “No!” or “Whatever!”

The “Bully” Characteristic: Defined and How to Deal.

Many will call Putin a bully.

What is a bully?

"Bullying is an ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behavior that intends to cause physical, social and/or psychological harm. It can involve an individual or a group misusing their power, or perceived power, over one or more persons who feel unable to stop it from happening.

Bullying can happen in person or online, via various digital platforms and devices and it can be obvious (overt) or hidden (covert). Bullying behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time (for example, through sharing of digital records).

Bullying of any form or for any reason can have immediate, medium and long-term effects on those involved, including bystanders."

How to Negotiate with a bully?

Ted Leonhardt writes in Fast Company:

"1. Know your opponent

Your first step should always be to learn as much as possible about the person you’ll be negotiating with, their organization, and why they’re talking with you in the first place. This holds true whether you’re negotiating a big corporate contract, a freelance project, or a job offer.

I’ve been in many negotiations when the other side really didn’t have full command of the facts. A belligerent tone can sometimes hide that reality, but if you’ve done your homework, it’ll be pretty transparent. When that happens…listen and take notes—pay close attention. Once the other side feels confident that they’ve made their point, share your own point of view in the politest voice possible. Then ask their response….

2. Lean into your experience

Your experience working with the issue under negotiation is a huge part of your advantage. Don’t give it up. If a bully is negotiating with you, it’s because they want something from you. Otherwise they wouldn’t waste their time and energy. So trust in your expertise and listen to learn precisely to what they think they need from you and why they need it.

3. Bide your time

Bullies act first and as though with absolute confidence. They know that fast action puts their opponent on the defensive. And if you’re not prepared to deflect their certainty and aggression, you’ll be overwhelmed and likely to cave. The trick is to wait them out. Don’t respond when you’re put on the spot. When they’re finished, find a way to empathize with them, even if that means avoiding answering their demand. If they demand something ridiculous, smile and say no.

4. Keep your cool, and remember you have a choice

When you’re in the thick of it with a bully, things can feel tense—like every second is a do-or-die moment. That’s how bullies want you to feel. But you don’t have to capitulate to this kind of pressure. As long as you’re prepared for it, you’ll have no trouble keeping your cool. I always remind myself that they have no real say over what I decide to do. The whole reason we’re negotiating in the first place is because it’s ultimately up to me to decide whether or not we have a deal. I’m in charge of me, which includes whether to get as confrontational as they are.

5. Let them feel powerful

Finally, bullies need the assurance that they’re all-powerful—a need that you should indulge. Counterintuitive as it may sound, it’s actually in your interests to reassure them of their power…Commend them: “Absolutely brilliant. Congratulations.”

This is a trick that the most emotionally intelligent people use in order to be persuasive. Stroke that ego and permit them to feel dominant. Then ask for what you need from them in order to be successful on their behalf. When your bully feels like they’re on the same team as you, you’ll have a lot more leeway to get what you’re after."


Most would agree that Putin is a narcissist (N). How one becomes a N is up to theoretical speculation:

- Emanates from learned behavior.

- Result of extreme parenting. This could be parenting that makes the child feel extremely entitled or neglected and even abused.

Generally, there is no good prognosis of change. N is a personality disorder that to this person, is working. One cannot change what one does not acknowledge. Basically, N has gotten them what they want.

1. Establish boundaries-realize that one cannot fix the N.

2. Leveling: N tend to build up themselves in order to shoot other folks down. Give the N no advantage. Expect this technique.

3. Do not take the bait or be the bait. N will violated your rights so expect it.

4. N are aggressive. Be ready to respond in kind.

5. Know that when anything goes wrong, it is one’s fault, not the N. The N will focus on what is wrong with one and then the N will claim that one is too sensitive.

How to Negotiate with a Dictator

What is a dictator and dictatorship?

According to

"A dictatorship is a form of government characterized by the absolute rule of one person or a very small group of people who hold all political power. While a dictatorship is a form of government in some nations, just as monarchy or representative democracy is the form of government in others, dictatorships are seen by non-dictatorships as dangerous and cruel because of the way they tend to treat their citizens.

You won't find a dictator who calls himself a dictator. Instead, dictators have ordinary titles such as president, emperor, great leader and similar monikers. That's because 'dictator' is a pejorative term…

To be considered a dictatorship means that a country is known to be run by one person without any checks and balances on his power. Dictators make unilateral decisions that affect their countries without having to consult any other branch of government. That's because there's no other branch of government that is not controlled by the dictator. Human nature being what it is, dictators don't rise to power for the good of their nations (though they usually claim otherwise). They seize power to benefit themselves, their families and their close political allies.

Dictators usually come to power through some kind of violent struggle, rather than the peaceful passage of power. Often a dictatorship revolves around a cult of personality."

Some hints, according to Frank Lavin in the National Review:

"- Be wary of family businesses… the dictatorship is interwoven with a cult of personality, and reform would mean a repudiation of that no meaningful changes will occur.

- Dictators are dictators for a reason. They are not unaware of their countries’ impoverishment; they just have other priorities. Regardless of how many Kitchen Debates they participate in or how many movies they are shown, checkbook diplomacy will have limited effect and can even be seen as a sign of U.S. weakness.

- Use your experts. Nobody knows better than the North Korea desk officer at the Pentagon that the North Korea government does not honor international commitments it deems not to be in its interests. Nobody knows better than the Venezuela desk officer at the State Department that Cuban support for repression in Venezuela has increased since the U.S. started engaging Cuba.

- Don’t fall in love with your initiative. . Tyrannical regimes are superb at manipulating U.S. public opinion and playing on outside hopes of liberalization. Any U.S. president has to start with a willingness to break off talks. If he cannot walk away from the table, the dictator is incentivized to behave badly.

- Sometimes no movement might be the best answer. If…regime wants to change, the best the U.S. can do is maintain pressure, minimizing the harm done to ordinary Cubans and North Koreans and the citizens of neighboring countries.

- Allies. Allies. Allies. Every U.S president needs to work in an international framework in which our alliances can enhance the likelihood of a successful outcome.

- Move incrementally and test repeatedly. Grandiose rhetoric grabs the headlines, but smaller steps allow you to calibrate your moves to the other party’s performance. The U.S. needs to put the other country’s intentions to the test on an ongoing basis. A mixture of carrot and stick will get the best results.

- Find the right mix of goals and values. Keeping human rights in the discussion is important, and stopping the military threat these regimes pose all the more so. Not dying in a nuclear attack is also a human right, after all.

- Be careful of the ratchet. The ratchet effect is a phenomenon that can only move one way, or more easily move one way. For example, once the U.S. opens up and staffs an embassy, it is expensive and embarrassing to close it. Once we shut down joint military exercises with South Korea, they cannot easily be restarted because of annual budget and planning requirements. Be careful of making moves that cannot easily be undone."

Sometimes the Go Gray Rock Mentality Can Work with NBDs.

One imagines that they are a dull, gray, unresponsive rock.

Gray Rock pointers, according to Psych Central:

"- Recognize When You Need to Go Gray Rock. In an ideal world, once you recognize a person in your life engages in deceitful behavior, then you diminish your contact with them safely. If necessary, you end the relationship and walk away. Sometimes this strategy is not feasible.

- Give Them Nothing. The more information about yourself that you give to a deceitful person, the more they can distort this information and use it to try to diminish and discredit you.

- Keep Interactions Short. Limit communication to the issue at hand, such as the date that a particular project is due. When possible, communicate via phone or electronically to avoid prolonged conversations.

- Disconnect and Don’t Engage. Avoid establishing the emotional connection that comes from looking into someone’s eyes. Diverting your eyes elsewhere removes any emotions from your brief interaction with this person.

- Keep Going Gray Rock to Yourself. You don’t owe them any explanation regarding why you choose not to engage with them.

- Be Mindful of the Risks of Going Gray Rock… be aware that dealing with someone on an ongoing basis who twists the facts, creates drama, and, in general, engages in unsavory tactics can wear down your self-esteem.

About Putin

The best first step is to understand Putin.

Born in 1952 in St. Petersburg, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is a Russian politician and former intelligence officer who is serving as the current president of Russia. He has been serving in this position since 2012, and he previously held this office from 1999 until 2008.

Russia was never considered a democracy, but under the Putin years there is democratic backsliding including jailing of opponents and fair elections. Freedom House rates Russia very low in transparency.

Today, the relations between the United States and Russia is at the lowest since the Cold War for several reasons:

- 2016: Putin behind the hacking and cyber attacks of US Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton.

- 2014: The annexation of Crimea violating international law, leading to the suspension form the G8.

- 2013: Putin gave asylum to Edward Snowden, sought by the US for illegal exposure of military documents.

- 2008: Putin opposed the independence of Kosovo.

- 2008: Putin, with his military, occupies 20 percent of Georgia, consisting of the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia against international law.

Wikipedia: "Critics state that Putin has moved Russia in an autocratic direction, weakening the system of representative government advocated by Boris Yeltsin. Putin has been described as a "dictator" by political opponent Garry Kasparov, as a "bully" and "arrogant" by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and as "self-centered" and an "isolationist" by the Dalai Lama.

Putin was Time Magazine’s 2007 “Man of the Year” and Time’s 2015 “Most Influential People in the World.”


Often people like Putin respect power, so people dealing with Putin must exert power even if that is not their usual leadership style.


The life expectancy for Russia is age 72.3. Putin is living his 70th year.

Dealing with Putin may be a bit different than dealing with other dictators. He has stated many times that the saddest time in the world was the fall of the USSR. He wants to remedy this. He wants this to be his legacy.

Some reporters speak of “Forever Putin.” Based on the recent constitutional changes, Putin’s reign could last to 2036. Regardless if he runs again, he proved that the president can change the constitution, so Russia is no longer a rules-based government. Putin continues with seemingly strong popular support since he led them out of the Boris Yeltsin economic class. Putin has successfully touted the U.S. and “the opposition” as the enemies, so he can unite Russians.

Putin wants his legacy to be that he brought Russia back to international grandeur, stabilized the economy, and increased the urban standard of living. He often speaks of the “Big Russia” and the “Little Russia” consisting of Ukraine and Belarus. He desires “a sphere of influence” that is, pliable states around Russia. Maybe he has visions of being like Russia’s longest ruler Ivan III who was called “the gatherer of Russian islands.”


Putin spoke to Russia’s Parliament, theDuma on August 16, 2021 where he laid out his plan of action.

"His domestic policy was to restore stability, to end what he called the "revolutions", that had brought Russia low. His foreign policy was to regain Russia's place in world affairs.

Those two core aims have driven everything he has done since. If only people had been listening, none of his actions would have come as a surprise to them.

Since then, he has seized every opportunity history has offered him, from the attacks of 11 September 2001 to the Ukrainian Revolution of 2013, in his bid to secure his aims. He has been tactically astute and ruthlessly opportunistic. At home and abroad, he wants Russia to regain the prestige it held when he was growing up."

It is important to remember that Putin was born during the Golden Age of the Soviet Empire and came to power at its low point: debt defaulting, salaries, and pensions paid late, infrastructure collapsing, and being led by health fragile Boris Yeltsin.

In response, Putin acquired the media assets, crushed the oligarchs, crushed Chechnya, and brought back Soviet national anthem and symbols.

Countries like the US need to know the history and the progress under Putin to deal with him.They need to offer him respect, confront power with power, negotiate when possible, but do not expect negotiation.

So to deal with NBD’s like Putin, one needs to be:

- Prepared

- Know the NBD.

- Use one’s expertise.

- Manage emotions.

- Expect aggressiveness.

- Be prepared to walk away.

- Build and nurture allies.

Biden has taken military involvement “off the table” in regards to Ukraine. To a NBD, this is a sign of weakness. Appeasement is not an option with a NBD. Putin has said that he has “a diverse slew of options” and so should Biden and NATO.

Biden needs to avoid the Trump path of “fawning comments.” Trump helped Putin destabilize institutions such as NATO. Biden needs to operate with a balance of firmness and diplomacy.

Washington Post editorial, December, 2021: Putin cannot extinguish the memory of Soviet crimes, nor of today’s unfortunate return to despotism.


See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu. Clicking on any book will lead one to the discounted Amazon site.

Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education

The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray

5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Getting Your Way Every Day.


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