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How to Negotiate with Difficult People ( like Senators Manchin and Sinema?)

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?

How do you find a word that means Maria?

A flibbertijibbet! A will-o'-the wisp! A clown!

Many a thing you know you'd like to tell her

Many a thing she ought to understand

But how do you make her stay

And listen to all you say

How do you keep a wave upon the sand

Oh, how do you solve a problem like Maria?


Maybe the “Maria” song reference is a great way to view what may be called “difficult people.”

At the same time, from the get-go, maybe people need to “word doctor” the language.

Who wants to be named “a difficult person? Maybe a reframe is necessary. Maybe…"How does one deal with a person with different perspectives?

This re-frames the situation from focusing on the person or personality to focusing on behaviors.

At this point in the United States Senate, Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are considered to be difficult or challenging people when it comes to their votes on bills.

The Magic Formula of Persuasion

Remember the magic formula? Appeal to:

  • Logic

  • Value; and

  • Emotion

Then one tailors the persuasion initiative to the individual. Some, on some subjects, are more persuaded by logic; maybe, others, by emotion; still others, by appealing to values.

Logic: If trying to persuade Senator Joe Manchin, one needs to emphasize the state of West Virginia, which is at the bottom when it comes to issues of education, economics, and health care. He has been in the governance of WVA for four decades.

According to a 2021 report from SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute of Government, in fiscal year 2019, West Virginia received $2.15 in federal spending for every dollar of federal taxes its taxpayers paid.

Emotion: When the large infrastructure bill is broken down, the voters of West Virginia want and desire the program such as childcare assistance or pre-K help.

Value: According to the U.S. Constitution, each Senator has a dual responsibility. One, is to the voters of their state. Second, and just as importantly, to represent the entire nation. These two responsibilities can clash at times.

Appeal to patriotism: US needs to prove to the citizens and the world that democracy works, that America is exceptional. Stalemates do not do that.

Political Commentator Andrew Sullivan on 60 Minutes 11/14/21 put forth an excellent persuasion appeal to the value of the American Dream:

Our democratic system is based on reasonable people. Reasonable people will argue and then compromise. We separate politics from the rest of life.

Our system is not based on “tribalism” in which victory is all that matters; that one side has all of the virtue; that one side has all of the truth. America will become more unstable if we remain tribal.

Now, politics is permeating all parts of life, at restaurants, at airports, at homes. This is unhealthy for America.

The fact that there was violence in the “peaceful” transfer of power is a warning to all of us.

Assess the Power

Power emanates from many sources. Most would consider Manchin to be the most powerful politician in West Virginia.

Physical: Manchin is 6’3.” In the U.S., generally if a man is over 6’ and under 6’5” he exudes power. Many would consider him to be moderately handsome. He weighs 187 so his BMI is good.

Family Heritage/Progeny: Manchin most likely presents himself as a self-made, hardworking person. Both his grandfather and father were mayors of Farmington. He is of Welch/Czech/Italian heritage. He did receive a football scholarship in 1965.

Financial: He holds $1-5 million public shares in a coal brokerage firm called Enersystems. He has many other investments including the LaQuinta Hotel in Elkview. His networth is estimated at $5M.

The Republicans have asserted that he owns a $700,000 Luxury Yacht. His boat is 65’ which qualifies as a yacht.

Status: In the U.S, being married with 3 children gives status. He was born in Farmington, W.VA, so no “carpetbagger” references apply as with some politicians. He graduated from University of WV. He is 74 years, which in the U.S. many associate this with wisdom. All in all, he is super connected to WV.

Political: He is known as being bi-partisan giving him power on both sides. Now, he is the only Democrat elected statewide. During these 39 years, he has served in the WV House of Delegates, as Secretary of State, Governor and now Senator. Usually he wins with comfortable majorities. He is now the Senior Senator from WV. He is chair of the full Senate committee, Energy and Natural Resources.

It is noteworthy that in 2018 he won by 49.57 percent. 50.4 percent voted for either the Democrat or Libertarian.

Republicans claim that he has become “Washington Joe.”

Relationships: Most believe that Manchin and President Joe Biden have a good relationship.

Profession: Manchin views himself more as a businessman than a politician despite his four decades in politics.

Place One’s Self in Their Shoes: Manchin

Power: Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is the most powerful politician in West Virginia. He has been a powerhouse in that state for 35 years. He won his last Senate race by 63%

Attention: He seems to love attention. He engages much with reporters and has individual news conferences.

Walk in Their Moccasins; Put Your Head on Their Shoulders: Arizona U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema (KS)

KS seems proud to be an anomaly, according to Wikipedia:

  • A former social worker and present attorney.

  • She is from Tuscon, but initially represented the liberal district of Phoenix.

  • Her B.A. degree is from Brigham Young University and yet she supports LGBT rights and is openly bi-sexual.

  • She was not sworn in on the Bible, but instead on the Constitutions of the US and AZ.

  • She supported the Ralph Nader Presidential Campaign.

  • Further she is an attorney as was her Father. She is a middle child and is an athlete-running several marathons.

Power: The US Senate is 50/50, so that gives each Senator power. She is the Senior Senator from AZ. At the same time, in the most recent polls of Democrats, her approval rating is 25 percent. Arizona is considered to be a “purple” state. She won her last election by 2.34%. Presently, her unfavorable rating with registered voters is 65%. Two-thirds of Democrats desire a primary challenge to her.

Intelligence: Most consider KS to be smart, intelligent. Importantly, she considers herself to be highly intelligent.

Ambitious: Most would say this is her driving force. She began politics as a “left wing agitator” and has evolved into a Republican-friendly, moderate Democrat. Her relationships seems to be strategic. While in the Arizona House of Delegates, she passed many bills with Republic assistance.

Role Models: Former US Senator John McCain and Present Senator Joe Manchin. Most believe that she would like to wear the mantle of this independent Senator.

Party Loyalty: This does not seem to be high on her agenda. She voted with Trump 50.4%of the time-the third highest Democratic Senator to do so. While in the US House, she did not vote for Nancy Pelosi to be chair in 2015 or 2016. She is known for refusing several calls from President Biden.

Attention Seeking: Most would say that she and Manchin enjoy the spotlight. She seems to be quite social. She has received much attention about her fashion consisting of bold colors, sleeveless dresses, pink overcoat, glittering handbag even at her swearing in ceremony.

What are the Benefits to the Difficult Person WIIFM/WIIFT

At the heart of most negotiations, the essential question becomes,

  • What’s in it for me?

  • What’s in it for them?

Avoid Irritating or Target Words or Phrases

Irritating or target or red hot words or phrases can shut down the conversation.

Some, are common and irritate almost everyone:

  • Beginning a sentence with Why. This is received as accusatory.

  • Yes, but. Most people believe that whatever has been stated before the “but” is negated by the “but.” It is better to have two sentences.

  • Everybody, nobody. Surely there is an exception to each rendering these terms unhelpful.

  • Always, never. Research has show that this usually translates to 20 percent.So, if one says I will never go to that restaurant again then there is a 80 percent chance that they will.

  • Then there is another category of words that may irritate folks. In this situation, calling a person “challenging” or “difficult” probably will not be received well.

So, word doctoring or word smithing might be a good idea.

Words matter and a misspeak can linger. Remember the Emily Dickinson quote?

Some say, a word once said is dead that day; I say, it just begins to live that day.

So, if someone is called untrustworthy or a liar, it is overwhelming to overcome in the future.

Do Not Demonize the Difficult Person

Each individual is complex. No one is totally bad or good. Instead, they are usually a combination. It is valuable for people to see each person as unique.

An excellent assessment process is to use the Plus Delta approach.

  • The Plus: What is the individual doing well?

  • The Delta: What could this person change?

This process takes away the negativity. Sometimes it is challenging to see the good things that a difficult person is doing.

Listening is a Great Skill and Not Used Enough

Most people are not effective listeners when it comes to difficult behaviors.

Washington Post Newspaper Commentator Charles Lane advises listening. Manchin is hesitant on the Build Back Better legislation because:

  • It contains clean energy provisions and Manchin comes from coal-producing country and voters.

  • The bill includes attention to social issues that are not high on Manchin’s list.

  • Manchin is afraid of inflation, as is 63 percent of Americans, and he feels the BBB may create more inflation.

  • Only 25 percent of Americans believe that BBB would help them.

  • Manchin does not believe that BBB is totally paid for. He believes there are manipulations.

So, maybe an approach would be to listen to these specific concerns and respond specifically to them.

Unpersuasive Techniques

There are a number of ineffective strategies and techniques:

Name Calling: U.S. Congress Member Corey Bush calling Manchin a “racist” is usually not helpful and may have persuaded Manchin to be more positional.

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) criticized Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.):

Joe Manchin does not get to dictate the future of our country…I do not trust his assessment of what our communities need the most…

Joe Manchin's opposition to the Build Back Better Act is anti-Black, anti-child, anti-woman and anti-immigrant….

Recently, Congress Member (D-MI) Rashida Tlaib called Manchin "a corporate Democrat" and that he is being influenced by people who do not have the best interests of the United States at heart.

Jemel Hill* Tweets this: This is so on brand for this country. Record number of black voters show up to save this democracy, only for white supremacy to be upheld by a cowardly, power hungry white dude. Manchin is a clown.

*Jemele Juanita Hill is an American sports journalist who writes for The Atlantic.

Confrontation per newspaper commentary: Senator Bernie Sanders decided to create and publish a commentary in the newspaper of West Virginia confronting Manchin in his territory. There are only about 5 percent of the negotiations when confrontation is effective. This is not one.

Wall Street Journal describes this op-ed in the way:

If you were a Democrat appealing to the good people of West Virginia, is Bernie Sanders the guy you’d want making your pitch?

Yet that’s exactly what happened Friday, when Mr. Sanders published an op-ed in West Virginia’s largest newspaper, the Charleston Gazette-Mail. It was an act of war directed at Sen. Joe Manchin, who Mr. Sanders notes is one of two Democrats standing in the way of the $3.5 trillion progressive wish list that is the stalled reconciliation bill. It didn’t help that Mr. Sanders characterized opponents as Republicans and others who “want to maintain the status quo in which the very rich get richer while ordinary Americans continue to struggle to make ends meet.” Presumably that includes Mr. Manchin.

An expected response from Manchin, according to WV News:

The article triggered a sharp response from Manchin. “This isn’t the first time an out-of-stater has tried to tell West Virginians what is best for them despite having no relationship to our state,” he said in a tweet.

Threats or Holding Another Bill Hostage Had Not Worked

The Democrat Progressives tried to hold back the bi-partisan infrastructure bill that the Senate had already confirmed. This threat, as threats generally do, tend to irritate and backfire.


So in conclusion, Manchin is in a very strong position emanating from his physicality, family, and politics. Each time his detractors go against him negatively, he becomes stronger and more entrenched.

There are effective persuasion techniques:

Meet in private if possible: If it is safe, try to meet in private when people are much more flexible. Do not disagree in front of others since the person may become even more inflexible since they often desire to win or control the situation. If the person is hostile or abusive, meeting with witnesses may be important.

Neutralize their home court advantage: Schedule to meet in a private, neutral area like a conference room, not a coffee shop or restaurant where there may be others and ambient noise. This may reduce the dominance of the other person.

Be assertive and professional in communication: People who are behaving with difficulty usually respect those who communicate confidently and assertively. Watch the words and terms so one does not have to apologize later.

Bring Solutions: Plan ahead. Do not fixate on one solution, but instead bring to the table several ideas for discussion.

Focus on Consequences. Plan ahead to discern the consequences of any action. This may give the difficult person pause and maybe shift from obstructing to cooperating.

Motivational speaker and communication expert Mat Apodaca offers these ten tips for managing difficult people:

Use lots of kindness. Sometimes this diffuses the situation.

Be compassionate. Often one does not know what is going on in another person’s life.

Find something in common. Maybe this creates a connection.

Stay calm. Pause before one responds.

Share your side. Maybe this opens the empathy gate.

Treat with respect. No one wants to be treated as incompetent or stupid.

Control what you can. Asks oneself the question: Over what or whom do you have control. Most likely, just one’s self?

Look at yourself. Maybe under stress, one is abrupt or condescending?

Overcome fear of conflict. Boundaries need to be established. Maybe conflict can be positive and set the stage for resolution.

Ignore them. There are many situations in which one cannot do this. At the same time, maybe this person is not worth dealing with. Maybe someone else can assist them.


See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu. Clicking on any book will lead one to the discounted Amazon site. Kurt Mortensen’s book, Maximum Influence is included.

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

Maximum Influence, The 12 Universal Laws of Power Persuasion, Kurt W. Mortensen.

Say What You Mean. Get What You Want, A Businessperson’s Guide to Direct Communication, Judith C. Tingley, Ph.D.

How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie. “The first-and still the best book of its kind-to lead you to success.”

How to Negotiate Like a Child-Unleash the Little Monster Within to Get Everything You Want, Bill Adler, Jr., ISBN 0-8144-7294-X

Making Your Case-The Art of Persuading Judges, Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner,, ISBN 978-0-314-18471-9


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