Ad hominem

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Identification

This tactic involves attacking something personal about the adverse party. Personal attacks are used to undermine authority, incite emotion, or are the product of immaturity or simply poor upbringing. It can be rude or, more seriously, an indication of serious bigotry. Unfortunately, this tactic is used often at many levels of our society. It is used to gain unfair advantage and is a crude method of getting in someone’s head and pushing their buttons.

Example

An example of this tactic is: “Experienced negotiators don’t ask for that. How long have you worked in this industry?”

Solution

The way to deal with this tactic is to call the other side on the inappropriate nature of the tactic. In Getting to Yes, Fisher and Ury emphasize a focus on the problem, not the people. In practice, this can be difficult. Humans are imperfect and messy, and there may be no alternative but to negotiate with people we find repugnant. In an imperfect world, racist attacks enter negotiations all the time, and they are handled by either ending the negotiation, requesting an apology, or ignoring it. We may find cold comfort in getting a good deal from someone we find morally repugnant.

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