Demonization in Negotiations: A Prescription for Failure

Copyright 9.8.2014: Scientific Cowboys – Author: Nancy C Everitt, PMP

Overview: Demonization is not an often discussed phenomenon in negotiations, it sneaks in under bias and often isn’t recognized and/or addressed.

Robert Mnookin’s  Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight is a must read and explores demonization, other traps and strategies for bargaining with the devil. -The Editor-

The Devil We Know

Demonization in negotiations is defined as “to represent as diabolically evil”.

Sounds rather extreme, doesn’t it, in fact Robert Mnookin in Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight says that to even address this topic is polarizing for many people. The ability to recognize both when you are being demonized and when you are demonizing others enhances your level of prowess as a negotiator.  Self awareness is critical.

Doing is an effective method of learning. Below, test your skills and abilities to identify demonization in the situation and strategies to identify, neutralize and prevent you from engaging in this trap.

Identifying the Demon

To neutralize demonization you must first be able to spot it, sounds easy, however the complexity grows as subtlety increases. Try your skills below.

Rank the real world scenarios: Select “Demon” or “No Demon”.


Scenario 1: Gulf War

Negotiations broke down in the Gulf War as Sadam Hussein was portrayed as “the Butcher of Baghdad” in the American media and George W Bush was referred to as “The Great White Satan” by the Iraqis. The US went to Iraq not to negotiate but to “demand compliance”’ per Secretary of State William Baker.

Q: Demon or No Demon

A: Okay, this was an easy one “Demon”. The parties were so biased that successful negotiation was impossible. Demonization was rampant. What should or could have been done differently could fill a book.


Scenario 2: Hospital Plan Negotiation

Hospital A publicly terminates a health plan contract and publishes a press release vilifying all of the health plan leadership as “crooks”. The health plan retaliates with a full page ad in the news paper illustrating the hospital’s “excessive” fee structure that is driving up costs by “for profit wolves in sheep’s clothing”.

Q: Demon or No Demon

A: Hmm…yes, this  happened “Demon”. The outcome was nasty, however the two parties eventually reached a tenuous agreement out of necessity. This type of zero sum negotiation is occurring more and more publicly as all parties seek sympathy in the media.

Tip: If the negotiation will be tenuous, ensure you have the right parties at the table. Bluster belongs on the ball field.


Scenario 3: Member – Provider

Jane Jones is a member of XYZ Medicaid Plan, Dr. Smith’s practice has removed her from their practice for no shows. He says he does not want any additional Medicaid members because they cancel too many appointments

Q: Demon or No Demon

A: Again…yes, this really happened “Demon”. The member is a single mother that uses public transportation and works an hourly job. She is dependent on her hourly job and gets rescheduled at a moment’s notice.

This is a very common situation and could possibly be remedied if the practice had extended or Saturday hours so that members could have a greater chance to make the needed appointments.

Often a walk in the other person’s shoes can tamp down demonization.


Scenario 4: Interoffice Conflict

Management vs. Employee: Managers in a plant perceived all younger workers as slackers that departed at 5:00pm whether or not production goals were met. The employees perceived management as callous and unyielding for not understanding busy personal and family lives.

Q: Demon or No Demon

A: This illustration is more subtle and closer to home, however it is still demonization.  Demonization of the other party often occurs to rationalize one party’s belief in their behaviors, beliefs or actions.


Removing the Demon

Once you can identify demonization and an alarm goes off in your head, it is time to act. Removing demonization is a conscious effort.

Either neutralize the situation if it is occurring to you or stop yourself if you are demonizing others.

Mnookin explains that demonization is just one of many traps to avoid including:

  • Tribalism
  • Dehumanization
  • Moralism
  • Zero-Sum Thinking
  • the Impulse to Fight or Flee and
  • the Call to Battle.

By being mindful you can rid demonization from your interactions and negotiations through

  1. awareness and recognition
  2. addressing the issue and the rational alternatives
  3. identifying and adjusting your own behavior.



Become conscious of the presence of “demonization” and the issues that perceived characterizations of “evil” bring to a negotiation or even a personal relationship. Practice and take action to overcome the trap. Demonization hinders rather than helps the outcome of a negotiation.

Takeaway: Become capable of identifying demonization, either created by you or other parties. Take appropriate action to discuss and resolve the misperceptions and learn to restrain yourself from falling into the trap in the future.


About the Author:

Nancy C. Everitt, MBA is the President and CEO of HEOPS, Inc. and Editor in Chief of Scientific Cowboys. Ms. Everitt is lead strategist to Clients’ on the design and fulfillment of patient access solutions such as network development and provider engagement, quality analytics, Medicare Advantage STARS strategy, disruption analysis and mapping. Ms. Everitt has been involved in the strategy of each engagement and provides significant perspective on industry best practice.

In addition to serving as Editor in Chief on Scientific Cowboys, Ms. Everitt is a frequent contributing writer to the publication sharing real world advice and operational insights on process and performance improvement. Questions on this article may be addressed directly to


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