How to Negotiate with a Narcissist with Rebecca Zung, Esq

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In this episode of We Chat Divorce, we’re joined by Rebecca Zung to discuss the topic of How to Negotiate With a Narcissist. Here’s an overview of Rebecca's experience:

Rebecca is a narcissism negotiation expert, and one of the top 1% of attorneys in the nation, having been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as a “Best Lawyer in America”, as “Legal Elite” by Trend Magazine. She is the author of two bestselling books: Negotiate Like You M.A.T.T.E.R.: The SureFire Method to Step Up and Win (foreword by Robert Shapiro) and Breaking Free: A Step-by-Step Divorce Guide for Achieving Emotional, Physical, and Spiritual Freedom.

Her perspectives are in high demand by television and print outlets, and she's been featured in or on Extra, Forbes, Huffington Post, Newspeak Time, Dr. Drew, NPR Talk Radio, Good Day New York and CBS Los Angeles among others. Now, based in Los Angeles, she is continuing to serve through her very popular YouTube channel, media appearances, podcasts, articles, and on-demand programs such as S-L-A-Y, S.L.A.Y. Your Negotiation With a Narcissist and Breaking Free Divorce Masterclasses.

Hosts, Karen, and Catherine sit down with Rebecca Zung to discuss How to Negotiate With a Narcissist.

Learn More >>https://www.rebeccazung.com/

Connect with Rebecca on LinkedIn >> @Rebecca Zung

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The We Chat Divorce podcast (hereinafter referred to as the “WCD”) represents the opinions of Catherine Shanahan, Karen Chellew, and their guests to the show. WCD should not be considered professional or legal advice. The content here is for informational purposes only. Views and opinions expressed on WCD are our own and do not represent that of our places of work.

WCD should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever. Listeners should contact their attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. No listener should act or refrain from acting on the basis of information on WCD without first seeking legal advice from counsel in the relevant jurisdiction. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on WCD.

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Karen:

Welcome to We Chat Divorce, Catherine and I are honored today to welcome attorney Rebecca Zung to our podcast. In this episode, we're going to discuss how to negotiate with a narcissist. But first, let me take a couple of minutes to introduce Rebecca. Rebecca is a narcissism negotiation expert, and one of the top 1% of attorneys in the nation. Having been recognized by US News and World Report as the best lawyer in America, she is the author of two bestselling books. Her perspectives are in high demand by television and print outlets, and she's been featured in or on Extra, Forbes, Huffington Post, Newspeak Time, Dr. Drew, NPR Talk Radio, Good Day New York and CBS Los Angeles among others. That's amazing. Now, based in Los Angeles, she is continuing to serve through her very popular YouTube channel, media appearances, podcasts, articles, and on demand programs such as S-L-A-Y, S.L.A.Y. Your Negotiation With a Narcissist and Breaking Free Divorce Masterclasses. Welcome, Rebecca.

Rebecca Zung:

Thank you both.

Catherine:

I don't know if you're listening, if you're feeling like me that your stomach is filled with butterflies, you're either really excited to talk about this narcissistic viewpoint or you're really nervous listening to this. Either way, how did you come into focusing on negotiating with narcissists?

Rebecca Zung:

Well, it's like everything you've ever done prepares you for this one moment. And I feel that way with me. I had been a divorce lawyer for a long time. I did high net worth divorce in Naples, Florida, which is an affluent community. So I represented billionaires and celebrities and all that. And obviously, there was a Narcissister too in there. And so I represented narcissists. I had been on the other side of them. I have had them as opposing counsel or even judges sometimes. And I had been focusing on learning how to negotiate for a really long time. Oh, back when I first started my own practice, I was looking for a way to develop my practice and get more clients and so I developed a talk on how to negotiate period, not with narcissists, just how to negotiate.

Rebecca Zung:

And I gave that talk to every rotary between Tampa and Marco island, every single women's group. I mean, I've given that talk a thousand times, I've even done it as the keynote speaker for the American Bar Association. I wrote a book on negotiation. Robert Shapiro wrote the forward. So I was really thinking I was going to focus more on teaching people how to negotiate in general. I was looking for something else to do other than the day-to-day grind of practicing law. And I just thought that that was going to be my thing. Well, come to find out that I was dealing with two narcissists in my personal life. One was in my business life, in a little business that I had started with someone, which didn't go anywhere, thank God. But the person was around and in my space long enough to wreak havoc and cause lots of drama, trauma and chaos.

Rebecca Zung:

And then I had a family member who was a narcissist. And so somebody had pointed it out to me and recommended that I read a book on it and I was reading this book on the airplane with my husband and I was literally like, oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Every page was blowing my mind that this was what I was dealing with these two people. And so I started reading everything I could get my hands on, hundreds of books, which, behind me, you can see some of them. I mean, literally got my practical Ph.D. or whatever you want to call it, I just basically read everything I possibly could on it. And that's when I started to realize that I could actually apply my knowledge of negotiation to what I was learning about the personality of a narcissist.

Rebecca Zung:

And I actually started to see movement and I started to see actual things happening for people in negotiations. So that's how I came about it. I started doing it on YouTube. I now have, I don't know, close to 9 million views and close to 150,000 subscribers in just over a year, so.

Catherine:

That's awesome. I mean, you can imagine in divorce when an individual who may have the narcissistic traits feels like they're losing control when we empower the other spouse with some financial clarity, we see this all the time. So it's almost in every divorce case where when financial clarity is upon somebody else, there's a lot of nervousness on the other side. Why? I don't know, but I know that probably every one of our clients or almost everyone would love to follow your channel.

Rebecca Zung:

Yeah. They can find me, if they put in to negotiate with a narcissist, I'll be popping right up.

Karen:

Yeah. And I feel most, not, I guess, most people when they're entering divorce, one spouse or the other fully believes that they are divorcing a narcissist. So how did you break that down with, like you had told us before we hopped on this show that there is actually a diagnosis, but there's also tendencies and behaviors? So how does someone break that down and understand it a little bit more? I know we only have half an hour here, but can you touch on that a little bit?

Rebecca Zung:

Yeah. So, I mean, reasonable people want to come to a resolution. They don't want to spend lots and lots of money on lawyers. They want to be able to have peace in their lives. They want to be able to move on. Yes, they want to get an outcome that's fair, but they're interested in having a conversation on how to come to a resolution. You'll know right away if you're dealing with a narcissistic type of a person because instead of trying to figure out how to come to a resolution, they are ratcheting it up. They're filing motions all the time. They're refusing to provide financial disclosure. They are using the court system as a sword. They're lying in pleadings, they are offering settlements and then as soon as you say yes to it, they change it and they blame it on you. And it goes on and on and on. And it's like five years and $400,000 later, you're still doing this. That's when you're dealing with a narcissist.

Karen:

That's incredible.

Catherine:

So how do you equip yourself in that scenario?

Rebecca Zung:

Wow, that's a really big question. It seems like a simple question, but it's actually a big question because that's all part of what I teach in S.L.A.Y, which is to build strategy, create leverage, anticipate what they're going to do and be two steps ahead of them and focus on you, your case and your position. That's what S.L.A.Y stands for. And so in the program, I teach people actually how to do documentation the proper way. I mean, a lot of people say document, document document, which I agree with, but there are certain things you want to make sure you're focusing on. There's a way to organize it. There's a way to find, look for patterns and then all of that becomes your leverage so that you could potentially motivate them and incentivize them to want to come to the table.

Rebecca Zung:

You have to understand that narcissists are driven by one thing and that's narcissistic supply, that's it. And so settling the case doesn't give them narcissistic supply, they get supply from jerking you around and intimidating you and moving the goalposts and thinking it's a big game. So they have no incentive to want to resolve it unless you give them another incentive to want to resolve it.

Catherine:

Yeah. I always say whenever we do the portrait with our couples or individuals, if they come by themselves, when you know all your options and you know the components to all those options, you're able to make a compromise, but you're able to make a compromise, knowing that either position will be acceptable to you but you left the other side too, they're narcissist because they always want to win. So when you have financial clarity, you can say, I'll be okay with either of these scenarios. So you put it back in their hands and just let them pick one because you're okay with either side.

Rebecca Zung:

Yeah, I mean that's one way you could go about it. But if you're dealing with a really malignant narcissist, they're going to say neither. And because neither is, I mean really just because they just want to screw you. But they'll come up with some reason why neither works and, or they'll pick the parts that they like and keep those like, oh yes, I'll definitely take this, this and this, the parts that you're offering that are good for them, but the parts that you want, they don't want to do. And then they'll try to hold you to the part that you were offering, even though they didn't want it, I see Karen nodding her head.

Karen:

That's so true. We see that all the time. So what are some ways that people can disarm a narcissist?

Rebecca Zung:

Well, I think there's a couple of different ways that you have to look at it. I mean, there's a way to disarm them when you're just having a conversation with them and you're just trying to communicate with them on a day-to-day basis. And then there are ways to disarm them in the actual negotiation process too. So I think it depends on what it is that you're dealing with, but just from a communication point of view, I think there's a number of different ways. All of them require though that you learn how to at least control your emotions while you're in that interaction. So that's why it's really important to either be super brief or have strong boundaries. And then when you are interacting with them, you are not taking the bait because they constantly are trying to trigger you. They want you to say something or do something that they can turn around and use against you. As soon as you say, oh, whatever, like there you go, there's a potential trial exhibit for them.

Rebecca Zung:

So you got to be really careful about how you respond and so I advise people to be very brief in their interactions. And so like you can have a tactical response to an email, for example, like if there's a really long email about what a deadbeat you are, and you're a horrible person and whatever it is that their diatribe of the day. And there's maybe one line in there that you actually need to respond to, like about what time to pick up the kids or something like that. You can just say, "Thank you for your email. I am in responsive it. I deny your allegations and you can pick up Susie at three o'clock on Wednesday." So you've denied it, you don't need to go point by point, are you kidding me, I'm a wonderful mother, I'm this, that, and the other thing. Never try to justify, explain, or overshare, just, "I've received this, I deny it. Here's the only thing I need to respond to." And that can be so empowering when you know that you don't need to respond to every single thing.

Catherine:

So true. And it's so important to try it for the first time. It's really difficult if you're trained in a long-term relationship and you're so used to that type of toxic interaction, to actually do that the first time is empowering, but it's scary. So if you're out there and you're listening, it is scary, but do it, less is more in a lot of these situations and you will feel really good about that because they won't know how to respond to you.

Karen:

I agree. That's great. So take that same communication style and if you're in person or you're with them, and you're having to talk to them on the phone or the exchange of the children or whatever, what can you do to disarm in a live setting? Some tips, obviously there's probably a million.

Rebecca Zung:

Yeah, in my course, I have 50 key phrases to destroy a narcissist. But you just remember wherever you can almost become an observer, almost like you're reporting the news. Like, I can see that you are upset or you are entitled to that opinion. I'm sorry that that is your opinion or I'm sorry that that's how you feel or something like that. I mean, you can even use words like I agree, even though... There's a trick that I tell people to use, which is, I agree that that is your opinion, so you're agreeing with them and they hear, I agree, but you're not saying anything really. I hear what you're saying and that's it. And it's almost like there's this invisible shield where you're not getting emotional.

Rebecca Zung:

So one of the other things I tell people to do is maybe sometimes if you know you're going to have a conversation set an agenda ahead of time. Like we will talk, and this is what we will talk about. We're not talking about this, this and this, we're going to talk about that. And maybe figure out a way to get in and out of that conversation, by setting a time limit ahead of time or saying, you have to leave for work or you have to go take a shower or whatever. Whatever you need to do to feel like you're in control of that conversation ahead of time that just psychologically can help too.

Catherine:

Yeah. And writing things down and having it right in front of you is also very comforting because you can always resort back to reading it off your paper, and learning to walk away, walk away when you have to. So that's really big too, again, another scary thing to do.

Karen:

But it sounds like what you do in your courses and in your teachings is empowering them with boundaries so that they can just start to enclose themselves in a safe place of sorts when they're engaging with a narcissist who doesn't have their best interests at heart.

Rebecca Zung:

Yeah. I mean, that's just part of the whole strategy for communication. I mean, I also teach how to do the research, create the strategy, figure out your diagnosis, your guiding vision, your guiding policy, your action plan, all of that, but around the communication piece of it, for sure. I mean, it's all about reducing your exposure to that toxicity because they work on your neuronal patterns, on your brainwaves and things. And so it's almost like deprogramming yourself in order to try to heal from it. And so getting out of that is so important because if you get sucked back in, it almost slides you back as far as you're healing from that trauma.

Catherine:

Yeah. And it doesn't happen overnight. When you walk away, like you just said, you have to retrain your own mind. I mean, I'm talking personally here now. So when you walk out of that situation, a lot of times people who do not heal, end up in another relationship with someone similar to that same pattern. It took me two and a half years to get through my process of healing. And thankfully I met my current husband after that time period, but it really is that you're so easily triggered to go back to a pattern. So you really need to give yourself that time and that process, allow that process.

Rebecca Zung:

Yeah, and I do want to mention that part of the reason why you become so trauma bonded to them is because of that cycle of love bombing, devaluing, and discarding, they throw in those strategically placed love bombs and every time they do that, you get a dopamine hit in your brain. There's actually a study with, Robert Sapolsky had done a study on monkeys. And if you gave them a treat every single time, their dopamine levels in their brains did nothing, but intermittently giving them a treat or a reward, just the anticipation of getting it had the dopamine levels in their brain rise to a level of cocaine. And so actually, you become physiologically addicted to this person because of that, it's way more toxic than somebody who's just toxic all the time.

Catherine:

That's so interesting.

Karen:

It's incredible. So tell me this, are people born with narcissistic behavior or is it a learned trait?

Rebecca Zung:

I do say I'm not a psychologist, but from what I read and what I have studied and learned, and I've interviewed a bunch of psychologists, my understanding is that they are not born that way, that they are created. And so it's nurture, not nature, that it happens at some point during their formation as a child where they came to a conclusion that the world is a scary place, that they're not good enough, that they have to be in survival at all times in order to live. And so they psychologically live there and I think it's very subconscious, but it's either that they were traumatized in some way as a child, or I've also heard that extreme overindulgence can cause it as well because children actually want boundaries. They want their parents to care. And by extremely overindulging them, they don't feel like they were worth anything. So I think it's both.

Catherine:

Yeah. So I hope my kids are glad that I was so strict.

Rebecca Zung:

Mine too.

Catherine:

Well, I have a curious question, have you gone up against other attorneys for a case that are narcissists and how did you handle that?

Rebecca Zung:

Part of the reason I'm glad I don't practice on a full-on basis anymore because I couldn't stand them. I mean, there are certain opposing counsel that I would have to tell my clients, well, they hired so-and-so, so it's going to be twice as expensive because she's going to fight every single thing. There are certain ones that I just could not stand because of that. Yeah.

Karen:

Yeah. And it's to the client and the family's detriment, it's to everyone's detriment.

Rebecca Zung:

Yeah. But I have to say, I always, half-jokingly, but not really jokingly, that people are like dogs and their dog owners, they always seem to find the lawyer that's just like them.

Karen:

Wow.

Catherine:

Yeah. That's so true. Or they find one that's like their partner, because they're actually, like you said, addicted to that type of personality. So they almost feel like that person will put up with their spouse, so they're being bullied. I mean, I see clients being bullied by their own attorney, it's because it's the relationship they had with their spouse. So they're used to that. They don't see it being wrong. Yeah. It's unfortunate, but that is the way it is. Yeah. It's so interesting. It's really very interesting.

Karen:

So on that note, can you really get a narcissist to negotiate successfully?

Rebecca Zung:

I've had done it many thousands of times actually. And they're actually the simplest people to understand. I mean, they're heinous to deal with, but they're actually very easy to understand. I mean, they're only motivated and incentivized by one thing, and that's narcissistic supply. Regular people are motivated by lots of different things, it might be time with your children or it might be a flexible schedule or whatever, but with them, it's not, it's always that one thing, that's the thing they keep coming back to. And then just understanding that there's a hierarchy of narcissistic supply. So there's like, their diamond level grade A, source of supply, which is their image and how they look and the outside looking in like, what are people thinking of them. And especially people that they respect.

Rebecca Zung:

So in the court system, it will be definitely the judge or the lawyers or maybe the mediator or something like that. They want to make sure that they look good and the other person looks like the bad one. And with narcissists, it's all black and white, you're either for them or against them, or you're either the best or you're the worst. And so that's the grade eight A, level. And then the Core level, which I call Core level, which is like the... It burns and it gives them energy, but it's not as good as the diamond level. And that is like jerking you around, degrading you, devaluing you, making you squirm, scaring you, all those sorts of things. They get supply from that as well. So the key is to create a leverage situation that ethically manipulates the manipulator by threatening a source of narcissistic supply that means more to them to keep than the supply that they get from jerking you around.

Karen:

Wow.

Catherine:

Love that. That's so good. Yeah. Well, we apply that to our financial portrait, giving people the courage to request the information and to understand the information financially, really empowers them to stand stronger and let their attorneys that they have to do their job of being aggressive, because they're understanding what their rights are. And they're understanding what the financial outcome will be. And nobody expects somebody who's married to a narcissist to have that courage or to be able to state what they want, because they don't understand financially what they've ever had. So I love applying all of that to the financial clarity that everybody needs before they get divorced.

Rebecca Zung:

Totally.

Karen:

So another question that we have here is what kind of tricks do they play and how can you identify a trick that a narcissist would like to pull on someone else or on your spouse or on you during a divorce?

Rebecca Zung:

During the divorce?

Karen:

Yeah.

Rebecca Zung:

Yeah. They manipulate text messages, they lie about things, even things that are readily verifiable and even things that are things they don't necessarily need to lie about, but they just do because that's just their way of being. So I had a case where the wife, who I think is more than just a narcissist, I think she might've had borderline or some other issues. But in the middle of the night, one o'clock in the morning, she gets into this fight with her 15-year-old son. She throws him out of the house with all of his stuff. It was 30° outside. It was in the Northeast part of the country in winter. And so the kid calls his dad and says, come get me. I'm outside on the curb with all my stuff. Dad goes over there in the middle of the night, gets him, brings him back to the house. The next morning gets an email from the mother saying, this is probably for the best you should call the bus and let them know to pick them up over there by you for a while. So he does that.

Rebecca Zung:

And a couple of weeks later, she files a motion in court, sworn testimony saying that he kidnapped the child, refuses to return the child and it's just like a flat-out lie. And she even sent an email saying, we'll change the bus. I mean, but that's the kind of thing that they do. And it's maddening because it costs you money.

Karen:

Yeah. And anybody can make a claim about anything and you have to defend that in court if that's where it's taken up. And I think a lot of people don't understand that, but at the end of the day, that's your only choice is defending that claim. That's incredible.

Catherine:

Well, it's terrible too, because the child's sitting there saying what the hell's going on here. And so they're growing up realizing, how am I dealing with this? Who am I dealing with? And it's unfortunate.

Rebecca Zung:

Horrible, because then a lot of times, those are the parents that refuse to allow counseling for the child, too.

Catherine:

Exactly. We talk about that a lot with even custodian plans, 529 plans, you might have that spouse who's the custodian on that account, so years later they're using that account to manipulate your child. So it wasn't talked about before, because it was never identified that they had this trait. So it's something that people should consider, who's going to be the custodian if something like that happens because now the kid again is being manipulated instead of the spouse because the spouse is no longer married to them.

Rebecca Zung:

Yeah. It's tough.

Catherine:

Yeah. It's a hard thing.

Karen:

Yeah. So it sounds like your programs really take people through the breadth and width of understanding it, identifying and responding to it. So where can people learn more about your programs and what they offer?

Rebecca Zung:

Well, I have a free gift for everyone and they can get a free, crush my negotiation prep worksheet, which is 15 pages. It's basically an ebook. It's actually a really nice free gift and they can get that at winmynegotiation.com. So I made a nice, easy URL so people can remember, winmynegotiation.com. And so I would start there definitely check out my YouTube channel, totally free obviously as well. Rebecca Zung ESQ is the, it's youtube.com/rebeccazungesq or just put in negotiating with a narcissist, you'll find me right there for sure.

Catherine:

Yes, for sure. That's awesome.

Rebecca Zung:

Yeah. And Instagram is Rebecca Zung. My books, whatever. I mean, I would start with the YouTube channel as well as the free worksheet.

Karen:

That's fantastic. That's really great. I had something I was going to say, and it went right out of my head. Oh, I know what I was going to say. All of this will be in the show notes below the podcast. So don't feel like you have to remember that, we'll have that all laid out when we're promoting so that you can easily click through, to learn more about Rebecca's programs. So this concludes our episode on negotiating or communicating with a narcissist. Thank you so much, Rebecca, for being with us today and having this great conversation.

Rebecca Zung:

Thank you for having me.

Catherine:

Yeah. Thank you. It's been great.

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