It’s a difficult scenario, and one that most business people will be familiar with. The solution is to know when you’re at risk of being exposed to a dirty negotiation trick and how you can create a safe environment.
1. Jet lag
What is it? This is where the counter-party arrange a meeting while the negotiator’s concentration is impeded by jet lag or fatigue. A variation on the theme is to “entertain” the traveller, ensuring there is no chance to catch up on rest.
Tip for the negotiator: Travel early and leave time for recuperation before meeting the other party. Use the extra time to check the negotiation planning. Where you suspect your hosts like to be hospitable, keep news of your early arrival quiet. This way you won’t be “entertained” until you are fully prepared.
2. Blowing hot and cold
What is it? The perpetrator instils panic into the negotiator by changing from a position of enthusiasm to showing no reaction.
Tip for the negotiator: To counter their silence, and to avoid giving anything away, ask questions about their position. This way you gain information and take back power.
3. Rolling concessions
What is it? This is used to gain additional concessions from the unwary. A giveaway phrase to look out for: “I feel happier now. There’s just one small thing we need to sort out, and then I think we have a deal.”
Tip for the negotiator: Huthwaite’s research shows most concessions are made in the final stages of negotiations. Draw up an agenda of all the issues to be discussed early on, so that additional ones can’t be introduced at a later stage. When faced with “final demands”, check there is nothing else to come before considering whether to agree.
4. Delays and deadlines
What is it? In its simplest form the trick involves setting a deadline by which time the agreement must be signed, or the deal is off.
Tip for the negotiator: Keep arrangements flexible and build time around your negotiation. Time pressure may work in your favour if you keep arrangements to yourself until the deadline has arrived.
5. Deliberate confusion
What is it? Creating a smoke screen can cover up a weak case if it’s being exposed by the other side.
Tip for the negotiator: Skilled negotiators deal with this by checking their understanding with the other side to ensure both parties have the same view and summarising to confirm agreement on what has been discussed. This requires patience and listening skills.
6. “I haven’t the authority”
What is it? The negotiator is quite happy to accept concessions made by the other party but qualifies any concessions asked for by saying, “I’ll have to check this out with my boss, as this demand exceeds my mandate”.
Tip for the negotiator: At the outset, check the other party has the authority to make a deal. If not, either match your authority to theirs or suggest negotiating with someone who has the authority to sign an agreement.
7. “It’s different over here”
What is it? Cultural differences can play an important part in negotiation. Some tricksters use and emphasise differences and local customs to gain changes or win points in particular clauses in the contract. The approach of “but we always do it this way over here” can be difficult to counter if you’re unprepared.
Tip for the negotiator: If you suspect this approach in advance, have with you a local expert who knows the customs. When negotiating in the US for example, bosses have found to their cost that it’s a false economy not to engage a competent American lawyer to act on their behalf.
8. Memos of agreement – plus …
What is it? The manipulator offers to summarise the agreement and changes or extends the agreement in their favour. This is often spotted by the other party, but can cause acrimony or embarrassment in correcting it later.
Tip for the negotiator: It’s always worth collating the summary of an agreement while both parties are present.
9. Sunk cost tactics
What is it? This is based on the assumption that the more a negotiator has invested in trying to reach an agreement, the less willing they will be to abandon the negotiation. For example, a negotiator faced with an unreasonable demand only ten minutes into a negotiation is likely to reject it, even if it could potentially jeopardise the entire negotiation. On the other hand, if the negotiation has been going for several months and progress towards an agreement has been made, the negotiator won’t jeopardise its success.
Tip for the negotiator: Write off the previous investment. It then has no significant influence on current decisions. Remember: the other party has an equal investment in the negotiation.
10. “Details I can’t divulge”
What is it? People using this tactic appear reluctant to release details of a so called competitor offer or other issue on ethical grounds. Its purpose is to make you feel you’ve misjudged the market.
Tip for the negotiator: Even though the other party will probably refuse to release details such as the competitor’s name, you shouldn’t believe what is said about cost. Check the credibility of the competitive offer by asking details such as: “What sort of operator training are they offering?”
The most successful negotiators don’t entertain dirty tricks in negotiation but instead strive to reach agreements that are satisfactory to both parties. When both sides are happy they are far more inclined to work towards a successful implementation.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of something that doesn’t feel right, it’s rarely the case that you should walk away. Provided you recognise what’s happening, you can address the situation and swiftly bring it back to a better place. Use these negotiation techniques to counteract dirty tricks and turn tricky scenarios into long-term profitable relationships.
Neil Clothier is senior expert at negotiation specialists Huthwaite International
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