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Updated: 14 Dec 2020

How to Succeed When Working With Tactical Negotiators

How to Succeed When Working With Tactical Negotiators


Learn how to deal with tactical negotiators by controlling the process and adjusting your negotiation style. Enhance the results of your business negotiations in the face of competitive and manipulative tactics.

by David Wachtel

The top priority that people have in negotiating sessions I teach, is dealing with tactical, positional negotiators. Students will present comments like, “I dislike to negotiate because it forces me to deal with ‘those people’ who use underhanded negotiation tactics to try to trip you up or fool you. It is adversarial, and I am there trying to get an agreement or solve a problem. All they want to do is trick me so they can win.”

The problem in dealing with these situations is that positions (what we want and for how much) come to the forefront, and negotiation interests (why we want something) become secondary. When negotiation positions become most important, emotional issues arise as well. As intense emotions take over we start to work on each other, not the problem. Each side gets locked into a position, they end up further entrenched, and the negotiators go into an “all for me” bidding war.

There are several things that can be done before, and at the commencement of negotiations that can help lessen the use of tactics:

  • Preparation: When teaching negotiations, students are asked if they plan before they start to negotiate. Seldom will anyone answer in the affirmative. Preparation is essential, because it helps to plot a course so their interests are met, but also causes the negotiator to consider the interests of the other party. Consider personality styles (if you know them) and how they might approach the negotiation. Also think about what they might want. For example, you may want to work with this party to resolve a problem. However, their interest may be solely to bring back a deal under “the number” so they can win and look impress their boss. Or they think their solution is the only one that is correct. These are two entirely different approaches.

A game plan can help you remain on course when emotions fog your thinking.

Another very important part of planning is anticipating what should occur if an agreement cannot be reached. Your fall back position is crucial when dealing with tactical negotiators. If this position is strong, the negotiator can always say, “It seems that we cannot come to an agreement that will work for both of us, so we will take on the project, internally.” Walking away when necessary, particularly if tactics are being used due to a “gotcha” perception, presents a very powerful message. It should also be a last resort and not a tactic.

  • Tactical negotiators tend not to be troubled about relationships after the negotiation has ended. A clear understanding of the relationship two organisations have ,relative to each other (ongoing, or short-term and situational) can dictate the most effective approach.
  • Learning the interests of the other side is crucial in laying the groundwork for successful negotiations. The ability to get the negotiation back on track, to refer back to the problem (interests) and stay away from personal issues or positional bargaining, is one of the strongest skills a negotiator can have. This requires superior listening and questioning skills
  • Have an understanding and state to the other party the objectives of the negotiation: To reach, efficiently, an agreement that is fair to both sides, and to be able to carry on the relationship beyond the resolution of this issue is your priority. If the other party is not interested in this approach, you might question why you are there.
  • It is vital to understand that you can only fix this particular situation. You cannot fix the other person. Concentrate on making sure this negotiation remains on target, and do not begin to coach the other party in negotiation skills.

When the other side starts to use tricks, psychological ploys, tactics, or becomes controlling, what can you do?

It is essential to understand that effective tactical negotiators have been down this path many times. They are very proficient at concealing their real strategy. In fact, everything may seem to be going well and all of a sudden the process changes. This is where the ability to control emotions and to concentrate on the process becomes crucial.

Negotiators faced with these situations are obligated to carry on two negotiations: the issue or issues being negotiated, and the negotiation process. Negotiating how the process is occurring is one way to deal with tactics.

  • You have to be able to realize when a tactic is being implemented.
  • Do not discuss the use of a tactic with a personal attack on the other party. Talk about the tactic, not the person.
  • Refer back to the interests which are being negotiated.

An example:

An insurance executive and his local company representative are meeting with an important agency about the need to limit writing a particular type of coverage. While necessary, the executive knows that this is going to put the agency in an awkward position because the insurance company has been one of the last of a number of carriers to impose similar restrictions in place. The agency hoped that the insurance company would keep writing the coverage.

The head of the agency has a very dominant, driver personality. His conference room mirrors this with a long rectangular table and a larger chair at the head. He does not enjoy being told what to do. He knows the reason the insurance company representatives are meeting with him.

The agency requires visitors to go to this conference room, rather than allowing them into the general office. The company representatives are ushered into the conference room for a 9.30 appointment. At 9.45 they are still waiting. At 9.50, the agency head arrives to start the meeting. No apologies are offered.

The visiting executive says, “It is too bad that we are beginning so late. I only have an hour to work on this with you this morning, as we have other appointments. Now only 40 minutes are left. I hope that we can reach an agreement in the remaining time.”
The tactic was noted, it was not discussed in a personal attack (although emotions on the company side were very high as the executive also has a dominant personality), and the rules for how long they can stay are in place.

How do negotiators handle particular situations? For example, abruptly walking out of the session, not showing up on time, forcing you to sit in an uncomfortable chair, or asking for a “few more concessions after an agreement has been reached

Tactics and tricks can be combined into categories:

  1. Psychological games and individual attacks: criticizing your integrity, personal put-downs, uncomfortable surroundings, and threats (“I’ll pull my accounts if you don’t do this!”) are examples.
  2. Misrepresentation of information, or outright deception.
  3. Positional power: using tactics to pressure you to negotiate against yourself, make unneeded concessions, or even give concessions after the negotiation has concluded.

1. Psychological games and personal criticism:

No one wants to be around anyone who is attacking them or causing them discomfort. In fact, it may cause a negotiator give in, just to get out of there. Confident, skilled negotiators do not allow this to happen.

If a room is uncomfortable, request a change. Either another chair, or change rooms. If they refuse, tell them that the conditions are not satisfactory (not a personal attack, “You made me sit with the sun in my eyes!”) and we will have to meet at a different time or place to be able to have any chance at success.

If it is a personal affront, for example “Are you qualified to be here?”, or “You look ill. Are you feeling OK?” recognize the attack. Bringing it up (“You know my qualifications, so can we proceed?”, or “I’ve never felt better, but thanks for your concern”} is the way to alert the other party you know the game. Most of the time, it stops this from further recurrence.

Using threats is a frequently used tactic to acquire concessions. Statements like, “I’ll move all my business” are common to try to use perceived power to get what they want.

An example:

A supplier and customer are attempting to negotiate an arrangement for business growth. If the customer provides the supplier with 10% sales growth in the next year, the supplier will give a 2% commission over-ride as an incentive. The bargaining commences without the customer really considering the value of the relationship. As the bargaining continues, tension increases with the customer finally exclaiming, “I want 4% and if I don’t get it, I’ll move my business to someone who will!” The negotiator for the supplier responds, “While we value the relationship with you, we do not value it enough to be unprofitable. Your request would make that occur. We hope you see the value for both of us in our proposal.” The supplier then provided the facts because they were prepared.

Many negotiators, when attacked or placed in uncomfortable situations tend to overlook them and try to move on. This is the result the tactical negotiator needs.

2. Misrepresentation of facts:

This can be very difficult to handle, as our emotional reaction would be to call them a liar. Remember, you cannot correct the person, only the situation. People issues have to be separate.

If you cannot trust the other party, you can still negotiate with them. Have your facts and confirm everything. If you cannot confirm something, ask to confer, or reconvene until you can to ensure that the facts are accurate.

If presented with contradictory information, present your facts as being in conflict with theirs, and ask for confirmation. Whenever possible, use third party sources as backup as those sources are unbiased towards this negotiation.

If the other party has represented themselves as the decision-maker and after an agreement has been reached advises you they “have to get it approved”, let them aware that the agreement is now non-binding. Either side can now make alterations as needed. If the other negotiator does not have the authority to agree to the deal, there is no deal. Put this in writing, immediately.

3. Positional Power:

These tactics are employed by negotiators who are trying to position the other party into negotiating with themselves. They place the other party into a position where they are the ones making concessions, many times unnecessarily. This is very common when negotiators start negotiating to save the relationship instead of trying to reach an agreement.Examples of tactics used:

Examples of tactics used:

  • Flinch: used when you submit your offer. The hope is that you might say something like, “Oh, is that too much? I have some room here” when your original offer was fine.

A simple reply is to dismiss the flinch. If there is a real issue, it will come out later and can be negotiated without the use of tactics.

  • Hot Potato: the other side waits until the last minute to present their proposal, and allows no time to decide or prepare.

Take a recess, caucus, reconvene. If it’s a “take or leave it” deal, let it alone.

  • Walk out: a gambit to get you to concede something to get them to return to the table. Wait them out. If there are issues, they can be handled in due course in the negotiation.
  • Nibblers: they return after the deal has been concluded asking for a small concession. It can be because they “forgot” something, or “something changed, can you help us out?”

The best way to reply to this is to say, “If we are going to reopen the contract, then it will be satisfactory to reopen the entire contract for further considerations. We would like a few small changes, ourselves.” Usually, this stops the tactic.

NEVER give something away for free. Always obtain something in exchange that is of high value to you.

  • Tag-team negotiators: typically this occurs when a deal has been offered. For example, a company is negotiating to do business with another and there are “two” decision makers on the other side. The first one says, “We can do this, but I can only pay a 5% commission on your orders.” The second negotiator gets an odd look on his face and says, “Come on, we can do better than that. Why don’t you pay them 6%?” In reality, they pay 10%, and since you prepared your negotiation, you checked this out. What sounds like a concession is actually a tactic. A recommended way to respond to this is to say, “It looks like the two of you have a disagreement. How about I go out for a while so you can work this out?”

These are just several of the tactics used by negotiators. When faced with tricks and tactics, it is vital to remember some key points:

  1. If you prepare and plan your negotiations, you will be more equipped to deal with tactics. You will always know where you are going, where you are in the process, and will know what you can do if negotiations are unsuccessful.
  2. The objective of the negotiator is to obtain, efficiently, an agreement that is fair to both sides. We want to keep the relationship intact.
  3. Remember you can only correct and control the situation, not the other person. Our focus has to be on the problem and the process.
  4. A negotiator may not only require negotiating the issue, but also the ground rules of the negotiation process.
  5. Recognise when a tactic is being employed. Address the tactic with the other party. Do not personalize it (“You are lying to me!”).
  6. Always have sufficient confidence to stop proceedings if they are not going well. This can be via a caucus, or even rescheduling for another day or venue.
  7. Always know what you will do if an agreement cannot be realised. Having that knowledge can and will prevent you from proceeding in a negotiation where tactics are muddying the issue. Know where you are in relation to what you will do if negotiations are unsuccessful, throughout the negotiation process. Do not allow the use of tactics cause an agreement to be worse that what could have been done on your own.

Most of us have to negotiate on a regular basis for goods and services we require in our lives. Few enjoy the process, and many do not because they are not equipped to handle the use of tactics in the negotiation process. Understanding tactics and how to deal with them, coupled with more detailed and focused planning of negotiations will give negotiators better outcomes for both sides. This gives the negotiator the confidence to do what is necessary to alter the process so it will work, rather than focusing on the behavior of the other side. Last, when tactical negotiators learn how their tactics can be neutralised, they stop using them and begin to get better results.

David A.Wachtel is the president of Hautacam Consulting, Inc

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 StarsRate this Article
5 out of 5 from 4 responses
  • 7
    L Shri Harsha on

    The article is crisp and to the point. Very educative and easily understood by a common man.

  • 3
    Maynard Petras - Nichols College on

    I highly recommend this article to anyone who plans to hold down bull negotiators. Great article!

  • 1
    A negotiator on

    A highly useful article.

  • 4
    Michael Breagy on

    This is an excellent article and I plan on using it in a skill-development activity for managers in the insurance company I work for. Your example re: the insurance executives is exactly the type of situation I'm hoping to help my trainees get better at responding to. Thanks for your insight!

  • 15
    Emma Grey on

    I found this piece both informative and honest. Very clear to read with good examples of negotiation tactics. Also it points out moral issues, which I found enlightening.

  • 7
    Dr. Settlement, J.D. (Juris Doc) on

    We teach members at http://www.SettlementCentral.Com how to negotiate a successful personal injury insurance award. This article has EXCELLENT insights into factors that influence both sides in negotiations. If we all look honestly at what you have written, we can see ourselves in some of those positions you describe. Well done; we will encourage our members to use your site in conjunction with the insurance negotiation tips at ours.

  • 10
    Brendan Anglin on

    I have been teaching negotiation skills for a number of years and advocate Fisher & Ury all the time. However I constantly have students who say that they find themselves constantly being caught out by dirty tricks. The books that teach this tricks fill the shelves in all bookshops so it is excellent to find an article that gives countermeasures to the most common of these tactics. Excellent!

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