April 17, 2024

Most successful negotiators recognise that the way people involved in negotiations behave does not always reflect their true feelings or intentions. We are going to look at negotiating tactics that may be used by you or on you. Whether or not you choose to use these tactics, it is vital to understand:

o Tactics work

o They can be being used on you, and can be used by you

o Once they are recognised as tactics, their effects are reduced, or eliminated

You may feel that there is no need in your particular case to negotiate or resort to tactics. in negotiation. This is a matter of personal choice.

In general, tactics are used to gain a short-term advantage during the negotiation and are designed to lower your expectations of reaching a successful conclusion.

There are many tactics available to negotiators. Here are some you may recognise.


This can begin before you even get together, or start your negotiations with the other party. Let us take a sales example:

You telephone for the appointment and the other side says, aggressively:

“Don’t bother coming if you are going to tell me about price increases. You’ll be wasting your time and I will be forced to speak to your competitors”.

When you do arrive you are kept waiting in reception for half an hour, without being told why. As you walk through the door into the other person’s office they indicate for you to sit down, but they don’t look up. Instead, they sit leafing through your competitor’s brochure, in silence, ignoring your efforts to make conversation.

You are given an uncomfortable low chair to sit in that happens to be directly in line with the sun shining into the office. At this stage, how confident do you feel?

The Monkey On The Back:

Some negotiators have the irritating habit of handing their problems to you so that they become your problems. This is the “monkey on their back” that they want you to carry around for them.

A classic example is the person who says, “I have only got £10,000 in my budget”.

This is often used tactically to force a price reduction. Here is what you can do.

When one side says “I have only £10,000 in budget”, look concerned and say something like:

“That is a problem. As you are no doubt aware, the cost of our systems can be anything up to £20,000 and I really want to help you choose the best system that meets your needs. Does that mean that if one of our systems has everything you are looking for, but costs £20,000, you would rather I didn’t show it to you?”

The “monkey” has been returned and they have to make a choice. If the objection is genuine and the budget figure is correct, you must try to look for an alternative that meets your needs as well as theirs.

If they genuinely can only spend £10,000 that is not a tactic but the truth. In dealing with tactics the first decision you must make is whether it is a tactic or a genuine situation. If it is genuine, you have a problem to solve, rather than a tactic to overcome.

The Use Of Higher Authority:

This can be a most effective way to reduce pressure in the negotiation by introducing an unseen third party and can also be effective in bringing the negotiation to a close.

“I need to have this agreed by my Board of Directors.” “If they agree to the terms we have discussed, do we have a deal?”

However, be careful to use this device sparingly so that the other side does not begin to feel you have no decision making authority yourself.

One way of countering this tactic is to say before the bargaining begins: “If this proposal meets your needs, is there any reason you would not give me your decision today?”

If the other side still wishes to resort to higher authority, appeal to their ego by saying: “Of course, they will go along with your recommendations, won’t they? Will you be recommending this proposal?”


Negotiations can be a tiring process. As the point draws near when an agreement is likely, both sides exhibit a psychological need to reach agreement and get on with something else.

You are very vulnerable as the other side reaches for their pen to sign the order form or contract, to concede items that don’t significantly affect the final outcome. “Oh, by the way, this does include free delivery, doesn’t it?” or “Oh, by the way, the price of the car does include a full tank of petrol?”

Nibbles work best when they are small and asked for at the right psychological moment. Like peanuts, eat enough of them and they get fattening.

Good negotiators will often keep back certain items on their want list until the very last minute when the other party is vulnerable. Watch out for this.

The Good Guy And The Bad Guy:

You may have come across this tactic before or else seen it used in films or on television. This is a tactic designed to soften you up in the negotiation.

For example, you are negotiating the renewal of your service contract with the Buying Director and his Finance Director. You present your proposal and the Buying Director suddenly gets angry and walks out in disgust muttering to himself about how unfair you have been and how the relationship is well and truly over.

You pick up your briefcase and are being shown the door when the Finance Director smiles at you sympathetically and says:

“I’m terribly sorry about that. He is under a lot of pressure. I would like to help you renew your contract, but he really will not consider the price you have suggested. Why don’t I go and talk to him for you and see if we can agree a compromise? What is the bottom line on the contract? If you give me your very best price, I will see what I can do”.

The best way of dealing with this tactic is to recognise the game that is being played and assess exactly what the quality of the relationship is. You may be able to say something like:

“Come off it, you are using good guy, bad guy. You are a superb negotiator, but let’s sit down and discuss the proposal realistically”.

If you don’t have this kind of relationship, stand firm and insist on dealing with the bad guy, or else bluff yourself and give a figure that is within your acceptable range of alternatives.

One way of combining good guy, bad guy. with higher authority is by saying things like:

“Well, I’d love to do a deal with you on that basis, but my manager refuses to let me agree terms of this nature without referring back and he refuses to talk to salespeople. Give me your best price and I will see what I can do”

Body Language:

It is important in negotiation to react verbally and visually when offers are made. You may have seen the more theatrical negotiators hang their heads in despair or accuse you of being unfair and souring a perfectly good relationship when you present your proposal. Human nature is such that we can believe and accept these outbursts against us and our negotiating position becomes weaker as a result.

Ensure the next time you are in a negotiation that you react to the other party’s offer. If you show no reaction, they may be tempted to ask for more and more and you will lose the initiative in the negotiation. Also, it is almost certain that their opening offer is higher than the figure for which they are prepared to settle, so it is important that you clearly signal your unwillingness to accept the opening position.

If you reach the point below which you will not go, it is important that you show this with your body language. News readers, when they have finished reading the news, have a habit of picking up their script and tidying up their papers. This tells the world that they have finished their task and are preparing to leave.

Similarly, when you make your final offer, it can be very powerful to collect your papers together and indicate with your body that it really is your final offer. Put your pen away, sit back in your chair and remain silent. Look concerned and keep quiet.

If your voice says final offer but your body is saying let’s keep talking, the other party will disregard what you say and keep negotiating.

The Use Of Silence:

During the negotiation, you may make a proposal and find the other party remains silent. This can be very difficult to handle and often signals disapproval to the inexperienced negotiator. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so silence induces the need in people to talk.

If you have a proposal to make, make it and ask the other side how he or she feels about it. Having asked the question, sit back and wait for the answer. Whatever you do; don’t change your offer as this could seriously weaken your position.

The Vice:

A common technique used by negotiators when presented with a proposal is to say:

“You’ll have to do better than that.”

The most powerful way of dealing with this is to ask them to be more specific. Whatever you do, don’t weaken your negotiating position in response to the vice by giving anything away, too easily. This will only encourage repeat behaviour.

The Power Of Legitimacy:

People believe what they see in writing. We all assume that if a thing is printed or written down, it is non-negotiable. This is what can make price lists so powerful. If you have to present a customer with a price increase or you wish to encourage an early order to beat a price increase, show something in writing such as an office memo from your boss announcing the increase. This will have a far greater impact than just saying your prices are about to go up.

When presented with a price tag in a shop, ask to speak to the manager and make him an offer. You could be surprised at the results.

And Finally -The Low Key Approach:

Don’t appear too enthusiastic during negotiations. Over-enthusiasm can encourage skilled negotiators to review their strategy and demand more.

If you are in a negotiation and the other side is not responding to your proposal, recognise this could be a tactic and avoid giving concessions just to cheer them up. Salespeople like to be liked and will often give money away in a negotiation, if the other side appears unhappy.

For example, if you are buying a car avoid saying to the seller things like:

“This is exactly what I’m looking for. I really like the alloy wheels”.

Develop a low-key approach. Say things like:

“Well, it may not be exactly what I’m looking for but I might be interested if the price is right”.

Copyright © 2008 Jonathan Farrington. All rights reserved