What If They Use Dirty Tactics?

Posted by Beetle B. on Thu 09 June 2016

Much of the material with the tag gty comes from Getting To Yes.


  • Deception
  • Throwing Off Balance
  • Nibbling (asking for stuff when close to an agreement)
  • Good cop/bad cop

By our nature,we usually have 2 responses:

  1. Do nothing. Give the other side the benefit of the doubt.
  2. Respond in kind.

Both are bad options.

When it happens:

  1. Recognize the tactic.
  2. Raise the issue explicitly.
  3. Question the tactic’s legitimacy and desirability.

If something makes you uncomfortable, it may be part of a dirty tactic.

Separate the People From The Problem: Don’t attack them personally for using the tactic. No use making them defensive.

Focus on Interests, Not Positions:

Invent Options for Mutual Gain:

Insist on Using Objective Crtieria: Frame the principle behind each tactic as a proposed “rule”: “Shall we alternate spilling coffee on each other day by day?”

As a last resort, utilize your BATNA and walk out. Leave the door open to resume - they will likely call you back.

Common Dirty Tactics

Deliberate Deception

Phony Facts: Don’t call them liars. Merely proceed independent of their trust.

Ambiguous Authority: They claim they have full authority until the very end when they say they need approval. Never assume the other side has full authority.

Ask: “How much authority do you have in this negotiation?” If not satisfied, indicate your are reserving right to back down on any agreement or just refuse to commit. “I’m merely exploring options.”

If you have agreement and they pull this tactic, write a draft of the agreement and say “While your boss checks it out, I’ll sleep on it and come back with my modifications tomorrow.”

Dubious Intentions: You may doubt the other party will stick to an agreement even if in a contract. They may bank on the pain to go to court. Put a stipulation in the agreement that if they renege, you will get a lot more (such that going to court is worth it).

Less Than Full Disclosure Is Not the Same as Deception: Don’t expect full disclosure. They can hide stuff within reason.

Psychological Warfare

Stressful Situations: It may be OK to meet on their turf - it puts them at ease. But consider if their selection is uncomfortable, it may be deliberate. State your discomfort clearly if that is the case. Suggest a break, change of furniture, etc.

Personal Attacks:

  • Commenting on appearance
  • Making you wait
  • Taking calls during negotiations
  • Insults
  • Refusal to listen
  • Making you repeat yourself

Bring any of these up explicitly.

Good Cop/Bad Cop: When the good guy makes the offer, stick to the usual “What makes you think that this is a good offer?”

Threats: Warning of (external) consequences to no agreement are more effective than threats. Do not make threats, but do point out consequences of no agreement.

If the other side feels you are threatening them, say “Absolutely not. What would you do in my shoes?”

Positional Pressure Tactics

Refusal to Negotiate: It may be a negotiating ploy. They want you to concede something before they play. Preconditions are an example of this.

Don’t criticize them, but do talk to them about their refusal. Ask them why: What is the implication if they do negotiate? Suggest alternatives (communicate via letter, 3rd party, etc).

Insist on using principles, though. Do they want you to act this way as well?

Extreme Demands: Example: Low balling. Ask them to justify their

Escalating Demands: Example: Raising some demand with each concession, and revisiting “closed” items. Call them out on it and take a break.

Lock-In Tactics: Example: Publicly declaring a position and saying you cannot deviate without losing face. Call their bluff and say they need to change their position.

Their tactic is a gamble. It also puts pressure on both sides.

State that you care only about reason, not pressure. De-emphasize their commitments.

Hardhearted Partner: “I like the proposal, but my partner does not.” Ask to get the partner actively involved.

A Calculated Delay: Delaying agreement until a favorable moment. It can backfire and the moment may pass. Call it out and use the delay to strengthen your BATNA (and perhaps let them know it).

Take It Or Leave It: Nothing wrong with it, but recognize that this is not a negotiation.

If you suspect it is just a tactic, ignore it initially and continue talking. If they stick to it, let them know what they have to lose. Look for a face saving way for them to back down.

Don’t Be a Victim

It is easy for you to utilize these tactics. The line is not always well defined. Ask if you would use it with someone you care about.

tags : negotiations, gty