Sometimes negotiating can appear daunting. You have to keep tabs on the range of variables being traded, stay within the Zone of Possible Agreement (ZOPA), and ensure you deliver against your aligned objectives. Just when you think you are in control your counterpart throws in a tactic. So how can you handle these curve balls and stay on track for a good negotiation outcome?
We could easily come up with a list of 40 negotiation tactics and each can be employed and defused in a number of ways but there are three general rules that can be deployed to help handle tactics, should they be used against you.
The first rule – stay calm.
Tactics are designed to upset the balance slightly in the favour of the person employing the tactic. Being calm allows you to see the tactic for what it is and understand what is going on. By doing so you communicate confidence and strength in your negotiation preparation and abilities, both key elements within your balance of power.
The second rule – check it’s real.
Sometimes the tactics can be plainly seen for a ploy to pull you off guard. But sometimes they are simply personal mannerisms or organisational protocols. The “I’m not the decision maker” tactic may actually be true as a number of organisations only allow a certain level of authorisation before it has to be passed up the chain of command for a higher-level sign off. But how do you find out if this is a tactic or if it is real? Understanding the levels of authority comes from preparing great target questions early on in your preparation, such as “What is the structure of your department? Who can authorise this level of purchase? What is the decision making process? What is within your direct authorisation limit?” No matter what the tactic is, combining genuine curiosity with a degree of empathy will enable you to better understand if it is actually a tactic or in fact their reality and help you deal with it.
The third rule – overcome.
You’ve stayed calm and questioned effectively to know that this is actually a tactic and now you need an effective response. There are some general approaches that we’ve found very successful in overcoming the most common tactics used.
- Acknowledge it.
Sometimes you can do this subtly, such as a wry smile to your counterpart. However, you might choose to be more bold by calling out it’s a tactic you’ve seen before, such as “ahh… the good old Columbo tactic. Are people still using that one?” you need to be confident in your tactic identification and also your relationship in order to use this one effectively.
- Charm whilst you disarm.
Keep it good humoured whilst flagging that you know it’s a tactic. Suppose your contact uses the tactic of being late for your meetings but you know it’s a tactic they’ve used with other suppliers. You can see them sitting at their desk with their feet up, reading the newspaper, occasionally sipping from their coffee cup. Now you could get annoyed and storm out the room, but that wouldn’t achieve much. Instead, perhaps ask what the headlines were in today’s newspaper or what roasted beans your counterpart likes his coffee to be made from, all delivered with a big smile and open body language to let him know you mean no harm from your comments.
Humour is one of your biggest assets when overcoming a tactic. In effect it is using humour to literally laugh off the tactic, thus making the tactic surreal and preposterous. How can something be serious if you’re laughing at it? It instantly melts any hard-nosed tactic into effectively a joke. The key here is not to make the user of the tactic appear to be a comedian or detract from their authority but simply to communicate that the tactic is so plainly a tactic that it must be a joke as there is no way they could seriously use a tactic such as this against somebody like you.
By being able to confidently handle negotiation tactics you will improve your balance of power and in turn improve your negotiation performance. Remember the three simple rules – keep calm, check it’s real and overcome.
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