Reading and Using Negotiating Ploys
Learning how to read negotiating ploys, and to use them confidently yourself, usually takes considerable practice but they can be very important if you want to achieve your minimum negotiating goals as much of the time as possible. The following is a list of some of the more common negotiating ploys that you can use yourself or you will see used by others. Please note however that these are almost always an attempt to influence the negotiation for one party over another, so you need to think carefully about how you use any of these ploys (including whether you want to use them at all):
Flagging simply means signaling about a possible direction for the negotiation indirectly. “Could I, May I, I’d suggest” are simple examples. Some negotiators even develop physical flags (e.g., when they fiddle with their tie, lapel button, piece of jewelry etc, they are going to offer something of real value to them).
Summarizing just means regularly offering a verbal outline or recapitulation of the progress of the negotiation. It genuinely acts to test understanding at a given point in the discussions (or avoids misinterpretation) but it also puts the summarizer in control. For example: “So, is it fair to summarize the position in the following way?”
This is a behavioral distraction tactic usually used to divert attention from an issue or to play for time. This often means quite deliberately demanding a concession (coercively) that a given party may not really want. “I’m sorry, I need you to accept my earlier request for a 50% down payment before we can continue this discussion.” Another favorite version of this tactic is pretending not to understand what is being said – for example: “I’m sorry, I was still thinking about the fact that you haven’t responded to my offer of 10 minutes ago so I wasn’t properly focused – can you repeat what you just said.”
Cornering means one party making an offer to which the other party has little or no alternative but to agree – they literally are cornered and have nowhere to go (or look foolish, uncertain, etc). “This offer meets both of your criteria of being entirely reasonable and more than we offered last time –so I think we can wrap this up now- don’t you agree?”
This is another distraction tactic allowing a theoretical offer or suggestion to be ‘floated’ without committing to it just yet, so as to test the water or gauge the reaction of the other party. “Let’s say for the sake of argument that I could meet all of your current requests – what would I get in return?”
Defending is usually used as a stubborn ‘put up the walls’ approach to defend against a highly persuasive or even coercive other party – it creates thinking/reflection time and is intended to frustrate the other side – “I’m sorry, I’ve been doing most of the moving to meet your demands. Not another inch until you concede a few things to balance things up here.”
Qualifying is a holding or stalling negotiating technique suggesting that the other side’s offer needs a little bit of adjustment to make it acceptable or to qualify for being conceded – “As things stand right now, I couldn’t sign the document with that final clause in it.” (This statement by the way often means “remove or change it and I’ll sign immediately.”).
Grandstanding typically involves making statements intended for public consumption or what is sometimes called ‘playing to the gallery’. Although most negotiators will only use the technique when there is an audience (even if it their own side in the negotiation) in a one-to-one situation it can be distracting when a negotiator claims, in a relatively loud voice, and perhaps even standing up “You cannot be serious.” Of course, this tactic served the tennis player –Jon McEnroe well when he was negotiating a point with an umpire!
Negotiating ploys are used often in negotiations of many kinds. However, they can be somewhat manipulative and it is much better that both parties have honest and straight-forward discussions wherever this is possible without using any of these tactics. Nonetheless it is useful to know about such ploys, not only to use them sparingly, when appropriate, but to spot when they are being deployed by the person with whom you are negotiating.