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18 Adversarial Negotiation Strategies

        posted by , February 14, 2013

Some negotiations have no potential for a win-win outcome. Situations may be inherently win-lose or even lose-lose.

In win-lose and lose-lose negotiations such as settlements of bitter lawsuits, adversarial strategies are common. These strategies often resemble battle strategy. Things get messy.

Some negotiators use adversarial strategies in win-win situations that should be collaborative. For example, an employer may leverage adversarial strategy in salary negotiations. Adversarial strategies are also commonly used in office politics.

The use of adversarial strategies in collaborative situations is generally unproductive. It's important to know these strategies so that you can recognize them and counteract them using diplomatic techniques.


1. Hard-bargaining

Hard-bargaining is a style of negotiation that seeks absolute victory over the other party. Hard-bargainers use every trick in the book to win. They fail to see win-win possibilities. They prefer to use aggressive techniques to subdue negotiating opponents.


2. Bluffing

Pretending to hold a position that you don't hold. For example, a candidate job seeker may pretend to have other offers in salary negotiations.


3. Brinkmanship

A negotiation strategy in which both parties push a situation to the brink of disaster. The Cuban missile crisis is the classic example of brinkmanship in negotiations.


4. Intimidation

The use of physically intimidating posture or other strategies designed to invoke a fear response in the other side.


5. Cherry Picking

Using obscure information to prove a point while ignoring any information that goes against your argument.

Example: Cherry Picking in Negotiations

A salesperson of an unreliable model of car tells customers that he knows someone who drove that model 200,000 kilometers with no problems. The salesperson fails to mention that customers frequently complain about mechanical breakdowns.



6. Black-and-white Fallacy

A Black-and-white Fallacy is an untrue statement that over simplifies an issue into a choice between two things.

It's often used as political propaganda in the form "you're either with us, or you're against (freedom, democracy, etc.)".

The Black-and-white Fallacy is commonly used by aggressive negotiators. For example, a car salesperson might say "if you don't buy this car, you don't care about your family's safety".


7. Bad Faith Negotiation

Negotiating a deal you have no intention of honoring. Bad faith negotiation is common in politics and diplomacy.


8. Red Herring

Influencing with a big mess of dumb.


9. Straw Man

A straw man is a misrepresentation of the other side's position. To "attack a straw man" is to refute an argument that nobody as actually made.


10. Good Cop / Bad Cop

One negotiator acts as a good guy who is empathetic and cooperative (the good cop). Another negotiator on the same team is aggressive and difficult (the bad cop).

The good cop "helps" the other side to deal with the bad cop.


11. Bogey

Pretending an issue is important to you that's not. Later, you give up on the issue in exchange for a concession.

Example of a Bogey

A candidate and an employer enter into salary negotiations. The employer knows that the employee has a young family and doesn't want to travel. They pretend that it's important that the employee agree to a large amount of travel. Later they give up the demand if the employee agrees to a lower salary.



12. Divide and Conquer

Look for divisions in the other side and seek to widen them. When the other side is divided they will tend to lose negotiating power.

Example: Divide and Conquer Used Car Sales

A family is shopping for a car. The kids want a expensive entertainment option for the back seat. The parents are against the idea. The salesperson explains the cool features of the entertainment system to the kids to widen the division. The parents become more focused on avoiding unneeded options than in negotiating a good price.



13. Physical Position of Strength

Some negotiators may seek the head of a table or a higher seat to establish a physical position of strength. This is known to have a significant psychological effect.


14. Deliberate Misunderstandings

The negotiator pretends to be confused about agreements that have been reached ("I thought we said your salary would be $90,000!").


15. Defense in Depth

Defense in Depth is inspired by a military strategy that involves retreating across a broad geographical area to spread out the enemy's forces — then punishing the enemy with tactical strikes.

In the context of negotiations, defense in depth involves forcing the other side to deal with multiple levels of bureaucracy on your side.

Example: Defensive in Depth Negotiations

A business-to-business salesperson negotiates a deal with a manager at your company. The manager says that he must now get the approval of a director. The director shows up and negotiates a deeper discount. The director says that he must now get the approval of a vice president ...



16. Switching Barriers

Throw up a barrier to negotiations. Half way through the other side's response, throw up another. This technique is used as a diversion or delay tactic. It can also be used to exhaust the other side.


17. Snow Job

A delay or diversion tactic that involves communicating a large amount of information. The information may be specifically designed to be useless and uninteresting.

The snow job may be thrown up as a defense when the other side is winning the negotiations. It gives the negotiator time to refocus their strategy.


18. Personal Attacks

Veiled personal attacks and harsh criticisms designed to invoke emotions in the other side.

This post is part of the ongoing series of articles called how to win at negotiation.


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