Deceptive Tactics During Negotiations

What are negotiations important? Why do they matter? According to best-selling author Leigh Thompson, “You spend more time negotiating than you do driving.”  And why is ethical behavior important during negotiations? The Harvard Law Program on Negotiation states “Your counterpart may not realize that [their] behavior is unethical, and even when they do, [they] may justify the behavior.  

Here are six deceptive tactics to look for when negotiating.

  1. Concealing their willingness to settle/hiding their bottom line

An experienced negotiator will attempt to conceal their bottom line for as long as possible. By keeping the other party in the dark about their bottom line a negotiator maintains an element of doubt and uncertainty in the mind of the opponent.

  1. Making inflated demands

An negotiator may state that their client will not accept less than X, yet be perfectly happy leaving with significantly less at the end of the negotiation. By positioning themselves at a high level, the negotiator is engaging the other side in a competitive match of numbers. Concessions are usually calculated prior to the negotiation, designed to reach a settlement price that they are comfortable with. Both party’s offers can rise and fall with neither ever really knowing the other side’s true number.

  1. Exaggerating strengths and weaknesses

By making a case appear stronger, a negotiator puts pressure on the other side to make concessions. If one party overestimates the strengths of the opponent’s case then they are more likely to accept less or offer more than they have to. An inaccurate assessment of the other party’s strengths will lead to more cooperative behavior and larger concessions. This exaggeration technique is primarily successful when used on issues of speculation and opinion of value, which are often unknown quantities. Negotiators often understand that exaggeration will exist on any case at some level because most cases are based, in large part, on the perceptions of the parties.

  1. Concealing client intentions

When a party is uncertain about what is important to the other side, it can be difficult to place a value on the case. Many times clients can place a higher value on certain non-monetary items as the primary concern. When a party hides the importance of a goal, the other side does not know its true value. Concealing the client’s true intentions is a game of hide and seek, where each side is attempting to find out what is important to the other. At some point the client’s intentions must be revealed in order to test the probability of acceptance by the other side.

  1. Claiming a lack of authority

A useful technique often found within litigated negotiations is the claim that the negotiator lacks full settlement authority. The negotiator may state that she is still analyzing the case before the client is able to move past a specific number. The negotiator claims that anything more than the “authorized” number requires approval from higher-ups. This technique is used to force the opponent to lose confidence in himself so that he or she will settle for less than they otherwise would. It is used to improve bargaining position without having to make concessions. Some negotiators are clever enough to tell their clients not to give them authority to accept a specific amount until the negotiation is nearing its end.

  1. Failing to volunteer relevant facts

Professional rules of ethics require parties to disclose certain information to the other side, but when the parties are not required to disclose relevant facts many negotiators will not give up information they are not required to reveal. If a party has a right to withhold certain information, most will not disclose it to the other side. While this is not being fully honest, it is not considered unacceptable.

The ability to recognize deceptive negotiation tactics can have a direct effect on you, your clients, and your business. Effective recognition of deceptive tactics can effectively deter unethical behavior. It can also lead to a more productive negotiation. Here are 12 tactics you can use to thwart deceptive tactics:

  1. Assure your counterpart that he will meet his goals.
  2. Convince your counterpart that he is making progress.
  3. Point out how your goals and your counterpart’s are linked.
  4. Suggest that your counterpart has limited alternatives to the current deal.
  5. Imply that you have strong outside alternatives.
  6. Point out shared social identities (age, job history, marital status, etc.).
  7. Encourage your counterpart to identify with an ethical organization, such as his trade group.
  8. Note your connections to your counterpart’s social network.
  9. Suggest long-term business opportunities you might offer.
  10. Remind your counterpart of the legal implications of unethical behavior.
  11. Mention the prospect of future personal or social support.
  12. Propose becoming a gateway to valued social or business networks.

The notion that negotiations have to be contentious is not true. Negotiations tactics are tools to get to something that all parties need or want. Trust is the foundation on which we work cooperatively; it creates sustained dialogue and reciprocal behavior in others. Reciprocity in negotiations creates value for each party. Employing a win-win mindset can lead to better outcomes.

P.S. Don’t be too cooperative.  

Lee S.


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