Tactics and Confict

Some tactics are intended to apply pressure, force a reaction or reject a counterparty’s proposal.   What you consider a “power tactic” may very well spark deal-killing conflict.

1. Sure-fire Conflict starters:

Tactics that apply pressure or force action on the other side are designed to instill fear and spark conflict.  If you use these tactics, hostility and ill-feelings are more likely than not.

  • Now or Never – You are telling your counterparty that you’ve decided the negotiation is over.  He has to give you a firm answer – right now.  This power-play doesn’t leave room for compromise – and it’s highly likely that ill-feelings, hostility, and resentment will ensue.
  • End of the World – This is another take-it-or-leave-it challenge with the added threat of terrible repercussions if the other side doesn’t accede to your wishes.   The offer will expire at midnight, and if he doesn’t accept the terms then the opportunity will vanish forever.
  • Let me think it over – Now it’s the counterparty’s turn to apply pressure, in the form of a combination of stalling and bringing in  big guns.   Even if he’s telling the truth, these five little words shift the balance of power and cause resentment and chill relationships.
  • Deadlines – Setting a deadline doesn’t necessarily spark conflict — but enforcing it often does.  Even when the other side accepts the deadline when you first introduce it, applying it is a power tactic. 

2. Best of Intentions

These tactics may seem harmless to you, but it’s not clear how he’ll react.  It’s important to understand as much as you can about your counterparty — not just in terms of his personality, but also his culture

  • Bluff – A bluff is nothing but a lie, but in a negotiating environment a successful bluff is often disclosed.   To you it seems like a minor and permissible bending of the facts — but to him its a falsehood that undermines trust.
  • Full disclosure – You are offering to tell him everything — if he reciprocates.  You may see it as a relationship-building act of mutual trust, but he may view it as an intrusive challenge.
  • Silence – Salesmen are taught, “Make your offer, and the first one to talk after that owns it.”  Silence is not always golden — in a negotiating context being unwilling or unable to answer can come across as manipulative, controlling, and dishonest.
  • Take away – This another sales trick that has found its way into mainstream business negotiation.  A specialized bluff, you tell your opposite number that the product, service, or asset you’ve been discussing is no longer available.  He panics, insists, pleads – and you save the day by securing the deal.  His relief, however, may not last long.
  • Nickels and Dimes – A little haggling is normal, but if you rely too much on this kind of low-value manipulation, you’re likely to disqualify yourself as a serious partner.
  • Still friends – The one-person version of “Good Cop – Bad Cop” , you applied pressure through the threat of the loss of a valuable relationship or approval. You could make everything “OK” if he plays ball.  He’ll be relieved at first — but then focuses on ways to improve his best alternatives by finding a new partner.

3.  Tightrope Techniques

Other approaches depend on your technique.  If you handle them correctly, they can go your way.  But if you make a mistake, they can blow up in your face.

  • Anchoring – We’ve been discussing this tactic in terms of setting the agenda and establishing a strong opening position — but the risk is that you may be too forceful and aggressive.  This sets the tone for your negotiation, so judge carefully and execute precisely.
  • Log rolling – This is a classic technique where you are trading two different variables — something expensive to other side but cheap to you.  When it works, it’s a great way to maximize value.  To do it right, however, you have to understand what he cares about and apply the right amount of pressure.
  • Good Cop – Bad Cop –  If they spot this one, it’s all over.  You may use this one to successfully sell a used car or a Vegas timeshare, but if you want to build a strategic partnership then this sort of theatrical manipulation is going to blow up in your face – even if it works in the short term.
  • Big guns –  Bringing in a high ranking decision-maker from your organization may be just what you and your negotiating counterparty need to move forward.  If you appear to be bullying, ducking responsibility, or ambushing the other side, however, you will end up sparking conflict and hostility — not clearing a bottleneck.
  • Mirroring — Mirroring is a high-risk maneuver where one person adapts the gestures, behaviors, and non-verbal cues of another to make oneself more familiar and likeable.  As with good cop, bad cop and other techniques designed to play on emotions — once they know you’re doing it the reaction will range from bad to terrible.
  • Trial balloon — What kind of price could you give me if I raised my order from 1 piece to 100?  The problem with this tactic is that you probably don’t really want to buy 100, and once he lowers his price he has a reasonable expectation that you’ll follow through.  It’s not EXACTLY lying, but he may consider it very, very close.
  • Call his bluff — He’s just lied or made a threat, and you’ve called him on it.  We already discussed how bluffing can be interpreted as an innocent bit of posturing (the bluffer) or a credibility-killing act of larceny (the bluffee), and much the same dynamic plays out when you call his bluff.  You think your standing up for yourself and being a savvy partner, but he may see you as petty, insulting, and condescending.   
  • Common enemy — Telling a counterparty that “it’s you and me against the _____” where the blank gets filled in with “bosses, suits, government…” or other significant stakeholder, but this one can undermine relationships if you are not careful.  You are playing on his loyalties, and the rest of his decision-making team will not appreciate it when the news gets out (and it usually gets out).  
  • Divide and conquer — Same as with common enemy, but more apparent to everyone on his team.  
  • Walk away – This is the ultimate ultimatum, the most powerful of power tactics.  You may win a deal point, but this is a move that gets old quickly.  If he calls you back, you are guilt of high-pressure tactics.  If he doesn’t call you back — then you’re the guy who walked away.
  • Why? — Practice this one until you can make it conversational and genuine.  Combine it with flinch to take the edge off.  If you come across as challenging, nasty, or condescending (which is easy to do with this tactic) then you are going to ride the conflict-spiral all the way down.

4. Conflict avoiders or Ameliorators

These tactics are designed to neutralize tension and dispel conflict.  The challenge is that many of them can come off as very accommodative.    

  • Back burner – Take the stickiest, most contentious issues and deal with them later — after you’ve built up a track record of small agreements and understand each other a little better.
  • Break – Take a break or recess when things are getting tense or tired.  This is most sensible advice that people ignore.
  • Foundation – Laying a strong foundation and building on it goes along with back burner techniques.  Simple and common-sense, but in the heat of negotiation we sometimes focus on the most contentious issues.
  • Pot of Gold – Common for big-picture win-win dealmakers who need to secure an important partnership — or for ambitious negotiators with a weak hand.  The classic pot of gold gambit — China has 1.3 billion consumers, and if we can get just 1% of them to buy your product it will double your revenue.  Sounds great, but rarely stands up to scrutiny.  Still a good way to get your counterparty focussed on the positive potential of this negotiation.
  • Six of One – Get in the habit of offering two bundles of variables that are of equal value to you.  People prefer choices to yes-no decisions.    
  • Flinch – If you do this correctly, it is a disarming, friendly way of expressing dissatisfaction with an offer.  You’re surprised, a little embarrassed — and maybe a touch confused.  Flinch, a moment of silence, and then you ask why? in a non threatening way.   
  • Lunch – Offering to meet for lunch moves your conversation to the next level of relationship.  Non-threatening, effective at building a connection, and low pressure.  Not many downsides here.
  • Marry me –  Use this when a relationship is your only goal.  If you are in a weak position and have little to offer, then pledging your undying loyalty and support is worth a shot.  Be aware that if you are successful then you will always be in a subordinate role.  If you need a relationship with a powerful brand, technology, or distributor, this may be an option.  
  • Press release – A very old technique that has gotten a new digital makeover.  You want to tell the world about your important new relationship, and extending the offer to issue a joint statement.  This gets everyone thinking in terms of the deal being done  
  • Wait at the Altar – The opposite of anchoring, this tactic is for you to wait and let the other side make the first offer.
  • Big Talk – This is a low-key information tactic.  Start off the negotiation by taking an interest in what the other side thinks, feels, and philosophizes about business in general and your deal in particular.  
  • Breathe –  Staying calm.  Remember – an aggressive counterparty uses conflict-tactics in a power-play aimed at making you lose control.  He wants you to get hot – you’re going to stay cool.  This is a simple but powerful technique that almost everyone agrees would have been a good idea if they had thought of it at the time.
  • Control the flow – When the pace is getting bogged down, you’ll find a non-contentious way to get things moving faster — making a concession, offering new variables, asking for a recap of his views on the deadlock, etc.  If things are getting too heated, take a break, put the contentious issues on the back burner,  or start a big talk dialogue.   



Back to #7) Conflict: Avoiding, Mitigating and Managing

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