Negotiating with difficult people

Wise Words

(an extract from ‘What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School’ by Mark McCormack)

Acting rather than reacting allows you really to use what you have learned. It allows you to convert perceptions into controls. By reacting, by failing to step back first, you are probably throwing this powerful advantage away.

If you don’t react you will never over-react. You will be the controller rather than the controlled.

Effective Negotiating

Negotiation Questionnaire

Answer True or False to the following points

  1. Negotiating is concerned with winning more points than the other side
  2. If the other party is a hard, aggressive negotiator then we must use the same tactics in self-defence.
  3. If our organisation is large we should be prepared to use the power of the company to influence the deal.
  4. Negotiation is about concluding a contract
  5. It is a sign of weakness to be slow and cautious in reaching agreement.
  6. People who are demanding and uncompromising make the best negotiators.
  7. There is nothing wrong with giving misleading information if it is going to help you get what you want from negotiations.
  8. It is dangerous to allow the other party to know what you really want in a negotiation.
  9. We have failed in a negotiation if we do not get exactly what we want.
  10. There can only be one winner in any negotiation.

There are many styles that you can adopt when negotiating. One is the hard or aggressive negotiator in which you believe the “more for you means less for them”. If there is a fixed pie available you will see your role as getting the largest slice of it.

If you answered true to six or more of the above statements, your adopted style is probably of the ‘hard’ bargainer.

By your behaviour you are competitive and see nothing wrong with doing everything you can to weaken the other party by bluffs:

“We have other options”
“We will sue for penalties and damages”
“We have another client anxious to sign with us this afternoon”

Other manipulative ploys are: preconditions, phoney offers, tough guy soft guy, take it or leave it etc. All styles have different dimensions and the aggressive negotiator has two ways of showing him/herself

Open aggressive or devious aggressive:


The openly aggressive negotiator usually spends all the time displaying tough behaviour, and makes no attempt to hide his or her intentions. They are out to get something for nothing from you; are totally results orientated and have little time for relationships with other negotiators.


The other type is what you might call a part-timer. They are quietly aggressive and secure their objective surreptitiously. In short, a ‘devious player’. Their intentions are the same, except they try to sneak something for nothing from you. They are part-time in the main because it is the occasional opportunity to be devious that they cannot resist, especially if they are sure that they can get away with it.

Dealing with tricky negotiators

When does skilful play become gamesmanship, and then deceit? Some of the more common negotiating ploys are listed below with a possible counter.

The objectives of most tactics are to alter the other side’s perception of the relative strength of their position but there is always the risk that, whether they seem to work or not, the relationship of the parties may be harmed, positions hardened, and further progress made more difficult.

Exaggerated bluff 

“You can’t be serious!!!”

Recognise pressure but don’t give in. Ask questions such as; “Why do you say that? What are your main concerns?”
The invisible competition 

“Your competitor has quoted lower”

Ask for information to check if real, comparing like with like etc. “I believe you, but my boss won’t unless you can show me details”.
No-way Jose 

“It’s against our company policy”.

“I see. What do you propose instead?” 


A thin slice at a time

Tie every concession with conditions. Use the “We may be able to but only if……….” 

– reverse salami.

Deadline dilemma 

Using delays and deadlines

Establish timetable at onset. Allow yourself flexibility. Be prepared to reconvene at a later date. Examine reasons for tight deadlines-are they under pressure and can you use this to your advantage?
Blowing Hot and Cold 

The low reactor. Initial enthusiasm, sudden cooling off.

Be aware of it. Seek reasons for change by asking the “When did you start to think that?” rather than the “Why?” question.

“Just one last thing”

Draw up agenda of all the issues at the start. When faced with final demands, check there is nothing else to come before considering whether to agree.
Family discounts 

Look at how much I’ve done for you!” Presenting concessions as a personal favour.

Don’t be cajoled. Watch the “Look at the real cost/value of ‘small favours’ in return. 

Premature order 

If you start the process the order will follow.” If it doesn’t, you are committed, and the buyer makes demands.

Confirm the agreement before taking any action. Make future relationship the issue if buyer is breaking trust. Counterbluff “Production and new customer” is risky.
“It’s none of my business but……” 

Complaints about your Company’s service or attitude.

Treat as genuine complaint, write it down, then change the subject. It’s been noted, and will be investigated, but it is a separate issue.
I don’t have the authority 

I’ll have to refer it to the board.

Establish authority at start. Insist agreement honoured, or negotiations must start again from square one.
All Change 

New faces, predecessor had “no authority”.

Previous agreements honoured, or start from scratch.
Raising the roof 

Each concession followed by a raised demand. Pressure to agree before new demands made.

Call attention to the tactic. Adjourn and consider on what basis you want to continue. Insist on principle.
My way or the Highway 

And that’s my final offer!” (Only to be used if you mean it).

I’ve not even begun to negotiate” Look for workable variables.
Walkout “Clearly we’ve reached an impasse –can I suggest we adjourn for (hours/days)”.
Over my dead body
Refusal to negotiate or preconditions for negotiation.
Is it a ploy? Talk about their refusal to negotiate. Suggest options. Insist on principles.
Time tactics 

Let me think about it overnight.

“Fine, let’s both review it and start again tomorrow”. 

“OK, but if one issue is reopened it affects the package as a whole”.