Long before the days of the Harvard Negotiating Project and the publication of Getting to Yes, business people were schooled in “hardball” negotiating tactics. I can remember a set of audio tapes of my father’s with the words “hardball tactics” in the title. You will still encounter those individuals who feel negotiation is a zero sum game – if they are to win, you must lose. Their strategy will seldom include a good faith effort to be above board and honest. To get the negotiation on track, you will have to change the game. The best method is to stay calm and unemotional. Then, open up their tactic and disarm it.
Ask – Quite simply, ask the other party about the tactic. For example, let’s imagine the other party and their parter begin a game of “good cop, bad cop” on you. One party pretends to want the deal and the other says it’s a no go. The good cop pulls you to the side and asks you to give up your goals to get the deal done. This is a classic hardball technique. To counter it, ask the parties if they are playing “good cop, bad cop” on you. Be professional, even gentle, but bring the entire discussion back above board. Hardball tactics don’t like a lot of light.
Explain – Follow up your question with your own explanation of how you see their behavior. Indicate you are somewhat surprised at the divergence of the other parties’ viewpoints and ask them for advice. “How can we get back to the issues and mutual goals?”
Time Out – If Asking and Explaining don’t do the trick, ask for a time out. Temporarily pausing the discussion can make the other party aware of your ability to walk away from the deal. The ability to walk is powerful and should always be on your side of the fence. But don’t threaten. Simply indicate you feel everyone needs a breather and ask for an opportunity to pick up the discussion at a later time.
We are always negotiating with the people around us. Learning to do it well keeps relationships healthy and business moving forward.