Negotiation Tactics Shortlist: Influence and Defend

negotiation tactics

In this post we outline a set of negotiation tactics you can use during your negotiations. For better understanding, we recommend you to first read the article A Real World Negotiation Strategy Framework.

The negotiation tactics listed below complement the strategy framework in the sense that they may help you execute your chosen strategy. The list is neither comprehensive nor mandatory for success, but simply outlines some options available to you. Based on your situation you may choose to use some of the tactics, or none at all.

Negotiation Tactics of Influence

1. Highlight potential losses rather than potential gains

People don’t like losing and are prone to focus more attention to a potential future loss, especially if the loss appears to be great. Highlighting the potential losses may sway your opponent to be more open to negotiation.

Note that it’s important to not over-emphasize or exaggerate a potential loss. Doing so may come across hostile or humiliating and your opponent may reject your hypothesis.

Example: a video-game development company may be persuaded to support a certain technology if not supporting it means the loss of a significant part of the potential player base.

2. Disaggregate gains, aggregate losses

Building on the previous tactic, it is useful to separate all the gains into separate arguments and aggregate all losses. This makes it seem as if the deal presented has a lot more positive elements than negative. In addition, the large loss looks easier to overcome or prevent.

3. Door in the face

When using the door in the face technique you follow a strong request with a more moderate request. As your opponent rejects the first request, it is more likely that they will approve the second request.

4. Foot in the door

The foot in the door technique is the opposite of the door in the face technique. Instead of aiming for rejection with the first demand, you aim for compliance. Your first request must be very reasonable for the other party to agree with.

Example: an online subscription service may offer you a free trial of one month before asking you to pay a monthly fee.

5. The power of justification

Nothing beats an honest and reasonable request from a trusted party. When the other party believes your request is justified by the information you provide, they are more likely to agree.

Example: when a child needs to use the restroom urgently, you will be able to convince the restaurant owner more easily to allow use of the restroom without purchase.

6. The power of social proof

Everyone knows that social peers can be a great enabler to make a purchasing decision. However, you don’t always need peers to use the power of social proof. Sometimes the suggestion of social proof is sufficient.

Example: when a company claims an online-only product is in high demand and urges you to order quickly, they may choose to limit the bandwidth of the page so less concurrent visitors can access it. As a result, it appears as if the website traffic is very high and thus must be very popular.

7. Token in literal concession

Giving a reward in exchange for an action may get people to give in to your demand.

Example: when signing up for Dropbox, you get extra storage space for sharing the service with your friends.

8. Employ reference points 

This tactic combines the leverage of justification and social proof. It is widely used by companies aiming to increase their market share within an industry. Note that it’s important to use reasonable reference points. If the reference point is deemed unreasonable, it may undermine your negotiation.

Example: Xiaomi offers smartphones with similar features for a much lower price than its competitors. It may seem reasonable to spend more than you intended for a smartphone whose value is derived from the reference point.

9. Logrolling

Simultaneously negotiate multiple issues valued by each party differently to trade off concessions. This involves a lot of quid pro quo and complements an integrative negotiation strategy.

Example: you are deciding with your significant other where to go on holiday. You both dislike preparing for the trip. You want to go on a beach holiday and your significant other prefers a city-trip. Instead of negotiation the two topics separately (“Where to Go?” and “Who will prepare?”) you deal with both at the same time. A solution may be to split the vacation time in part beach, part city-trip, and each person prepares their preferred part of the holiday

Defending from Negotiation Tactics

Armed with the negotiation tactics listed above you can prepare for your negotiation. However, you must expect your opponent to also prepare properly. Therefore it’s important to also defend from these tactics influencing your decision making. Below you can find a shortlist of practices that can help you defend.

1. Prepare systematically

As outlined in the negotiation strategy framework post, it is important to prepare your negotiation thoroughly. Before entering the negotiation you need a clear outline of what you want as outcome of the negotiation, what you are willing to give up, and which line you are not willing to cross.

Some items to consider:

  • Target Point: what do you want?
  • Reservation Point: what line are you not willing to cross?
  • BATNA: what are your alternatives and how solid are they?
  • ZOPA: what would a potential agreement look like?
  • Bargaining Mix: what elements may be on the table?

2. Create a scoring system

Different elements of the negotiation may be of varying value to each partner at the table. Use a scoring system that determines the value you attribute to each element and keep track of your scoring system during the negotiation. If possible also create a (virtual) scoring system for your opponent.

A scoring system will help you maintain focus on your priorities as well as serve as a more objective basis to determine the outcome of the negotiation

3. Separate information from influence

When receiving information from the other party, be aware they may be trying to influence your decision.

Choose alternate sources to cross-check the information provided and separate genuine information from the influence.

4. Rephrase the offer in different terms

Rephrasing an proposition by your opponent gives you a couple of advantages.

Firstly, it gives you additional time to evaluate the proposition and its merits. Secondly, it forces the other party to reconsider the value of the proposition. Thirdly, it allows you to take or regain control of the negotiation process and dictate the pace.

Last but not least, it helps clarifying the details of a proposition.

5. Appoint a devil’s advocate

A devil’s advocate will help you simulate the negotiation and understand its dynamics before entering the real negotiations. Ideally a devil’s advocate will put you in an uncomfortable position so that you test out different tactics.

A great devil’s advocate will be tougher in negotiations than your actual opponent because they are not an invested party in the outcome.

6. Refuse negotiating under time pressure

Referring back to the negotiation strategy framework, time pressure forces a negotiator to rely on their System 1 thinking. You want to avoid this situation at all cost.

If needed, employ the Go To The Balcony technique to remove yourself physically or mentally from the negotiation

Negotiation Tactics for Weak Positions

Typically speaking, your negotiation position is as weak as your strongest alternative to an agreement. Although it is not recommended to enter a negotiation from a weak position, sometimes it is inevitable.

In this case, the first step is to recognize that your are in this position. Once realized, you can employ certain tactics to still make the most of the negotiation. Note that the success rate for negotiating from a weak position is low and it’s more than likely the other party will succeed. Therefore the tactics outlined below could be considered methods to minimize the damage.

1. Do not reveal you have a weak BATNA

Especially in negotiations where the other party also has a weak best alternative to a negotiated agreement, it is in your best interest to ensure they don’t know you are weak.

It may be helpful to construct a virtual best alternative to inspire confidence during the negotiation.

Note that the best course of action in case of a weak BATNA is to expand and improve your BATNA

2. Leverage the other party’s weakness

In a scenario where you are co-dependent on the other party, it may be useful to leverage the other party’s weakness by offering to help resolve it.

Example: in salary negotiations you may offer your boss to use your professional network to help resolve a problem that is out of the scope of your job description.

3. Leverage your unique value proposition

Focus on what sets you apart from the alternatives.

Sometimes it’s not important to make the best offer, but to make it to the final round of contract bidding. Having an offer that is compelling because it offers something other bidders don’t may be appealing.

If you offer something unique, communicate this with the final customer and educate them. If the final customer appreciate the unique value, this attribute may increase the value of your offer.

Example: in an M&A transaction, remove the agent from the equation to reduce the overall cost of transaction as much as possible.

4. Be honest

If you define yourself in an extremely weak position, it may be useful to give away any power you have by being honest about your situation.

Honesty may increase the consideration of fairness with the other party. The other party may give you a better deal than necessary in exchange for possible reciprocity in other situations.

Example: when applying for a new job position with low salary conditions, you may reveal to your future boss that you will take the job because you need to support your family, even though you consider the salary is too low. In that case your boss may be willing to increase the salary according to their judgment.

5. Increase the scope of negotiation

By presenting the bigger picture to the other party, you may be able to hide your weak position. You can do this by leveraging the power of extreme weakness in case the other party needs you to survive. Also you can cooperate with other people in similar weak positions to form a union against a stronger negotiating party.

Example: you are the primary supplier in the smartphone value chain. Your customer represents 80% of your business, and you supply 60% of the product to your customer. When the other party negotiates for lower prices, you may leverage that lower prices would lead to your company going out of business. In that case, the other party would lose a significant portion of the product necessary to build the smartphone. Looking at the bigger picture, lower purchasing prices may not seem as important.