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Dealing with Distributive Negotiation Tactics?

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What are some “distributive negotiation tactics” and how should you employ them?

Distributive tactics are any tactics used to claim value in a negotiation at the expense of the other party. They are most closely associated with what is commonly called “hardball” tactics. Hardball tactics are measures used in a negotiation to set a competitive tone. It generally involves using some form or power, leverage, or persuasion to coerce the other party into changing their objectives, expectations, or position in the negotiation. Hardball tactics are generally poorly received and should be used sparingly in any negotiation. These measures can, however, be effective in single deals or transactions where there is no expectation of continued dealings or building a relationship. Further, individual competitive tactics employed as party of a mix of cooperative actions can be effective and not ill received. Some common strategies closely associated with hard-ball tactics are:

• Good Cop, Bad Cop – This tactic is commonly used when negotiating with an individual who is not forthcoming or otherwise willing to negotiate. While it may be effective in stand-off situations, the weaknesses are that it is relatively transparent and difficult to orchestrate effectively.

• Lowball – Highball – This tactic makes an extreme proposal (either very high or very low) in the negotiation. This is a sort of fishing to determine if the other party is informed about the actual value of the interest at hand. It is generally only successful when the other party is uninformed or in extreme need with little other option. The risk in using this tactic is that the other party will think it is a waste of time to negotiate and stop the process.

⁃ Note: Approaches for dealing with this tactic might include: Insisting that the other party start with a reasonable opening offer and refusing to negotiate further until he or she does; Stating your understanding of the general market value of the item being discussed, supporting it with facts and figures, thus showing the other party that you won’t be tricked; Threatening to leave the negotiation, showing dissatisfaction in the other party in using this tactic; or responding with an extreme counter offer.

• Bogey – Negotiators use this tactic to pretend that an issue is of little or no importance to them, when it actually is quite important. This is useful to disguise the value that the negotiator is receiving in a proposed concession or package deal.

• The Nibble – The nibble is when a negotiator seeks small or menial concessions immediately before a deal closes. It is not a hold-out tactic, but is seeks gains that are largely inconsequential at a point when it would create administrative hassle or stall the deal if they are refused. Be cautious when employing this tactic. A counterparts may perceive this as procedural unfairness if the party using the nibble did not bargain in good faith.

• Chicken – Combining a large bluff with a threatened action to force the other party to “chicken out” and give in to a request. A serious weakness of chicken tactic is that it turns the negotiation into a serious game in which one or both parties find it difficult to distinguish reality from postured negotiation positions.

⁃ Note: It is difficult to defend against this tactic. One method is to deemphasize the ultimatum by ignoring it in a way that allows it to pass. A party who lays down an ultimatum often has a difficult time in backing away. Ignoring it allows her to save face and rethink the tactic before it negatively affects the negotiation.

• Intimidation – An attempt to force the other party to agree by means of an emotional ploy. Negotiators intimidate by using anger, increasing the appearance of legitimacy, or by invoking guilt.

⁃ Note: To deal with this tactic, parties will remain logical and stick closely to their resistance points. It will avoid irrational decisions based upon emotion.

• Aggressive Behavior – Aggressive tactics include a relentless push for further concessions, asking for the best offer early in a negotiation, or asking the other party to explain and justify her proposals.

• Snow Job – Snow jobs occur when negotiators overwhelm the other party with so much information that she has trouble determining which facts are real or important and which are distractions.

When dealing with these typical hardball tactics in a negotiation, there are several general choices about how to respond:

• Dialogue – Opening a dialogue regarding the counterparties tactics is a strong tool that can reduce the force of hard ball tactics and can dissuade further use of these tactics. This takes a logical and measured approach to responding to the tactics that may mitigate the emotion reaction that they tend to invoke.

• Ignore them – A party that recognizes these hardball tactics, is not easily subject to persuasion or intimidation, is in control of her emotions, and has confidence may be able to effectively ignore the counterparty’s competitive behavior for the duration of the negotiation.

• Respond in kind – Responding in kind fully embraces the competitive environment. It creates a super (win-lose) environment that plays to the egos of each party. For parties with greater confidence in their positions (interests and alternatives), this can be a good response. It does, however, result in a negative emotional reaction in the losing party. This tactic should only be used when there is no intended relationship, continued dealings, or reputation on the line.

• Co-opt the other party – This tactic seeks to embrace the hardball tactics of the other party and continue to bring them around to your way of thinking. It seeks to divert the energy of the competitive tactics and use it to your advantage. This generally requires an interplay of passive and aggressive responses that keeps the counterparty off guard with your responses. For example, it could mean making counter-intuitive concessions or spontaneously changing the focus of interest in the negotiation.

There is no roadmap for dealing with hyper-competitive behavior in a negotiation. Recognizing this behavior and employing readily accepted tactics for responding will allow a negotiator to remain in control of an otherwise difficult scenario.

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