As much as we want sales negotiations with our customers to be a mutually beneficial process, there are times when we face an extremely tough negotiator on the other side who views negotiating as a zero sum game. Sometimes these negotiators can even be adversarial, employing manipulative or even abusive negotiation techniques. So what should you do when you find yourself dealing with an adversarial or manipulative negotiator?
Regardless of the manipulative tactic used by the other party, we recommend responding with our TACTIC model for adversarial negotiations:
- Take a deep breath
- Acknowledge the disagreement
- Clarify the concern
- Transfer the focus
- Investigate mutually beneficial alternatives
- Confirm next steps
Let’s look at each step in more detail.
Take a Deep Breath
When attacked by an adversarial negotiator or when you begin to feel threatened by the other party, the first step is to literally take a deep breath. Taking a deep breath diminishes your flight or fight response, lowers your blood pressure and gives you time to think. The goal is to allow you to digest the situation while remaining calm and professional before you respond or react in a way that doesn’t protect your interests. The old adage to “Take a deep breath and count to 10” can be very beneficial when dealing with a challenging negotiator.
Acknowledge the Disagreement
The second step in a difficult and adversarial negotiating situation is to acknowledge that there is disagreement. It’s okay to state openly that there is a difference of opinion and to get the disagreement out on the table. “It sounds like you feel strongly about that position and it’s really important.” People like to be acknowledged and heard, even if you aren’t immediately agreeing with them. Acknowledging their perspective has the effect of diffusing the charge behind their emotion and helps delay the urge for you to jump in and immediately respond or convince them why you’re right. When done with genuine interest, this can positively shift the nature of the dialog.
Clarify the Concern
The next step is to ask thoughtful, open-ended questions in an attempt to clarify the concern or nature of the adversarial situation. In other words, you might ask “Can you help me understand why that is so important to you? “Tell me more about why that is upsetting to you?” Often just asking a few questions and then really listening can diffuse the situation and create an atmosphere of collaboration instead of conflict. This has the added benefit of helping ensure you respond to the actual concern, and not one you've misinterpreted or fabricated in your head.
Transfer the Focus
Transferring the focus is making an effort to shift attention away from the most contentious or difficult issue and reframe the discussion around the shared interests that build the backbone of working together. Reminding the customer as to why you are at the negotiating table (“I’m still really excited about getting this deal put together so we can move forward with helping you solve your customer service issue.”). Identifying the shared interests that help the customer solve their business problems creates the foundation for mutually beneficial negotiations. Strong shared interests and a focus on why the deal is important to both parties can help smooth over many bumpy issues that come up during the negotiation. The more difficult issues can be brought up again if necessary, but only after other issues have been worked out and more progress has been made toward getting the deal done.
Investigate Mutually Beneficial Alternatives
Sometimes the difference between a successful negotiation and one that falls apart is just the ability to think creatively about how to resolve the differences and create collaborative solutions. If we’re forced into an “us/them” mentality it’s hard to think out of the box and be creative. If we truly work to understand the other side’s perspective and investigate the “Interests behind the positions” we often find that there is more than one way to resolve a sticking point. “We aren’t able to give you the price you demanded at this time, but we can help you with co-marketing programs that will grow your market and increase your overall net profit. Would adding $xx more per year to your bottom line be worth paying a bit more per unit?”
Confirm Next Steps
Once you’ve Taken a deep breath, Acknowledged the disagreement, Clarified the concerns, Transferred the focus back onto shared interests, and Investigated alternatives, it is time to test the waters, determine if you’ve made progress andConfirm next steps. The best way to do this is to ask the other party. “Based on the alternatives we’ve discussed, are we ok to move forward? Even though we haven’t resolved all the issues, are you comfortable proceeding with our negotiations at this point?” We want to get their commitment that they are willing to work with us in the negotiation as opposed to digressing into an adversarial, one-sided attack.
If we sense that the animosity and adversarial attitude is still present, it may be time to take a “time out” and reschedule the discussion for a future date when they have time to cool off - and you have time to regroup and do some additional planning. You might also determine that you need to appeal to a “higher authority,” and attempt to escalate the discussion within their organization. At the same time, if you are deadlocked in the negotiation, you might want to bring in “reinforcements” from your side in terms of an executive from your organization, a professional negotiator, or your legal team. It’s not failure on your part to seek additional resources, it’s just smart negotiating to use all the resources you have at your disposal.
The next time you are presented with a challenging, adversarial negotiator, try the TACTIC model to help you through the discussion . . .and first off, remember to breathe.
About Ray Makela