When it comes to effective negotiations, the clock can be a game-changer. Not only can certain times of day impact your outcome, the duration of a negotiation is a key factor too. Especially when it’s used as a dirty negotiation trick…

While negotiations often take place within a limited space of time, in some instances the imposition of a deadline can be part of a negotiation ploy. Research has made it quite clear that deadlines can affect the outcome of your negotiation (Rubin and Brown, 1975). So it’s essential to be aware that a time limit for your meeting could in fact be the artificial deadline trick at work.

When a deadline is a ploy

If your counterpart has set an artificial deadline – or, say, intentionally scheduled your negotiation before he/she has to head to the airport or into another meeting – it’s worthwhile considering why.

Research shows that deadlines reduce the “bargaining aspirations, demands, and the amount of bluffing that occurs” (Rubin and Brown, 1975) in a negotiation.

In other words, deadlines deliver decision-making, because as time begins to run out both parties will assess what they really want and get down to business. Usually this tactic is of most benefit to the party who sets the deadline, leaving the other party feeling less powerful, and forced to accept concessions they wouldn’t ordinarily.

What can you do to prevent yourself from falling prey to this negotiation tactic?

Dealing with deadlines

If you’re up against a deadline in your next negotiation, all hope is not lost. Here are two practical strategies to apply.

  1. Call them out:
    If you feel as though there’s a deadline ploy afoot, it can be useful to explicitly point it out. That doesn’t mean throwing around accusations! It simply means letting your counterpart know that you feel the deadline is affecting the negotiation and demonstrating that the approaching deadline makes you less open to accepting concessions. When you call out the tactic in this way, it loses much of its power.
  2. Negotiate the deadline:
    Not all deadlines are dirty, deliberate tricks. The deadline could well be legitimate. If so, negotiating the deadline could be a worthwhile approach. Put the focus on finding an outcome that benefits both you and your counterpart. Explain that if an agreement can’t be reached in the limited time frame, perhaps it’s worth meeting again to give the negotiation the consideration it deserves.

Try out these strategies the next time your face a deadline and avoid being railroaded into an agreement that doesn’t meet your needs.

If you’d like more support, our Harvard-based Negotiation Planner can help you fine-tune your approach to negotiations and make sure you get the best outcome possible. Click here to access this free resource. To learn more about interest based negotiation, we recommend the book “Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher & William Ury.”


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