Dealing with dirty negotiation tricks: deliberate intimidation

Power in negotiation depends on perceptions. If you perceive your counterpart as powerful, they’ll often be able to exert more influence over you.

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But what if that ‘power’ isn’t real? What if it’s deliberately fabricated to intimidate you into conceding to their demands?

The best negotiators can effectively manage these intimation tactics. But, to do that, you’ll first need to recognise them when they occur…

Intimidation tactics

Here are just a few tactics (intentional or not) that you might have unknowingly experienced:

  • Name dropping – When your counterpart connects themselves to important names and events, making a point of mentioning it
  • Dressing in ‘power suits’
  • Scheduling meetings at less than convenient times
  • Seating counterparts near glare or on uncomfortable seatsLeaving counterparts to wait for meetings to commence
  • Taking phone calls during meetings, highlighting their importance
  • Insisting on meetings taking place at their office

Intimidation ploys like these can be used to great effect by manipulators in negotiation (Kennedy, 2010). This dominant and intimidating behaviour is often carried through into their negotiation style, as they declare certain issues as non-negotiable, talk over their counterpart and so forth. Thankfully, there are ways to neutralise these tactics.

Deliberate ignorance

The intimidation approach to negotiation relies on your psychological response to the behaviour. It may sound simple or even naïve, but ignoring the elements involved in this irritating ploy is your best strategy. Commit to a confident outward display and disregard any dominance ploys you come across. If you’re not intimidated by the attempts to intimidate you, then their ploy has failed.

Call them out

Another strategy is to explicitly point out the tactic and perhaps note its lack of professionalism. If, for example, you’re left to wait for a meeting to begin – and you have good reason to believe that it’s a deliberate ploy, rather than a mere oversight – you could ask politely whether this is commonplace and explain that the delay has been an unfortunate start to the meeting.

When intimidation goes too far

Dealing with intimidation in a negotiation is one thing, what if it turns into downright hostility and anger?

Sometimes referred to as the ‘madman’s strategy’, a sudden outburst of anger and a seemingly hot temper can position your counterpart as irrational. The result: you might be more likely to make concessions to avoid further conflict with your enraged counterpart.

Here are two useful approaches to manage such anger in negotiations:

  1. Call a break: Suggest a short break for regaining composure and getting the meeting back on track.
  2. Set some rules: Simply request that the negotiation does not include shouting or other unprofessional outbursts.

Remember, you can’t necessarily control your counterpart’s negotiation strategy, but you can plan your own approach and response. And when you act strategically, rather than reactively, you’ll significantly increase your chances of reaching a successful outcome.

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To learn more about interest based negotiation, we recommend the book “Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher & William Ury.”


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