Watch out for these moves

How to react to common negotiation strategies


Have you ever been engaged in a negotiation that was advancing nicely until suddenly, the other party did something unexpected that caused you to lose your emotional balance?   

While it would be nice to think that this was not intentional, the reality is that the move was likely deliberate. A number of times people have told me, “This is not personal; it’s just business.” But people do take it personally and they have long memories.

To avoid falling prey to the other party’s ill intentions, become familiar with these three common negotiation strategies and their countermoves so you can respond with grace and ease. 

Strategy 1: The Surprise

“The Surprise” is an introduction of new or unexpected information, an unscheduled change of negotiator or members of the negotiation team, or an abrupt change in attitude. 

The purpose of “The Surprise” is to destabilize you so you lose your emotional and/or mental footing.

The counter to this strategy is to focus on the desired outcome and refuse to respond. 

This situation happened to me recently. I arrived for a meeting and was escorted to a room. A junior person walked into the room and sat down. She informed me that “Gary was called away” and asked her to take his place. 

She then started to review what Gary and I had worked through and then she took a very hard position on the last item. After she finished, I smiled at her and said, “I appreciate your thoughtfulness to sit in for Gary, recognizing that I made this three hour trip. However, I am not prepared to have this conversation with you. Please have Gary call me when he returns and we can handle these details over the phone.”

At that point, I packed up my briefcase and left. She was shocked and I anticipate Gary was too when she debriefed him. When he and I talked on the phone, he apologized and we worked through the difference rather quickly. 

Strategy 2: The Flinch

“The Flinch” is a dramatic negative reaction to an offer. 

Imagine making an offer and the other party responds by:

  • Taking a deep breath and then sighing very heavily. 
  • Staring at you, then dropping his head downward and shaking it from side-to-side to indicate that your offer is totally unreasonable. 
  • And then looking at you with squinty eyes and a perplexed look as if to say, “Really?!”

What you have just experienced is The Flinch – a negative physical reaction to something you did or said. The goal is to lower your expectation about what is reasonably acceptable.

To counter this strategy simply ignore the “act” and continue the conversation unimpeded by their response. Asking a question will engage dialogue such as, “What are your thoughts regarding this offer?” and they will tell you that it’s out of line. If you respond by saying, “I’m sorry that you feel that way. In fact, considering X, Y, and Z, this offer is more than fair. If you are no longer interested, please let me know so we can explore other options or close the file on this deal.” 

The key here is not to be intimidated or influenced by their “act.” It’s just a show to get you to lower your expectations and give in to what they want. 

Strategy 3: The Nibble

“The Nibble” is a common strategy used by seasoned negotiators to get “just a little more.” It usually is a small request that happens before the agreement is signed. The goal is to leverage your desire to “seal the deal” as bait for getting extras “thrown in.” 

In most situations, agreeing to a “new” request doesn’t influence the outcome of the negotiation; in other words, if you say “no” they will still sign the contract for the negotiated terms. 

In these situations, you can say, “If this is really important to you, I am happy to take this information into consideration but it means that we will have to renegotiate the new terms. In other words, everything that we have agreed to up to this point is off the table.” This usually results in the other party saying, “No, let’s go with what we have. We don’t have time to start the process all over,” and that ends the discussion.   

It’s been said that you get what you are prepared for when negotiating. Familiarizing yourself with the different negotiation strategies (there are more than 30 different strategies) and their countermoves, enables you to be more proactive versus reactive when difficult or challenging situations arise. 

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Christine McMahon
Christine McMahon helps leaders develop strategies and improve speed of execution by developing leadership talent, creating alignment between business functions and improving communications and accountability up, down and across a business. She is co-founder of the Leadership Institute and is in partnership with the WMEP. For keynote presentations, executive coaching, sales and leadership training, she can be reached at:

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