Richard Maun – Dirty Tricks For Negotiations

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Dirty Tricks For Negotiations

9 December 2019

We negotiate all the time. With our partners, to decide whose turn it is to cook. With our children, when they want more sweets. With ourselves even, when we’re out shopping and we see a pair of ‘must have’ shoes.

Business is no different, apart from the sweets and shoes maybe.

We have to agree prices and delivery dates, agree work tasks with colleagues and juggle the budget to pay for essential items.

It could be said that a life in business is a life of negotiation.

I recently ran a negotiation skills workshop for a group (please message if you think your colleagues would benefit from it too), where we mixed language skills with behavioural cleverness. Always good to look under the bonnet and see how things really work! We also looked at dirty tricks. because forewarned is fore-armed.

Rather than offer constructive tips here, the course can do that when you book one, I thought it would be fun to list some of the dirty tricks people can play.

My top three would be:

1. Silence. Although it’s good to give people space to talk, too much silence quickly unsettles us. We tend to panic and over-talk, filling the room with all the things that are on our mind. Things we promised ourselves we’d never say. If you think someone isn’t responding then ask them a question. That puts the onus back on them and we can enjoy holding the silence instead.

2. Aggression. Workplace bullying often appears around the negotiating table. Instead of reasoned debate, the other side try to brow beat us into submission. Perhaps with threats of dire consequences if we don’t sign on the line. We can deal with this easily by saying; I see you’re agitated, is there something you’re worried about? That fronts up their behaviour and the question invites them to take responsibility for their actions.

3. Surprise! This can take the form of new information, introduced at the last minute, or the door is flung open and their CEO strides in. Both of these tactics are designed to throw us off track. With new information we can ask the relevance of it, or simply brush it to one side, by saying; how interesting, I will tell my manager, now back to the point we were discussing. When the CEO walks in we can remember that they are just another human like us, with a mortgage and kids and as equally anonymous in their local supermarket as we are. This reality check keeps us grounded and we can smile and carry on with our presentation.

A dirty trick may also involve no refreshment breaks. A UK ambassador recalled a session with the Russians. The negotiations dragged on and the British were getting tired and hungry. Noticing this, the Russians laughed and said how they had enjoyed a fine lunch beforehand. Things did not go well that day for our team.

The next time the two parties met, the British had lunch first and then allowed the discussion to flow on. This time the Russians were getting uncomfortable. Noticing this, the British ambassador called to his aide, who passed across his leather briefcase.

The Russians were curious. What was this? A secret weapon?

Well, yes.

The ambassador open his case and with a flourish produced sandwiches and a flask of tea. The British munched happily and the Russians were wrong-footed, appalled at the deviousness of the British.

Sometimes successful negotiations can hinge on a cheese and pickle sandwich.

Life can be so simple at times!

If you are subject to dirty tricks then don’t despair. Take a breath, go to the bathroom if needed to get a break, focus on asking a good question and then carry on. Or just unpack your emergency sandwiches!

Next week: Accounting For Stress


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