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Negotiation Tactics and Counter-Tactics, Part I

Robert Menard, Certified Purchasing Professional, Certified Professional Purchasing Consultant

Robert Menard, Certified Purchasing Professional, Certified Professional Purchasing Consultant

Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a 5 part series on negotiation tactics and counter-tactics.  Part 1 presents an overview, Part 2 explains the first category of Maneuvers, Part 3 deals with Flyers, Part 4 with Gambits, and Part 5 with Ruses.

Many buyers and sellers mistakenly believe that tactics and counter tactics control the outcomes of negotiators.  Tactics are to negotiation what knives are to cooking.  It is easy to pick them up, use them, and with very little practice be instantly capable of hurting anyone in range, especially oneself.  Once we have them, knowing how to use them makes us only marginally better cooks and negotiators.  We do however loom as formidable parties to be feared and respected; we look like we know what we are doing but we are dangerous to ourselves and others.  Whether we use these tools to become masters of our craft or just wield them in a frantic display of confusion is a choice that distinguishes the pretender from the professional.

We obsess so much over tactics because they are glorious, the object of praise and celebration in movies and legend.  The Good guy/Bad guy gambit is familiar to anyone who ever watched a cop show.  Books by famous egomaniacs would have the reader believe that fortunes of the kingdom rested on the emperor’s skill at negotiation tactics.  It just isn’t so.  Dedication to preparation, advanced communication skills, and adroitness with other tools (Price Analysis, Cost Analysis, Supplier Certification, etc) distinguish the successful purchasing and sales negotiator. 

The allure of tactics stems from their association with the face to face confrontations.  This is the arguably the most exciting mystique of negotiation.  It is certainly more exciting than Cost Analysis or the Robinson-Patman.  Typically, those exited by the hunt and the kill are the Win-Lose amateurs who know precious little about the process of negotiation.  The selection and application of tactics should enhance the negotiation process. 

The amount of face to face time in negotiation is a fraction of the total, amounting to between five and ten percent.  It is this small slice of our efforts, however, in which tactics exert the greatest influence.  That is, mastery of tactics can disproportionately affect the outcome of the negotiation.  Incompetence in the use of tactics can outweigh any other tactical advantage.  

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Another bona fide reason for knowing all about tactics is that we want to recognize them when used on us.  The old military adage is that a tactic recognized is a tactic neutralized.  It is helpful to think of tactics the language of negotiation.  Our goal is to make certain that tactics are not a foreign language to us.

Fluency in tactics allows the skilled negotiator to choose the best one for the job.  Good guy/Bad guy would be entirely inappropriate in a Win-Win strategy involving long term successful relationships built upon TCO.  Similarly, the Cost Analysis tool is fairly useless in a Win-Lose adversarial strategy. 

Our choice of tactics will be determined by the preparation, strategy, communication and interpersonal factors that have shaped the negotiation process.  An example of such an influence is the High Initial Demand (HID).  HID is borne of the human nature imperative to do better.  An asking price higher than the must have position is an offset to the expected demand to do better.  We choose and deploy various tactics that we believe will stimulate or guide desired behavior. 

The rationale behind using tactics at all is one of caution.  Except in vary rare cases, we cannot fully trust the other side.  Trust, like credit, must be earned.  Only a fool would extend credit to a stranger.  Trust is merely a form of credit.  Therefore, we test for traps cautiously.

We also truly do not know what the other party wants.  We probe with questions and make intelligence estimates of what we think their issues will be, their HID, nice to have, and must have positions.  Couple the fact of the cautious need to defend from aggression and our ignorance of the other side and we see that the need for tactics will always exist. 

What then are the best tactics to use?  If we knew them, could we discard the rest?  We cannot discard them because we need to recognize them as we noted.   The best tactics are those that advance our strategy.  A harmony of message and messenger imparts an aura of professionalism that smoothes out the rough spots and makes the experience more enjoyable.

Part II delves into the first category of tactics, the Maneuvers.

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