Aggressive negotiation tactics: be prepared & keep your cool

Aggressive Negotiation Tactics

We all learn social norms as we grow up: the rules of how to engage and communicate with people. Some of us are arguably better communicators than others — for example, people with natural charisma and confidence tend to break the ice and make others feel at ease in new situations. Good listeners who ask lots of questions make for excellent dinner party guests. It’s a natural human instinct to make connections and be liked. So, for many of us, it can feel especially unnatural to abandon social norms at the negotiating table. When faced with aggressive negotiation tactics, it can be a real shock to the system and can be inherently destabilising.

But the good news is, there are ways you can prepare and rebuke this kind of negotiation technique, without feeling like you have to morph into a cast member of Succession. The cut-throat world depicted in the TV show might be fictional, but there’s no doubt that some hardened negotiators do indeed employ some ferocious techniques to drive their side of the bargain. 

In this article, we’ll dig into some of these aggressive negotiation techniques, how to be prepared for them, and how to respond to them without losing your head. 

What are some examples of aggressive negotiation tactics?

Aggressive negotiation tactics include:

  • The Table Thumper “This is outrageous and nothing close to what I thought we’d agreed!” This bullying negotiator will use emotion and anger to overwhelm you into giving in. They may sprinkle a bit of gaslighting in to boot, relying on you to doubt your own memory of what was agreed and buckle under the pressure.
  • The Low-Ball Anchor “Your services aren’t worth anywhere near $50,000. The most we’re ever going to pay is $30,000. Take it or leave it.” Firstly, recognise that this is a negotiation-anchoring technique, rather than a true representation of what they’re ultimately prepared to pay. Typically, people drift around the first anchor proposed when negotiating.
  • The Authorisation Trap “Are you authorised to do a deal with me? Can you sign the contract? If not, you can leave now, there’s the door.” This tactic aims to undermine your position, encouraging you to spring into action to prove yourself. It’s also a way of your counterparty trying to put you in the “child” role with them as the “parent” (see the PAC model for further reading).
  • The Deadline “We close out on supplier short-list selection for this project at 09:30 tomorrow, you’d better sharpen your pencil if you want to be in with a chance.” Deadlines pressure you to make irrational choices and are used to create movement. They may be artificial or real so ignore them at your peril.
  • The Bluffer “I’ve got a dozen people like you calling me every day. If you won’t yield on price, I’ll just call one of them back and we’ll do a deal with them.” Competition is a powerful pressure tactic, especially from big global brands.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop “Look, I want this to go through as much as you do — especially so we can avoid bringing in Jo, who believe me, will tear you apart. We need to get this deal through now on these terms.” This technique allows the negotiator to try and smooth over cracks in the deal by comparing it to how it could be so much worse — the fact is, it could be a bad deal as it is, so never be strong-armed into accepting one-sided deals just because mythical threats are brought to the table.
  • The Constant Chipper They’re always chipping away at your offer, just because they feel they can. A succession of small chips can unnecessarily drag out negotiations, ultimately causing you to lose patience and agree simply to get the deal over the line.
  • The Last-Minute Chipper, aka the “Columbo technique”. “Before you go, there’s just one more thing…” This technique supposes that, because you’re so close to the finish line, you’ll begrudgingly accept this last condition, no matter how unreasonable it is. There is also a balance of power in the negotiation at play here, your counterparty may believe that you’ve mentally booked the deal in your head so be careful of your body language.

All of these techniques are carefully designed by some trained negotiators to get an emotional reaction from you. Emotions will derail you at the negotiating table and enable your counterparty to claim more value.

So what should you do about these aggressive negotiation tactics when they happen to you?

A lot of the time, you can address aggressive negotiation techniques simply by demonstrating that you know what they’re doing and using countering or disarming techniques. Once people have been found out once, they’re less likely to try it again.

One thing that definitely helps is “naming the game”. Even if you only do this in your mind, recognising and acknowledging their behaviour for what it is — a tactic — will help reduce the anxiety that it can cause.

Let’s get into some practical examples of how to counter some of these tactics:

  • The Table Thumper: Counter with facts. Respond with something like “It looks like we’ve got a communication problem, let me clarify what we agreed when …”
  • The Low-Ball Anchor: The best way to deal with a low-ball offer is to be knowledgeable about the true market rate, understand the ROI for the client and clarify the scope of what you’re offering. What you’re trying to do is re-anchor the discussions to your price based around your deep expertise and market knowledge.
  • The Authorisation Trap: Simply say “I’m authorised to negotiate a deal with you, and whatever we finally agree won’t be altered by my bosses. However, the contract will need to be signed by a Company Director”.
  • The Deadline: Check what is actually required by the deadline and also state “To be clear, our deadline-driven response won’t represent a fully negotiated offer. Price is only one variable on the table and therefore, needs to be negotiated in the context of other important commercial terms”.
  • The Last Minute Chipper: When your counterparty starts demanding 20% off at the last minute, respond initially by saying, “it looks as though your budget has been cut by 20%. So, let’s see what we can do to reduce the scope to reflect that.” If they continue to push, you could then say: “It looks like you’re trying to chip me at the last minute. Let’s just take a step back and look at the ROI and remember what it is that we’re both trying to achieve here.” Watch this quick video on the Last-Minute Chipper scenario

There are many other ways to deal with these aggressive negotiation tactics. Hopefully, these illustrations start to show you how to get things back on track.

How can you prepare in advance to counteract these aggressive negotiation tactics?

In our extensive experience as buyers, negotiation trainers and negotiation deal coaches, the critical thing you need is a rigorous, easy to follow, step-by-step process and templates. This will help you stay focused, reduce anxiety and emotions, and ultimately get you a better deal.

  1. Start with writing down the context of the deal. Include the goals (yours and theirs) and the objective criteria by which you propose that a negotiated deal can be agreed upon. Also, now is the time to prepare your BATNA
  2. Work out the stages of this negotiation and ideal timelines.
  3. Decide on your negotiation variables and your acceptable upper and lower limits.
  4. Make sure you keep track of issues as they come up and how you’re going to resolve them.

Start with the tangible value that you’ll be creating, then compare that to the price and hence the ROI. Prepare your negotiation strategy using a process, templates and checklists. They will have prepared their negotiation strategy, you must do the same.

This is exactly why we wrote the Higgle Book; it’s a step-by-step guide of proven negotiation templates that will help you prepare for every deal, no matter how big or small. 

Negotiation workbook

In conclusion…

There are two big lessons to be learnt:

  1. You have to spot the aggressive negotiator at their game and point it out to them, professionally. Confronting the behaviour can be tough, but you can choose to be subtle. If you don’t want to call it out upfront, you could simply ask them to repeat themselves — because you surely can’t have heard them correctly.
  2. “The prepared mind wins the day”. Consistent application of a step-by-step process and templates will prepare your mind for a successful, more rational negotiation.

Alternatively, you could decide to act more like Logan Roy, but we wouldn’t recommend it!

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