In part three (of 3) in this series on “The Most Valuable Lessons I Learned From the World’s Top Negotiators”, we’re going to close the loop on where we left off in Part 2.

And just to recap…

In part one, I went through the top 10 things to negotiate that ARE NOT the price, and how this one nugget of gold costs business amateurs SO much money, opportunities, energy etcetera etcetera…

In part two, I went through 24 practical and impressively effective negotiation tactics that I’ve seen employed by the world’s best negotiation experts, time and time again.

In this final post of the series, I’m going to share what I believe was the most critical lesson of them all…

“How do I protect myself from these negotiation tactics that others might try to use on me?”

At the end of the day, sales success (aka your business success) is an awareness sport – the more you have, the more likely you are to win. In the case of negotiation tactics, the ones that have been most successfully used against you, probably were used without you even knowing about it.

The first step to mastery is to become aware of the deficit, which can be easier said than done – because we all like to hang onto our blind spots and biases.

Take the skill of ‘Negotiation from the broader topic of ‘Influence’ for example…

Most people who haven’t invested in learning the skills and acquiring the competence, typically think that’s it’s not very important to do so.

In fact, many out there reject it altogether.

The fact that you’re reading this suggests that you probably are from the first group. That’s good news for you.

(RELATED: 8 Factors That Determine a Negotiation Outcome)

Whether you’re reading this series to be a better negotiator, business owner or people leader – or you’re just tired of always being left with the turkish delights in your ‘negotiation box of Favourites’ – here we go.Cadbury Favorites

Counter Plays To Common Negotiation Tactics

To keep this article as immediately useful as possible, below is a distilled list from the previous post. You’ll notice that these strategies not only protect you from these common negotiation tactics, but actually turn most of them into powerful shifts in your favour.

If you’re struggling with a particular tactic that hasn’t been listed here, write me a comment and I’ll update it for you.

1. Outs and BATNA. By now you’re totally familiar with the ‘best alternate to a negotiated agreement’ and the value of having it clearly articulated. So what’s the play when they ‘show you theirs’? Easy – your job now is to shift the focus to the discomfort they’ll experience by taking their ‘consolation’ rather than their preferred option. One of the easiest frames here is the ‘resource frame’ – what potential cost will they have to have to explore a new option? Some good options to start with:

“Can you afford the time involved to start the research again from scratch?”
“Can you afford to walk away from the resources already sunk to get us to this point?”
“What’s the financial risk of not fixing this problem today?”
“Would you prefer to come to an arrangement today so that you can stop having this [negative experience] and start having your [positive experience] again?”
“It would be a real shame if we had to walk away given the resources we’ve already invested to get us 90% home, don’t you think?”

NOTE: Being in super close rapport is big here. The more rapport they have with you as a person, the more perceived pain there will be to look for another option.

2. Call out the warts. Just like we talked about in the last article, negotiators may try to focus the discussion points around the ‘warts’ of your product or service to gain advantage. The play here is to ‘call out the warts’ on them ‘calling out the warts’ (so meta, right?) E.g.:

“Are these actual concerns or are you just nit-picking? You know that this was considered in the pricing.”
“What’s your real purpose for buying this in the first place?”

This method is all about controlling the frame and refocusing the conversation on the reason they’re here in the first place.

NOTE: The Serial Nitpicker is a special breed of creature who leaves destruction, indecision and fluffy kittens choking on red tape. The Serial Nitpicker is not a professional. The Serial Nitpicker is not looking for a deal. The Serial Nitpicker is an air thief. If you find yourself with someone looking for nits rather than a fair deal, you are not in a negotiation. People looking for nits, find nits – not deals. Run away screaming and take the kittens with you.

3. Get their number first. When two people are acting the stubborn negotiator, it can be like Peter fighting the chicken. First you recognise it, then it’s funny, then it’s annoying… and sometimes it’s funny again. If it’s clear that the other party is being cagey, don’t harp on it – move straight into the ‘Low ball / high ball’ strategy we talked about in part two!

Negotiation - Peter and The Chicken

Peter and The Chicken

4. Use tension. The ultimate enemy of tension is indifference. When a negotiator starts creating tension via any of the methods we looked at in the previous article;

1) recognise it;
2) smile internally that you caught them being a sneaky little tension-monger, and;
3) notice that this is just a tactic that has no actual control over you.

NOTE: Tension is one of the most powerful and effective negotiation tactics because it deals with emotional response and kills logical stability. Often a well polished tension-focused negotiator will have few other tools of influence in their tool belt – because they rarely need any others! Now that you know how to disarm it, you’ll find it pretty funny to watch a negotiator sitting in front of you who realises their ‘fool-proof’ tension strategies are just hitting a wall of absolute indifference. In response with nothing else to turn to – they turn it up and try to do more of it! It’s hilarious watching a sales guy completely weird themselves out as they push the limits of what they’re willing to do to make you feel uncomfortable. This usually results in them handing over all their cookies for nothing.

Top negotiators often use 'tension' to gain advantage. Some go too far.

Top negotiators often use ‘tension’ to gain advantage. Some go too far.

5. The ‘Flinch’. The ‘Flinch’ is a follow on to the above redirection strategy as it’s a tension-builder. The counter here is nice and simple – when you get the dramatic ‘flinch’, you flip into the indifference frame with something like…

“Hmmm, well maybe this really isn’t for you then…”

NOTE: Successful delivery here is all about the ‘puzzlement’. You must have a congruent reaction (words, tonality, body language) of being puzzled about how you could have ‘got it so wrong’. As you’re already in a conversation with someone who clearly has a need which you can fulfil – their ‘flinch’ now shows up as completely disproportionate to your suggestion. Done correctly, the ’tactical flincher’ will feel an unconscious desire to reposition themselves as being reasonable fafter such an unreasonable reaction 🙂

6. Good cop / bad cop. This is one of those ‘prevention is better than cure’ scenarios. As described in other articles, you really need to discover and empower the decision makers upfront. If you skip this step (most do), then introducing the real decision maker is NOT a tactic for you to protect yourself against – it’s a mistake you made and you deserve the annoyance of having to start again (with love).

(See also: How to Qualify Customers Upfront, A Cautionary Tale)

If, on the other hand, you’re half way through a negotiation and someone pulls out the old ‘well I’ll have to run this past my [partner, wife, brother, housemate, next-door neighbour’s dog]’ who they never told you about when asked – then it’s time to pull out the big guns…

So your response here is one that mixes ‘tension’ and ‘warts’ by calling out your confusion:

“Huh, I really thought YOU were the decision maker – that feels kind of weird, you know? I mean that’s kind of like me telling you at this stage that it’s not really me buying (or selling). I’d like to have a meeting with ALL the decision makers.”

NOTE: The point here is not to actually feel put out. When you lose your emotional state, you lose the game. If you maintain a focus on being curious about the strategies and tactics being employed – even if they work against you – you still get to enjoy the game. Remember, you only get better at chess by playing someone better at chess!

7. Scope creep. When your customer or supplier starts adding ‘bits’ to the deal once it’s closed, things can go from profitable to costly very quickly. Given that ‘nibbling’ usually happens at or after the point of agreement, it’s best to employ a slightly lighter touch than the previous plays – but ultimately the same idea:

(Delivered in a playful tonality)

“Are you nibbling here? If you keep asking for more, I might have to start charging you for more.”

NOTE: The other opportunity here is to keep on negotiating! Remember the basic rules we learned in part one, when possible:

  • Ask for a concession in exchange for any concession
  • Negotiate on the things of low value to you and high value to them

8. Reluctant buyer / seller. We’ve explored the value of your indifference, but what if it’s coming back at you? This is similar to the Nitpicker from counter play #2 – it’s all about redirecting the conversation to their value.

“I think we missed where the value is for you. Let’s look at that again together…”

NOTE: Be careful to separate between the rehearsed negotiator ‘playing’ the reluctant buyer / seller, and the prospect who’s just not that into you. If they’ve come this far, they’re hopefully the former – game on! If they’re the latter – stop being a creep and qualify your market better.

Learn how to handle customer objections elegantly and with integrity(RELATED: Want to become a master at handling buyer resistance? Download our Ultimate Guide to Handling Objections and learn how to uncover the real reason they’re resisting so you can design your conversation to speak to their fears, desires and reasons to buy now. Download it here.)


9. Direct squeeze. Direct squeeze as a tactic is a power play for frame control. Period. If someone says to do better without conceding, it’s not about the concession – it’s about the dominance. In this case, the mistake would be to do better on the price or any other element for that matter (one should never negotiate with crazy people, it sets a poor precedent).

Instead, you should agree –

“You’re absolutely right,”

…and then increase your price (selling) or lower your offer (buying).

10. Time constraints. If you perceive that your negotiation counterpart is using false time constraints, you need to gently flush them out. This is where the ‘reasonable man’ tonality comes into play as you appeal to their sense of fairness:

“I really would prefer not to be rushed into this deal. I need to take a day to decide – will that work for you?”

NOTE: It’s incredibly important here to end with a question that requires ‘approval’ of your counter. If we pull the last “…will that work for you?…” part, the statement will be heard VERY differently.

11. Capping. If you’re counterpart starts capping you (see negotiation tactic #13 in the previous article), the counter frame here is the ‘broader resource frame’ and it works like this:

CUST: “Sorry Jane, that’s all the budget I have.”
YOU: “Okay great, where in your world could you allocate more money to this? Let’s figure this out together.”
YOU: “No problem. The people who are doing this best do it like this…” [insert an example of a business that the customer wants to be more like, and suggestion to broaden resources].

CASE STUDY: This is exactly the strategy I to close a very large technology deal I was working on in New York. The end solution that we ‘figured out together’ was my client combined budgets for two different roles that had already been approved (a sales enablement pro and a marketing manager) to meet my offer. I took 90% of each of the budgets and did both jobs – the company saved money, the project owner looked great and I got the deal I was aiming for. A perfect win / win / win scenario!

12. Low ball / high ball. If you feel like you’re being ‘low ball / high balled’ as a tactic (and not because they believe the value is totally different from your valuation!) then they’re trying to make you give up your first number and thus avoid the chicken fight. If this is the case, then you want to turn their offer back to them, and have THEM try to justify it. This shows up the ridiculousness in what they’re saying, and often results in a sheepish smile from your opponent, in acknowledgement of trying to play you like an amateur. Be direct here:

“And let me ask, how specifically did you arrive at this number?”

**Whispers “BOOM” quietly to self**

BONUS: The Ultimatum – “Take it or leave it!” …And sometimes you get that jerk who’s just walked out of a screening of “The Wolf of Wall Street” and thinks he’s a 1980’s corporate gang-star. When you’re faced with the classic – “take it or leave it!” schtick, 9/10 times the most appropriate response (with a cool head) is:

“Okay, I’ll leave it now thanks.”

But I’m feeling really generous and it’s the 1/10…

“Okay, I’ll leave it now thanks. [Insert slight pause]. Unless that is of course you are willing to consider… [insert counter offer].”

This strategy works because the wolf-wannabe gets the experience of ‘dominating’ you, but YOU still find a way to find a third option.

Wolf of Wall Street - Leo DiCaprio


“Only a Sith deal in absolutes.” – Obi Wan Kenobi

The Wrap

Different people will take this knowledge in different ways depending on where you are in your journey.

If you’re a seasoned business owner and already love the game, then you’ll probably find a few combos here that you can’t wait to have a play with.

On the other hand, if you’re just starting your journey to influence mastery, then you might find all this a little overwhelming. If this is you – don’t fret. It’s the same for everyone when you first learn to sell the value in yourself, your product and your ideas.

The difference that makes the difference is what you do next…

So pick one (or pick three!) of these strategies and find opportunities to practice them.

There is no standard price for an idea. The creator of the idea sets the price, and if you know how to negotiate – you get your price.

So these are the most valuable lessons I learned from the world’s top negotiators. But the one subtle detail that I failed to mention was the cost it took to learn this stuff. My journey in learning, observing, applying, failing, tweaking and applying again has take me more than ten years:

  • Participating in over 50 trainings and seminars
  • Delivering more than 100 trainings and seminars
  • Consuming 200 subject matter books
  • Mentorship from 10 global business leaders
  • …and many, many (,many) cups of coffee

My intention in this 3-part series was to shortcut you all that stuff and give you the best of what I’ve found – use it wisely.

Well done for taking the time to invest in mastering influence. It’s the single biggest factor that I’ve observed in creating wealth in business and life. I hope we get a chance to work together in one of our workshops or masterminds.

If you want some personal TLC for a big presentation or to supe-up your business idea, book in a short one-on-one session with me.

In the meantime, go take some action and give the universe a chance to meet you half way.

Big love and happy hunting.

– Dave

(RELATED: Need a presentation or sales pitch training for your high-value products and services? Check out the ‘Million Dollar Sales Pitch’ Video Masterclass and learn to design and deliver a perfectly structured pitch that creates instant positive response from your customers in any industry niche.)



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Discover Coaching Coaching Programs are tailored to each individual and align tactical, strategic and visionary leadership styles to reach both Professional and Personal milestones. DC is fully certified for the use of both proprietary (Neuro Linguistic Programming, TimeLine Therapy ®, Straight Line System) and authored custom programs (How to Boil an Egg, Million Dollar Sales Pitch, Mass Persuasion – Complete Sales Mastery, Coaches Collection).

David Cervelli is a certified NLP Master Practitioner and Coach with the ABNLP and ABH.

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