Negotiating When Someone Doesn’t Play Fair

Have you ever seen the animated Disney movie or read the Hans Christian Andersen classic The Little Mermaid? If you have, you will know that Ariel longs with all her heart to have a pair of legs instead of a fish’s tail. The reason? So she can make the handsome human prince fall in love with her. Hence, she goes to visit the undersea witch Ursula to negotiate an agreement that grants Ariel legs in exchange for her voice. The witch doesn’t play fair.

In an ideal world, negotiations are always fair. But in real life, things often don’t play out the way we want them to. Often, when two (or more) people are involved in a negotiation, there is always the possibility one party won’t play by the rules.

Let’s take a look at another fairy-tale example. Aladdin negotiates with the evil Jafar over taking treasure from the magic cave. Jafar says, “You can take anything except for the magic lamp.” This automatically places Aladdin at a disadvantage. He doesn’t understand the importance of the lamp. He is in a conditioned position. And by pressuring Aladdin with this condition, Jafar reduces the street rat’s negotiation strength.

When it comes to the art of negotiation, people who don’t play fair will often throw into the mix bias, deception and hidden agendas. And even when you are trying to be forthright, this will place you at a disadvantage.

For women, it can be even more difficult to negotiate on a level playing field. A study carried out by the University of London Cass Business School revealed women ask for raises as often as their male counterparts, but they get them 25 percent less often than men do.

Whenever you enter into a negotiation, you are actually having two different conversations at the same time. One is revolving around the deal you are trying to reach; the other is unspoken and centers on how the negotiation will unfold.

Tricks Unfair Negotiators Use to Win

Before discussing the methods that unfair negotiators use to try to win, it’s important to note that the most successful negotiators don’t play dirty. Rather, they are attempting to reach an agreement where everyone is mutually satisfied and happy. If you both are coming from this perspective, you are more likely to achieve a successful implementation.

“We do things differently here.”

It may seem unbelievable, but this statement is usually pulled into play when someone visits from another culture. Of course, cultural differences can sometimes play an important part in how the nuances of negotiation are perceived. But someone who doesn’t play fair will attempt to capitalize on these contrasts.

For example, they could use cultural differences to emphasize local customs in an attempt to gain changes or win points in particular clauses within a contract. If you aren’t prepared for this, the approach of “this is how we always do things” could throw you off guard.

If you cannot prepare for this situation, don’t ever accept this as a valid argument. Instead, go and seek further explanation and clarification from a third party. If your tenacious research does not result in you being able to resolve the issue, leave the clause in question open so you can look into it later.

You can often overcome this kind of so-called dirty trick by using well researched and highly skilled questioning that will blow holes in the argument of your negotiating adversary. In an attempt to try to shore up their defense, they will instead make more deceptive statements, diluting their case over the sticking point. This will destroy their credibility and defeat their argument.

Delays and Deadlines

Using arbitrary delays and deadlines as an unfair tactic is an attempt to get concessions from you by using your time. To put it simply, your counterpart can do this by saying, “You have to sign by X time, or the deal is off.” It’s a way of trying to back you into a corner. More sophisticated methods of doing this includes introducing delaying tactics in your discussion, which are then later brought into play.

An example would be if the other party has made travel arrangements or cited another deadline in place, which relies on you reaching an agreement. A way to overcome this is to be flexible in your arrangements and include time as an aspect of your negotiation. You can even manipulate time pressure to work for you rather than against you.

Rolling Concessions

You think you are reaching an end to your negotiation. Everyone seems to be happy with the proposed outcome. But then you are thrown a curveball, usually in the form of the following sentence: “I think we’ve nearly got a deal. We just need to agree on this last item, then I think we’re there.”

Tempting as it may be to give in on this final point so that you can reach an agreement, you will likely then be told, “I’m much happier now, but let’s just look at this one small thing. Once that’s sorted, THEN I think we have a deal.”

And so it goes on. Next thing you know, you have conceded to all manner of items that you never would have done so! Research by Huthwaite International shows that there are more concessions made in the final stages of a negotiation than at any other point during the discussion. So that no other concessions can be introduced, get an agenda drawn up from the outset.

I call this the “just one more thing” strategy. Instead of getting all angry and reactive, I’ll sometimes calmly say, “Oh, so I assume we’re opening up the full negotiations again, in which case I can consider that request, but I’ll obviously have to take [something they really wanted and got] back off the table.” Almost always, this gets them to back down.

So, how do you deal with all the unfairness? And what techniques can you use to ensure you aren’t being manipulated? How you handle the negotiation can make a big difference in whether you can dodge the curveballs to come out on top. Your negotiation should always be a win-win, and you should never accept any terms if you feel you have been bullied or disrespected.

7 Easy Tips You Can Employ Against an Unfair Negotiator

1. Be a super sleuth 

Make sure you research the person, entity or situation on which you are going to be negotiating. This sounds obvious, but you would be surprised at the number of people who don’t take the time to do this. Research will put you in a position of power, thus you will be able to ascertain if your counterpart is being deceptive in any way.

Using this tactic enables you to be assertive and take control of the situation before you even enter into the negotiation. Why? Assertiveness comes from confidence. Confidence comes from knowledge. Knowledge comes from preparation.

In my Art of Feminine Negotiation programs, I teach you valuable preparation skills. Did you know 45 percent of successful negotiations are dependent on your preparation? Undertaking solid preparation before you go into your negotiation can make or break it.

2. The stereotype tax

As women, we are often stereotyped as not being as strong or perceptive as men. What are we to do when met with this frustrating negative perception? Work it to your advantage! Prove others wrong and defeat their preconceived notions of you. Your counterpart’s underestimation of your abilities as a naturally effective negotiator is your secret weapon.

3. Actively listen

If you are entirely engaged in what someone else says, you can learn about their apprehensions and goals, and you can harness this information and use it to your advantage. Once you have done this, you can then leverage this newfound knowledge to build a rapport. Then by establishing a commonality, this will put them more at ease.

4. Assert yourself

Asserting yourself when the other party isn’t playing by the rules is a way of calling out what’s going on by naming the issue. This can help get the negotiation to turn in your favor.

5. Turn their position into an option

A tricky negotiator will try to shove their position in your face. When they do this, just say, “Yes, that’s an option.” An example would be, “I can’t work for less than $80 an hour.” You can then respond with, “That’s an option. Let’s look at the other rates in your field.”

6. Constantly look behind their position

Always try to see what their underlying interests are. If you bring those to the fore in the negotiation, you can then establish a better rapport.

7. Use questions instead of statements

People are always more open to answering a question and react much better to this than they do a statement. One of the things I teach is how to learn the different types of questions you can ask and how to use them with intention. Here’s an example: “Your offer really doesn’t make sense compared to the current rates.” Rephrase this statement to be: “Do you think this offer makes sense compared to current rates?”

Ways You Can Overcome Types of Unfair Negotiators

Dealing With Emotional Counterparts

Often in negotiations, emotions are running high. This is something I have personally experienced. If someone is inappropriate or being overly emotional, you can use my A.R.E. F.I.T model to keep things on track:

A – assertiveness

R – rapport building

E – empathy

F – flexibility

I – intuition

T – trust

This is a model I teach in my courses. You can read more about the A.R.E.F.I.T model here. Building trust and rapport will make you empathetic to your counterparts’ emotional response. However, keep in mind their emotional reaction could be a ploy. Determine if their emotion is based on a lack of information or other factors that you can address in order to get back on track.

In my experiences dealing with emotional counterparts, if they were using emotion as a tactic to play you (whether pretend anger, mock indignation or manufactured hurt), I’d sometimes call out the tactic for what it was (which is an excellent way to diffuse its effectiveness) and/or call their bluff. I would do this by suggesting they were clearly too emotional to have a productive, rational negotiation. Then I would recommend we adjourn until they were better able to get their emotions in check. This was usually enough to get them to quickly get back on track. Why? Because stalling the negotiations wasn’t the intended end game and didn’t ultimately serve their purpose.

Dealing With Bullies

Unfortunately, bullying behavior is all too common and can be especially destructive in negotiations. When you’re dealing with someone who makes it clear they’re going to intimidate you to get what they want, it’s very easy to freeze up and succumb to their demands. But you don’t have to.

Sadly, as women, we are more likely to come up against this bulldozing behavior when negotiating. But did you know that also acting like a bully in response reduces your negotiation skills? If you are asking why, it’s because it blocks you from understanding the other person’s point of view. And you need to have a good handle on their point of view to best negotiate the situation. Don’t fight fire with fire.

Dealing with a bully when negotiating can make things feel very tense. But that’s what they want! You don’t have to bow to that kind of pressure. If you are prepared, you can stay focused and calm. In a negotiation, it’s up to YOU to decide your deal. You are in charge of yourself, and that includes any confrontation that may arise.

I’ve had several male lawyers who tried to bully me (especially when I was younger) by using physical intimidation and/or verbal attacks intended to belittle. Of course, the knee-jerk reaction to that (when we’re in self-protection mode) is to bite back. This, of course, escalates the conflict. As much as it was a difficult pill to swallow at first, I quickly learned the value of acting surprised, hurt and bewildered. Not allowing your counterpart to get any advantage or traction from the bullying (i.e., zero concessions) but calling out the behavior from that apparent state was a good strategy to counter this.

In some cases, I called them out privately, and it usually resulted in them being embarrassed and backing down. If they continued the behavior, I would use it to call them out publicly (i.e., in the hearing in front of the adjudicator). I’d bait him into his bullying without saying a word (i.e., through subtle body language or facial expressions that I knew would cause reactivity and trigger his bullying default).

Next, I would play shocked and distressed in front of the adjudicator, which inevitably backfired on the bully as it gained me valuable points with the adjudicator. They then saw the bully as the “bad guy” and my needs as deserving of being protected.

Another strategy I’ve used successfully with bullies and/or other types of people who refused to play fair was to refuse to deal with the person. For example, as a lawyer, I’d make it clear to the client of the bad-faith bargainer that I couldn’t trust their counsel. Then, I would refuse to settle or budge while the bad-faith bargainer continued to be the negotiator.

This strategy also works well in organizations if the spokesperson consistently acts in bad faith. Refusing to cooperate or engage will often force the hand of the other side. I’ve been successful in getting bad-faith lawyers off cases and/or unethical managers removed from the process altogether.

Remember, ultimately, bullies want to feel powerful. And so, another strategy, which may seem like a counterintuitive move, is to reassure them of their power. You can use to advance your interests. They will think they have won you over. By stroking their ego, you make them feel dominant. Then you can ask for what you need so you can achieve success. They will feel they are on your team, and you will have more flexibility.

Dealing With Ultimatums

When dealing with someone who always loves to throw ultimatums down in an attempt to push us back off position, I’ve often simply ignored the ultimatums altogether and continued to bargain (with or without them or around them if necessary). It usually takes the steam out of the other side. Making ultimatums that are ignored is tough to maintain.

Dealing With Sexists

If someone refuses to listen to you or give you respect (e.g., walk away while you’re talking — yes, I’ve had that happen with many big-ego men — or hold up their hand in a universal stop sign when I’m speaking, etc.) I’d always start by calling out the behavior. If they still don’t budge, I would call it out publicly as sexism. I actually had an adjudicator have to recuse himself from the hearing for his behavior.

In conclusion, while you may enter into a negotiation with someone who doesn’t play fair and thinking that you “just can’t win,” you have many tools at your disposal to tip the scales in your favor.

Enjoyed reading this post? Then check out negotiating your way from worry to empowerment.


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communication, confidence, intention, Negotiation

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