The 5 Most Common Negotiation Tactics and How to Counter Them

Published: Apr 06, 2015
Modified: Apr 09, 2024

Updated on: May 05, 2023

The 5 Most Common Negotiation Tactics and How to Counter Them: AMA Research


In any negotiation, both parties are working to achieve the best possible result for their company. It’s also an important leadership skill. During the course of a negotiation, there are several tactics that might be utilized to gain an advantage. By understanding these tactics and applying the knowledge gained through AMA's Business Enhancement Skills, you can be better prepared for any negotiation scenario. While not everyone engages in these tactics, an AMA survey from 2015 found that some are more widespread than others. With over 200 responses, AMA now presents the list of the most prevalent negotiation tactics:

  1. Highball/Lowball – an extremely high or low offer (29%)
  2. Bogey – pretending a particular issue is important (17%)
  3. Snow Job – overwhelming you with too much information (12%)
  4. The Nibble – asking for a small concession that wasn’t discussed (11%)
  5. Lack of Authority – your counterpart cannot make decisions (11%)
  6. Good Cop/Bad Cop – one negotiator is reasonable, the other is not (8%)
  7. Deadlines – creating a deadline that pressures you into a decision (6%)
  8. The Brink – the “take it or leave it” approach (6%)

As you can see, some negotiation tactics are more common than others. Topping the list was the “Highball/Lowball” method, which received almost one-third of the votes. However, it is still possible to fall victim to any of these methods. Let’s take a look at the top five tactics identified in this survey and see how you can avoid being swindled in your next negotiation.

1: Highball/Lowball

The highball/lowball tactic is one of the oldest hardball moves in the book. Your counterpart will open with an extremely high or low offer, which they hope will force you to reconsider your resistance points and goal. If you haven’t done your research, or aren’t aware of what is happening, you may fall for it. The best way to navigate this scenario is to call their offer out and refuse to continue unless they are going to take you seriously. By insisting on a more reasonable opening offer, rather than trying to counter, you force them to continue on your terms while appearing to be more reasonable yourself.

If the attempt is obvious, you should also voice your displeasure at their tactic and threaten to walk away. Calling out their move will show that you are familiar with how these deals happen, and you won’t continue unless they change their stance. If it is less obvious, ask them to justify their extreme offer. Do your research ahead of time and know what your alternatives (BATNA) and resistance points are. If your counterparts do not cooperate, then you should seriously reconsider your partnership with them.

For example: In a car dealership, the salesperson may use the highball/lowball tactic by starting with an inflated price for a car, hoping that the customer will feel compelled to negotiate a lower price. Conversely, the salesperson may also use a lowball offer, making it seem like they are giving the customer a great deal, when in reality, the price may still be too high. By being aware of the tactics and researching the fair market value for the car, the customer can avoid falling for the highball/lowball tactic and negotiate a fair price.

2: Bogey

A bogey is a particular issue that the negotiator pretends is vitally important to the deal, though in reality it is unimportant to them. By agreeing to concede the bogey issue, they then expect you to concede something important as well. This is one of the more difficult tactics to detect because it is rare that you will know what your counterpart’s instructions and intentions are. One way you may be able to tell is if your counterpart makes a sudden change regarding their attitude towards the issue. For example, if they are adamantly against conceding the issue, but then suddenly offer it up in exchange for something else, the issue was likely unimportant in the first place.

The best way to fight this tactic is to ask questions. You should immediately question why that particular issue is so important, or why they changed their stance so quickly. This might force them to reveal how important that part of the deal actually is, or allow you to come up with alternative solutions that don’t require you giving up an important aspect of the deal. If they balk at your alternatives, they don’t truly value that issue, and you know that you’re dealing with a bogey. Remember, in any negotiation, information is power, and this is particularly true with the bogey.

For example: in a salary negotiation, the employer may bring up the issue of vacation time, claiming that it's a crucial factor in the deal. However, in reality, the employer may not be too concerned about vacation time and may be using it as a bogey tactic. By agreeing to concede on the vacation time issue, the employer may expect the employee to concede on something like salary or benefits, which are actually more important to the employee.

3: Snow Job

A snow job is a particularly common tactic designed to confuse and distract you. It happens when the other party reveals a lot of information, overwhelming you with facts and figures. When you're on the receiving end of a snow job, your biggest challenge is to determine what is truly important and what is simply there to distract you. It often features very technical language and requires expertise in a subject area in order to translate what is being said.

Fighting this tactic requires you to be firm on your negotiation stance. You need to get to the real issues, so ask specifically and consistently what is important in the pile of information thrown at you. Do not back down! Ask questions until you clearly understand what is being discussed, and bring in experts of your own if necessary. The key is not to agree to anything you do not understand, which is the intended purpose of the snow job tactic. Pay close attention to what they are saying, and look for inconsistencies in their responses.

For example: In a legal negotiation, the other party may use the snow job tactic by using complex legal language and citing a large number of legal cases. By focusing on the specific legal points that need to be addressed and seeking clarification on any confusing terms, you can avoid being distracted by the complexity of the legal arguments and ensure that you are addressing the key legal issues.

4: The Nibble

The nibble will be presented towards the end of a negotiation. After a lot of time has been spent negotiating, your counterpart will agree to the deal provided you agree to a small stipulation that was not previously discussed. The idea is to more easily gain your agreement after you’ve been worn down and just want to get a deal done. Fighting this tactic is easy. At the start of the talks, lay out every issue you want to discuss, and ask your counterpart to do the same. Throughout the talks, continuously ask if there is anything else they want to put on the table. If they don’t, you have given them every opportunity and should feel no guilt in turning down the nibble. If they attempt the nibble, have a set of small issues yourself that you can counter with. They will either accept or more likely back down and agree to the original deal as discussed.

For example: In a contract negotiation, the other party may use the nibble tactic by insisting on a small addition or change to the terms of the contract that was not previously discussed.

5: Lack of Authority

When dealing with a negotiation where you don’t know if your counterpart has decision-making power, simply ask them. If at any point they reveal that they are not authorized to make a deal, refuse to continue until you’re talking to the person who is. Talking to anyone else would be a waste of your time and effort.

For example: In a sales negotiation, the salesperson may use the lack of authority tactic by claiming they need to check with their manager or supervisor before making a decision. They may do this to avoid making a commitment or to delay the negotiation process.

The other party is banking on the hope that this tactic will drain your energy and willpower. They hope that, by the fifth time they’ve “had to check with their superiors,” you’ll back down from your position. So, ask up front who the final decision maker is, and don’t talk to anyone else.

In Conclusion

Mastering the art of negotiation is essential for achieving the best outcomes for your company. By being aware of these common negotiation tactics and implementing effective countermeasures, you can develop a solid negotiation strategy. Embracing the principles of bargaining and conflict resolution will help you navigate even the most challenging situations. The key is to stay informed, prepared, and adaptable, enabling you to reach a negotiated agreement that benefits both parties. By doing so, you set the stage for a successful negotiation and foster lasting, productive relationships with your counterparts.

Don't be intimidated by the most common negotiation tactics. See how you can prepare yourself and be successful in any negotiation scenario.

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