The Win-Lose negotiation style

Let’s go on and dive into some negotiations techniques as they are presented in Herb Cohen’s popular book, “You can negotiate anything”.

Each person we negotiate with has an unique character and thus a unique negotiation style. However, researchers have identified some basic categories of negotiators, based on purpose and technique deployed. In order to protect our interests we need to understand how to approach a negotiation given that we recognize the type of player we are up against.

The most popular negotiation paradigms are: Win-Lose, Win-Win and Lose-Lose. In this article we will summarize the basic concepts of the win-lose approach, how it is used and how to protect yourself from it.

The win-lose attitude is deployed by an extremely competitive individual, that sees everything like a continuous battle, with victories and looses. This tough player does not care about the approval of others and tries to get to his purpose by any means necessary and for that no sacrifice is too great.

This negotiation style is also called the “Soviet Style” since the leaders of the Soviet Union successfully used this technique during the last century. Here are some patterns we can use to identify this kind of negotiators:

I Win-Lose tactics

1 Categorical initial positions

They will almost always begin with some unexpected or ridiculous offers in order to confuse their rivals. They want to make the others feel like there is no other option aside from negotiating with them. If they want to buy something, their first offer will be really low and most of the time passed in secret, so that they will not be outbid by others. If they want to sell something, they act the other way around: they ask for a ridiculously large amount of money and invite a lot of negotiators to the auction – people are inclined to pay more for a scarce resource wanted by many.

Why does this tactic work? Because we let it! We tend to believe the categorical initial proposal, and then we find that the person we are dealing with has but limited authority. Which leads us to the next point:

2 Limited authorization

If you accept to negotiate with someone who does not have the authority to make the deal, you loose the upper hand. The reason is simple: while you are desperately trying to close a deal, your negotiation partner is stalling. He can not accept nor reject until he hears from someone in charge. Because the slow progress of the transaction may not be to your liking, the natural tendency is to come with other offers and concessions which can really make you “auctioning against yourself”. This strategy is often used by the automotive dealers who need to talk with their superiors before moving forward.

Having the full authority can also be dangerous sometimes (history gave us the example of Neville Chamberlain trying to negotiate with Hitler). That is why you need to be very careful when you negotiate in your own behalf: you risk making bad decisions when you are emotionally involved and granted full authority. In this situation, the best approach is to just decide beforehand how much you are willing to pay for a certain thing. A good mentality should be something like : “I am going to pay up to X dollars and nothing more. If I can not get what I really want with that price, I will go home”. Having this attitude will reduce the chances of making bad decisions.

3 Emotional tactics

There are multiple tactics a “soviet-type” negotiator can use in order to take the upper hand.  Any tactic that is detectable becomes ineffective. Being aware of them you will take the bullets out of your enemy’s weapon. Here are some examples:

  • Fury

People do not feel good when irrationality goes hand in hand with power. A famous example of using fury to provoke intimidation is the one provided by Nikita Khrushchev who, at a UN gathering, enraged by one of the speakers, went to the podium and hit the table with his shoe while shouting accusations, causing the meeting to end soon after.

Another example is presented by the author: Late in a negotiation but before a price was agreed upon, a possible buyer accepts to meet you at a restaurant you know, and while there asks you for the price of your product. Appearing insulted by your offer, he becomes angry and makes a really uncomfortable scene. No one at the restaurant knows him but there are people who know you and who might think that you really did something to offend him. In doing that, he hopes you are intimidated and you will lower the price in order to avoid future embarrassment.

  • Crying

There is no need to say that bursting into tears can usually trigger a powerful emotional response in the people around. In the book the author describes the way an employee managed to not get fired from the company he worked for by crying every time he felt a discussion about ending the cooperation will begin. The managers passed the responseability to one another and the employee kept his post.

  • Remaining silent

This is a more subtle emotional tactic but equally powerful. It can take many forms: being silent in a discussion, not responding to an email or text message. This tends to cause the other person to think of a lot of things he may have done wrong and sometimes provide more information than they were initially inclined to share.

  • Making others feel guilty

This tactic is one of the very few Win-Lose tactics that can appear even in close relationships (example teenage kids and parents, close friends that want something really bad). But it does not end here: there are a lot of bosses who, when confronted with a request for a salary raise, begin to tell the employee about the real issues they face trying to keep the business afloat. The author also presented a story about a salesman who kept a loud pocket-watch in an interior chest pocket, and, when asked about the noise he replied it is his pacemaker.

Other tactics include laughing, subtle threatening (but without taking action) or sudden retreat.

4 Concessions as a sign of weakness

Usually the “Win-Lose” negotiators stand firm on their positions and they do not really see the value of giving up something for the greater good. On the contrary, since the thing they value most is a show of strength, they will never give up something they think it useful to the other part. This is why making a concession in the hope that they will respond similarly is a mistake. In their eyes this will look like an act of weakness and they will soon ask for more. History is filled with such examples, and we do not need to look forward that the last century to see how some powerful states used the information presented by their negotiation partners against them.

5 Ignoring time limits

We already talked about the importance of time in the negotiation in a previous article. Many times those “Win-Lose” negotiation players are masters of this aspect of the negotiation. They will always try to make you think that they have all the time in the world. Basically, they will really focus on the negotiation terms when the deadline approaches, or, as exemplified in the book, even after the deadline expired. They use time as another way to bully their opponents.

II When Win-Lose will not work and how to protect against it

There are some cases when win-lose will probably not be used:

  • when there is a continuous relation between the two parts. In this case a catastrophic defeat of an opponent can leave a stain on the relationship, and the next time the two parts met, the defeated one may want revenge and go for a lose-lose strategy.
  • when a transaction is made between honest people that even if they win they will not feel well if they knew they were not fair-play;
  • In order for win-lose to work the victim has to be naive and taken by surprise. If you can identify the traits presented in this article you will be very hard to manipulate in this way.

How can we protect ourselves from Win-Lose negotiators

  • The best thing will be not to involve with such persons. Keep in mind that this tactic is working only one time, so if you are dealing with people or companies who put their reputation on the line, chances they will use back-stabbing tactics are lower. On the other hand, if this is not the case and you feel you are dealing with an aggressive negotiator, the best thing to do is to remember there may be other options and there is no need to enter their game;
  • If it is too late to leave the deal or you do not have another option, then the best way is to impose the “Win-Win” approach. Try to find out what your negotiation partner really wants and think of a way you will both get what you desire.

In the next article we will discuss more about the “Win-Win” strategy and how to put it in practice.