Time-tested tactics triumph

Everyone negotiates. Some might like it, others love it, some may even do it for a living, but the facts are we all negotiate. We start as babes in arms negotiating with our parents for food, or attention. Later on we negotiate when we purchase something or when we want someone to do something for us.

If a Roman soldier from the reign of Caesar sat opposite us at the negotiating table there is little reason to believe that the methods he would use are any different to those we employ in negotiation today.

Large FMCG companies spend vast sums training their sales and buying teams on what are perceived as highly advanced negotiation skills programs that would enable them to have a go at negotiating peace in the Middle East, but miss the point when you are trying to sell cans of beans to a buyer at Tesco or 3663, or get a better price from Cadbury’s or Mars, because they are too complicated and confuse the students.

Simplicity is the key and understanding a few simple facts around the science of persuasion helps enormously. Persuasion is that core ability to convince someone that what you want is the right course of action. Robert Caldini wrote a fascinating book called ‘Yes! 50 Secrets of Persuasion’. Through research Caldini discovered that in order to navigate through a world of ‘information overload’ people need shortcuts. These shortcuts are essentially a set of decision triggers deeply rooted inside us all. A communication that contains one of these triggers is likely to be more persuasive than one that doesn’t. In his research Caldini found that we tend to use just a few of these triggers and he calls them the six universal principles of influence and persuasion.

They are:

1. Reciprocity: People feel obliged to give back to others the forms of behaviour that they have received from them

2. Scarcity: Goods and services seem more valuable when they are scarce

3. Authority: We have a deep seated respect for people in authority, and authority comes in many guises such as experts, law enforcers, teachers and bosses

4. Consistency: We like to remain consistent with decisions that we have previously made

5. Social Proof: When we are not sure of something, we look to others to find out what they have done. This helps us justify our decisions in the future.

6. Liking: We prefer to say yes to people we like.

Caldini’s book describes a series of experiments that his team did to understand how these principles could be used to improve the chance of winning in a negotiation.

These principles are also used in common negotiation tactics. We have all heard of ‘Good Guy – Bad Guy’ and this tactic uses two of the principles. The use of tactics in negotiation is common place and the first thing to remember is that you can use them on others but others can also use them on you. So be careful.

The use of negotiation tactics relies on two things. First it relies on predictable behaviour. In other words, if I know how you will react in a given situation or on hearing a piece of news then I could probably successfully use a negotiation tactic. So don’t be predictable. The second thing to remember is to ensure that the other person doesn’t recognise your using a negotiation tactic.

Another great book on the subject of negotiation is ‘The Negotiation Game’ by Chester Karrass. Chester states that “In life you don’t get what you deserve you get what you negotiate”. A true statement if ever there was one.

There is not space in this article to go into detail about the range of tactics that can be used, but following is a list of the names of some negotiation tactics that are commonly used:

Atom Bomb



Trial balloon or Low Balling

Take me to your boss

My boss is an ogre

Salami – Building Block Technique


Tea chest oxo cube


False concession


Cherry picking

Divide Rule

Why …. Why…..Why…..Why

Dentists Handshake

Funny Money

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