Being the victim of manipulative negotiation tactics sucks.
Luckily, you don’t have to be a victim.
By the end of this article, you will learn the psychology of manipulative negotiation, and how you can defend against them.Always watch out for parties whose interest align against yours
- #1. Feign Disappointment
- #2. Say: “You’ll have to do better than that“
- #3. Say: “Don’t Be So Defensive“
- #4. Invent A Higher Authority That Limits Your Freedom to Concede
- #5. Wrestle Last-Minute Concession With Made Up Last-Minute Problems
- #6. Play Good Cop / Bad Cop
- #7. Let Them Come to You
- #8. Outnumber Them: The Encirclement Tactic
- #9. Get The Last Drops, Before The Champagne Pops (AKA: Nibbling Technique)
- #10. Flinch At The First Number
- #11. Say: “Let’s Avoid Games, What’s Your Bottom Line?“
- #12. Get Angry: The Intimidatory Negotiation
- #13. Pretend to Notice A Defect (“Ooops, I hadn’t seen this, please adjust the price“)
- #14. Assume The Negotiation’s Ended (In Your Favor)
- #15. Empathize To Screw Them Better
- Manipulative Negotiation Psychology
- Go E-Negotiation With More Powerful Negotiators
#1. Feign Disappointment
Power negotiators will purposefully act disappointed during negotiations.
Studies show that looking disappointed is likely to decrease your demands and increase the size of your concessions because you unconsciously feel like you need to give more to re-balance the relationship.
Power negotiators will act like they don’t like your offer even they are very happy.
They do it for two reasons:
1. They can get even happier by faking unhappy and asking for more 2. If they look happy you might decrease your offer or think twice about it
This is especially important on the first offer. As a matter of fact, power movers rarely take the first offer at all.
When they play unhappy, tell them that unluckily there is not so much room on such a good offer of yours.
But if they tell you what they’re looking for you’ll take it to your guys (this is the “higher authority game”, more on it later).
Not strictly about negotiation, but the concept is the same. By not looking impressed Ashton Kutch is keeping his value high.
#2. Say: “You’ll have to do better than that“
Simple technique, the dirty negotiator just says:
Power Negotiator: You’ll have to do better than that
Then he stays silent and waits for you to take a step back and make a concession.
Here is how you answer:
Power Negotiator: You’ll have to do better than that
You: How much better exactly
This way you keep control of the interaction while also avoiding unneeded escalations.
#3. Say: “Don’t Be So Defensive“
This is a sneaky psychological technique partially based on reverse psychology.
In this website’s guide to manipulation, I call this technique “manipulative peace talk”.
They will resort to this when they realize you are not trusting them or that you are not going along with their manipulation.
Then they will tell you not to be so defensive and then maybe crack a joke to relax you.
Power Negotiator: Jake!
You are being so defensive!
Relax my man , we’re just discussing a deal and it’s looking like a great deal for you.
You are basically going to bankrupt us unless we can can get something out of that defensive fortress of yours!
That’s a fake release of tension.
When you accept that tension release and laugh, you are also buying into their frame that the negotiation is going great for you and you need to make more concessions.
Don’t defend by saying you’re not defensive.
If you answer seriously to that sentence, psychologically, you might be pushed into acting more open and trustworthy just to prove them wrong. Instead, say something like:
You: the way you’re dealing with me is causing me to be defensive. And if you want to look into that, I’ll tell you exactly why… “.
Now you’re taking the lead role.
You can always reply with a joke, like:
You: don’t worry mate, since we’re such good friends if things go south for you, you’re always welcome to sleep over at my place. You cook though
Or you can deal with it the dominant way that Putin used against Obama:
#4. Invent A Higher Authority That Limits Your Freedom to Concede
You always know you’re dealing with a clueless, ego-driven muppet when they present themselves as the final authority.
When a sales manager, for example, says he has some “latitude for deciding on price”, you know he has little to no power.
The real power negotiators of this world instead like to present themselves in the guise of a lamb.
They actively pretend they can’t make the final decision by themselves, and they say they need approval from the higher authority above them.
Then they can leverage that (non-existing) higher authority for all sorts of games -including a possible good cop/bad cop games.
A fictitious higher authority affords several advantages, including:
- Allows to delay the negotiation by saying they need to ask their people
- Allows to be tough without looking nasty (they’d be nice if they could, but their bosses are pushing them)
- Allows to play the “last-minute concession game” on you (keep reading)
Here are a few ways to deal with this dirty negotiation tactic:
- pretend you believe him and make a mental check-mark of the game he’s playing;
- say “oh come on, you’re not playing good cop/bad cop with me are you”;
- say “OK, and when do your people meet? I’d love to come by and speak with them too”;
- say “ah please, you’re the expert/director/boss, those guys must always be following your decisions don’t they”
#5. Wrestle Last-Minute Concession With Made Up Last-Minute Problems
98 times out of a 100 a last-minute “problem” to get a last-minute concession is a manipulative negotiation tactic.
They might, for example, OK the transaction and tell you they “just need the final approval from the board”, making it sound like it’s a done deal (notice that the board is the higher authority here).
But then they come back to you saying that the board is being difficult and they asked for a further concession.
When they get back to you with the higher authority game tell them you also need to speak to your people / think it over.
Then get back to them asking for another concession back.
And if they need you more than you need them, you can go for power showdown here.
Here is how you will blindside them:
You: Look Mark, I thought about this, and I really want to hold my side of the deal
But I ran some numbers and I’m getting busier and busier with more demand here and, well.. I don’t like reneging my own word, but with this market I need to charge a 10% more.
Now just because I gave you a different price, I can do 5% just for you. But I need to know by end of the week.
#6. Play Good Cop / Bad Cop
The most famous of the dirty negotiation tactics.
Here are a few scenarios of good cop / bad cop:
- Bad cop is strict, good cop seems more malleable
- Bad cop gets angry and leaves the room while good cop plays friendly
- Good cop says he would give it to you it but his people (higher authority bad cop) don’t allow
Create your own bad cop.
Or pretend you’re falling for it and use it to your advantage to see what they propose / offer.
When the good cop proposes a deal, you will know what’s a good deal for them and you will know what you must not accept.
Here is an example from the movie “Jackie Brown”:
The police officer is playing good cop by creating an external bad cop who’s not even there.
#7. Let Them Come to You
Perceived power is crucial in negotiations because, as research shows, negotiators with more power get more concessions and weaker negotiators give more concessions.
Power is expressed in many ways, for example:
- Come to my office (location)
- I’m only free at X time, good for you? (time logistics)
- I don’t have time this week, call me again next week OK? (who chases whom)
If you can avoid, avoid going to their place or office.
Going to their office is an implied statement that they have more power.
Also, people meeting on their own turf feel more powerful and secure, while you feel less powerful and secure. That will give them an unfair advantage.
Counter-propose your location or say it’s fair to meet middle way.
Also try never to chase too hard unless you’re aware and willing you are giving away power and/or you’re doing it as part of an overall strategy.
#8. Outnumber Them: The Encirclement Tactic
Negotiations, especially in the beginning, are often perceived as a power tug of war.
And when manipulative negotiators show up outnumbering you, that can easily put you on the back foot.
Especially if they sit all together on one side of the table or, even worst, they sit around you, they are going for an antagonistic frame of “us, many VS you, alone” (Robert Greene refer to the psychologically devastating effects of encirclement in “The 33 Strategies of War“).
But also watch out if one sits near you while the other sit in front as that might be the game plan of playing bad cop (in front of you) and good cop (besides you).
You: I was expecting to see youm Mark, why did you come with two friends
Power Negotiator: They are also interested and they were free, so here we are, let’s sit down now, shall we
You: Look, instead of playing negotiation games, I’d rather find a win-win approach, fair enough?
If you are feeling particularly bold and you know for sure there is no point for more people to be involved, this can also be a valid approach:
You: look, I have been in touch with you Mark, and if you don’t mind I prefer speaking with just one person. The more we are, the more complicated it gets and I like to keep things simple.
(looking at the extra people)
I know a wonderful restaurant I can recommend to you guys
The last line is such a sweet power move, isn’t it :).
#9. Get The Last Drops, Before The Champagne Pops (AKA: Nibbling Technique)
You know the feeling when you are nearing a solution and signature time is coming?
Finally, you can release the tension, sit back, chill… And maybe go with the guys for a beer.
That’s when you let down your guard and start looking forward to finally wrapping things up, and maybe celebrate.
And it’s right there and then that the most manipulative negotiators will try to squeeze the last drops.
They might say:
Dirty Negotiator: Oh, by the way, you will repaint the walls before leaving right?
If you say “no” or that it’s not the right time to add any more clauses, they might try to make it look like it was “obvious” that you had to do it.
Dirty Negotiator: Oh come on man, we didn’t discuss it because it’s standard procedure, everyone does it.
I have no words to express how much I dislike this game and the people engaging in it.
There are several ways you can counteract this highly manipulative negotiation technique.
Much of it comes down to frame control.
You: Not true at all, you say everyone, but everyone who?
Where I come from nobody does and nobody asks for it.
So don’t be a Grinch now that we’re almost done.
- Smile as if they were joking;
- Tell them they’re getting an awesome deal as it is and that’s it;
- Tell them that after that dirty power move the lunch right after the signature is on them. But if they hurry to sign you’ll be nice enough to still toast with them.
Then smile and wait
#10. Flinch At The First Number
Power negotiators will sometimes “jump” at your first ask price or offer.
That’s called “the flinch”, and it’s a strong nonverbal reaction that communicates the following:
Power mover: are you crazy with that number? Please come down immediately
And when you come down immediately, you lose both power and credibility.
Here is an example of the flich:
Of course, the good power negotiator will rarely go for the dramatic flinch because the dramatic version is offensive towards you and/your product and it’s a big rapport breaker.
The best negotiators have high emotional intelligence, and they will do more subtly.
For example, they’ll pause for a second, look a bit flustered and pensive, as if they were thinking “damn, I really wanted to make this deal, but with that crazy price… “.
And then, they do the unexpected.
They compliment you and build you as they subtly pull the flinch on you.
Something like this:
High EQ Negotiator: Hmmm.. I can see why you can ask for that much. It’s a great service, I’m a big fan. I really want to find a way to work with you…
See the manipulative game being played here?
They are buttering you up and building rapport while making it easy for you to lower the price without losing face (see Dale Carnegie on saving people’s face).
It’s the poor negotiator who criticizes you or your services in an effort to lower your price (see “low ball technique” for the science and a complete walk-through).
Do NOT renege your first offer right away after their flinch or they will have you.
Instead, ask what they had in mind, then flinch back (power negotiations can be funny, eh? :).
And if they butter you up, say
Thank you, thank you, I’d also love working with you, so I hope you can find a way to pay the fair price so that we can start right away.
#11. Say: “Let’s Avoid Games, What’s Your Bottom Line?“
If you thought that “no game” and “game” are antithetic, you’re right.
A common dirty negotiation tactic is indeed to pretend they don’t want to play any games and that they don’t even want to negotiate.
So please, just tell them your last price so you can all save some time and, maybe, get to work.
But of course, this can easily be a manipulative negotiation tactic to get you close to your bare minimum so that they can negotiate from a position of power.
A similar technique is to pretend that they are about to sign with a competitor of yours.
But before signing with that other vendor, they’ll come to you and “give you a last-minute chance” by saying:
“Could you please give me your absolute bottom line?”
They frame it as if they don’t have time, so you can give them your best offer and maybe snatch a customer away from your competitor.
But often, there was no other competitor they were just about to sign with.
- Say that the official price tag is already super attractive;
- Tell them you are to start with another customer and if they want your service they should hurry at the offered price;
- Give them a price which is very near the official price tag
#12. Get Angry: The Intimidatory Negotiation
Studies show that bursts of anger can provide more concessions to the angry yeller.
This works especially for negotiators who are more powerful than their victims.
When powerful negotiators get angry, the less powerful party demands less value regardless of the appropriateness of the expressions of anger (Van Kleef, 2007).
Bursts of anger work in part like acting disappointed: we feel that the relationship is unbalanced and we must give to rebalance it.
But when it’s a powerful negotiation who uses it, it functions as a dominance power move: it generates concessions out of fear and it can increase the perceived power of the angry party (a weak party usually does not get angry).
P.S.: Adelyn Birch rightly points out that anger outbursts are also an emotionally abusive technique that abusive partners and power-obsessed partners -most often men- use to control relationships.
Stay unflustered and make a mental note they are dirty negotiators and you can’t trust them.
Then look at them with icy control and say
You: I’d rather keep things calm and respectful. Hopefully, you can manage to keep your emotional outbursts in check.
Or simply yell right back at them.
#13. Pretend to Notice A Defect (“Ooops, I hadn’t seen this, please adjust the price“)
The dirty negotiators will string you along until the end of the negotiation.
And then, maybe right in front of the notary, they will come up with a problem in the contract they had “failed to notice”.
At that point, they will try to get one last (big) concession from you to go ahead and sign.
This technique leverages the psychological bias of sunk costs.
Since you have already invested so much time in the interaction, you might be willing to give one last concession simply not to “waste” all that time.
- Tell them the issue is already priced in;
- If you want to try to avoid an escalation, tell them that if they drop the games lunch is on you right after the signature (then feel free to go your own way)
#14. Assume The Negotiation’s Ended (In Your Favor)
A typical sales technique is that of assuming the sale.
And there is a similar power move in negotiations.
It consists of “moving past the negotiation” by starting to talk about the details of the service or product instead of the details of the deals.
Dirty Negotiator: When would you like to move in
Dirty Negotiator: Can you start tomorrow
The technique also works in negotiations.
But of course, when you start to discuss the deal as an already foregone conclusion you are giving a lot of your negotiation power.
Here is an interesting example of the last job interview I took, which I took because this website still needed to grow and because I wanted to test out some negotiation theories):
We hadn’t even finalized compensation and he’s jumping to “starting right away”.
Then he tries to make me go to their place at their time (logistics power move) and takes for granted I’m cool with everything (assuming the end of negotiation).
And even adds the busy power move -“unfortunately can’t earlier“.
If you’re interested in their offer don’t play offended and don’t say you haven’t decided yet because you don’t want risk souring the relationship with a possible employer.
I recommend you say something like this:
You: yeah I look forward to it, but before we get there I would like to focus on the details of the deal here.
We were talking about…
Alternatively, if you got leverage, you can go to the high-risk counter-power move, which is to refuse.
Refuse, but leave that door ajar, just enough for them to change tune and “try to change your mind”, which will turn the tables and give you all the power.
If you have leverage, the walk-away gambit will lay bare all your power in the negotiation, and you will often see a big U-turn on their side and you can negotiate from a position of power.
See their reply:
What a U-turn eh?
Now with that, all the power is on my side.
But by that time he had already burned himself and I never replied.
#15. Empathize To Screw Them Better
Another highly manipulative negotiation technique you must be aware of is that of the (fake) empathizer.
This is what Chris Voss talks about in “Never Split the Difference” as a hostage negotiator.
Voss is the representative of a psychological revolution in the way that modern host-negotiators approach criminals.
The new breed of negotiators don’t chest-thump but instead listen to the kidnappers’ woes, let them vent and empathize.
The empathizer is the most lethal technique when you are desperate or at your worst because that’s exactly when you need the empathizers the most.
Imagine you are negotiating your severance package after you have been fired.
Your boss now is gone, and it’s just you and the HR representative (now playing a sort of good cop game).
HR: I’m sorry, you are such an esteemed person around here.
How do you feel
Maybe they will add:
HR: We are aware that your manager has some issues.
Then you complain about your boss, and they will be all ears. They will say that unluckily they have been powerless in booting your manager. Hopefully, things will change soon, they hint.
Now you’re so happy that your bad boss will be getting the boot soon.
Then maybe they say they know you bought a house, hinting at your mortgage.
They ask how do you feel about that, and if you think you’ll find a job soon.
And then they close the circle:
HR: I have some a good network in town with other recruiters, let’s do a lunch soon
Boom: now they set up reciprocity and with the hint of future help you’re also careful of not being overly aggressive in negotiation as that might jeopardize their help (which might never materialize, BTW).
Understand that some negotiations are win-lose, and your job is to make the other party the loser.
To insulate yourself, a good technique is to smile but, deep down, to consider everyone across the table an enemy (a fun read to get into that mindset: What Would Machiavelli Do).
Manipulative Negotiation Psychology
And here are a few more manipulative negotiation tactics based on psychology, emotional intelligence and social skills:
- The Negotiator… Who’s Just So Like You
Schmoozing and small talk is all good and that’s how you should start negotiations.
But if you notice a bit too much mimicking of your body language, a few too many commonalities and a faster than usual personal disclosure, then watch out: they can all be used for manipulation.
It’s great to like people, but focus on the ball (ie.: the transaction).
- The Gift-Giving Manipulator
Another manipulative technique is to leverage our inborn tendency to reciprocity.
The problem is that our natural tendency to give back does not differentiate much between “sizes of giving”.
Thus buying you the menu lunch will make you soften on that 5% price you’re discussing for your house.
But the former is worth 10 Euros, the latter is worth 10.000 Euros.
Focus on the transaction, and don’t let anyone buy you lunch (“despise the free lunch”, says Robert Greene).
- The Manipulative “Fair Negotiator”
Research shows that around half of cooperative negotiators are actually wolves in sheep’s clothing.
The manipulative negotiator here will say something like: “I’m just looking for a fair deal”.
Or: “I only do win-win deals” and maybe they’ll even drop some Stephen Covey quote on you.
Whenever I hear those sentences my alarm bells go off, and I recommend you also raise your levels of alertness.
- The Inspirational Negotiator
Any crap of “rebirth”, “change”, “opportunity”… They are true actually. But only if they come from friends and people who care about you.
Not from the people you are negotiation with:
Here is a rule of thumb: whenever you are negotiating something important where money or your future is at stake, treat it as a cold business transaction.
- The Complimenter
Finally, if they compliment you for your negotiation skills or for the deal you got, be careful.
They might be happy with the results and simply want to make sure you stick with the agreement.
Research indeed shows that employees follow through on the agreement and stay longer on the job not based on what they negotiated, but based on how they feel about the negotiation (the objective value of subjective value).
Highly informed HR personnel knows this, so consider that the final negotiation sweetener might actually be poison.
More manipulative negotiation techniques from the forums:
- The pity play
- Honey-deal trap
- Fake self-disclosure to acquire juicy information (example from my neighbor)
- Using indirect threats to gain a discount (example from ThePowerMoves.com)
- How to pitch 2 employers against each other for higher salary
Go E-Negotiation With More Powerful Negotiators
Be aware that when there is a power differential in-person meetings tend to bring that power differential to full fruition.
This includes both negotiation power and social power which is expressed, for example, through hard questioning, bullying tactics and pressuring.
What to do then?
Well, studies show that electronic communication tends to produce more equitable outcomes when there is a power disparity.
Croson, the researcher, says:
In particular, the electronic medium “levels the playing field” between
stronger and weaker negotiators
Electronic communication is also better for people who are not as experienced, not as aggressive and/or not as good at thinking on their feet.
Please don’t be the idiot who pounds his chest… And then pays through his nose for his ego-thumping.
Understanding negotiation power dynamics is crucial to your success… In pretty much any life endeavor.
Self-help guru like to say that to become a billionaire you must help a billion people. But that’s only one side of the coin, so don’t be a Pollyanna about it.
There are also plenty of rich men who got rich screwing up a billion people.
Research and real-world evidence shows that an adversarial approach to negotiation can be counterproductive.
And that’s why the most insidious power negotiators often use a more manipulative approach than one purely based on dominance.
This article showed you the game they play and how you can protect yourself.
You can read more at:
And of course:
This is a preview of Power University.
Power University the complete course that will insulate you from all manipulation and power moves.