Influencing tactics – how important are they?

I am often asked about influencing skills and tactics to secure a positive outcome for a negotiation.

I can understand the reasons for these enquiries. After all there are countless books and training programs on offer that claim to teach the secrets of universal success. Few things sound as attractive and valuable as having the “magic bullet” for negotiations.

As regular readers of my blog will have realised by now – magic negotiation bullets don’t exist. Those that pretend to have these are closely related to the old fashioned snake oil sellers that used to roam medieval markets and the Wild West. At best these remedies were placebos, giving their buyers piece of mind. At worst they caused serious damage to the buyer.

The truth is – influencing techniques or negotiation tactics, often also known as negotiation gambits, are typically overrated in the context of fee or other relationship based negotiations. No technique or tactic can replace fundamental negotiation preparation and planning. Nothing can replace good basic techniques. These include setting effective vetoes and targets,  delivery of a strong opening position, flinching, concession trading, or the application of creativity. This is especially the case when the tactic is intended to “get one over” one’s counterpart.

Besides potentially causing resentment in the short term these, often manipulative techniques, will undermine a negotiator’s reputation and credibility, causing long term problems. They rarely achieve an optimal outcome. The list of such techniques is long and varied and includes such favourites as “the exploding offer”, “the red herring/decoy” or “the Russian front” gambits. My personal favourite is the “Noah’s Ark gambit (we have a better offer)” – so old that Noah had to take two on board. Others include artificially short deadlines and“good cop – bad cop”. For a more extensive list see Chapter 13 of my book High Impact Fee Negotiation and Management for Professionals.

One of the biggest issues associated with these is that they typically require extensive practice to be delivered effectively, something that the average negotiator typically lacks.

The best argument in favour of including these in a negotiation training programme is to help attendees recognise when these techniques are being used against them and how to take appropriate countermeasures.

There are however a set of influencing techniques and gambits that are intended to help a negotiation- These include creating rapport, building trust, brainstorming, information exchange, joint problem solving and others. Not all of these can be used all the time but the use of some of these will help move a negotiation forward and is likely to improve the outcome. I encourage attendees of my programmes to look for opportunities to use these. Although they will not guarantee success, they will contribute to better outcomes – but only if used in connection with those boring fundamentals – preparation and planning – the best of all influencing techniques and tactics.

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