The psychology behind intimidation tactics when negotiating – and how to counter them

Woman presenting to team members, negotiating

Article by Gabriele Rehbock

As a weathered female salesperson, I have experienced many potentially intimidating business situations which taught me an important lesson: It is first and foremost my own mindset that makes a difference by me simply not allowing other people to have a negative impact on me.

Great preparation makes always a good first level of defence. Hence, my first secret lies in how I prepare for a negotiation by being on top of all relevant facts and data. But I also look at negotiations as a kind of “stage performance” and seek inspiration from how professional actors prepare for their performances. For example, right before entering the performance, I practice “conscious breathing” (You exhale longer than you inhale) to calm my nerves. I visualise success, lift my arms and hold still in a victory (power) posture to boost my confidence.

People tend to repeat behaviours. Hence, I go fully equipped into client meetings with known culprits: I carry a bottle of water or a mug filled with warm tea or have an extra sweater in my bag for those who think they can make me shiver in a cold conference room. Do you think this is exaggerated? Can you believe it: One day, a peek into the buyers’ “cheat sheet” revealed to me that even the question of whether they should service mineral water or coffee was part of their negotiation strategy discussion.

Another important lesson I learned throughout my career, is that none of this is personal. It has nothing to do with who I am or who you are. It is part of their game. It’s how they do business. Period.

Let me detail a few of the more common intimidation tactics. For example, a meeting has been set up. You arrive timely and then the other party lets you wait at the reception desk. They are playing with time as a common tactic to show the “guests” that the inviting party has more important things to attend to. I recommend that you carefully reflect upon your position and make a conscious decision about how long you are willing to wait. Personally, sometimes I just pull out my tablet and pretend to work. On other occasions, I send a text message to my contact suggesting to re-schedule the meeting. All of this intending to send “I have other things to do as well” signals. Whatever you do, it is important not to let yourself get negatively impressed by such a waiting period. And make sure that you keep your energy level high.

The next powerplay may take place when you enter the conference room. Make sure you take up enough space. Literally, you watch out for where in the conference room you get seated and figuratively, that the other party does not dominate the meeting overly in speech and behaviours (dominance postures). A simple trick that helps when the discussion gets out of control is to ask for a bio break. The women’s toilet has often been my best ally allowing a tactical ‘time-out‘ which gives everyone a moment to cool down.

Other common but almost invisible tactics refer to timings and deadlines. It is hard to always recognise them. For example, a client pressures you to deliver a response within 24 hours and subsequently, you must work nightshifts to deliver your proposal. This creates a situation of mental stress to which the brain reacts with risk aversion. Consequently, you focus overly on satisfying the other party’s request to the detriment of your own potential gains. It would be wise to re-negotiate the deadline – if you can. If you are not in a position to do so, then start your work with a quick listing of the absolute mandatory elements that you must attend to for your own benefit. These will ensure that your proposal caters to both, your client’s requests and your own needs.

The other time-related tactic is delay: Someone makes you wait for a response. Imagine a situation where you do not receive feedback on the date previously agreed. You get nervous that you may have lost the pitch and you can hardly resist the urge to pick up the phone to improve your offer.

The stress in this situation comes from the feeling of uncertainty. Buyers tend to believe that losing a business or a pitch is a seller’s biggest fear. Hence, whether you make the call or not, it is important to remind yourself that this uncertainty may have been artificially created to push you into improving your offer.

Emotions such as fear or anger are bad companions in any negotiation. But there is one other emotion that I consider even more treacherous: Relief. Relief is the typical reaction to a bad cop, good cop tactic where you are facing two negotiation parties working hand in hand against you. One is playing the aggressor, tearing your offer apart and then rushing out of the room. The other party shows sympathy and stays to offer a helping hand in the improvement of your offer so it will become more acceptable. It is almost inevitable for any human being not to feel relief and gratitude for the helping hand, with a high risk that this will lure you into making unnecessarily high concessions.

Intimidation can come in many more forms and facets. The one thing to remember is that the better you understand and handle your own emotional reactions, the lesser the impact of any tactic other parties may decide to play on you.

Gabriele RehbockAbout the author

Gabriele Rehbock is a global sales expert and the author of new book The Invisible Game – The Secrets and the Science of Winning Minds and Winning Deals published by WILEY.

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