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  • Writer's pictureAdrien Le Clef

Distributive Negotiation Tactics: what are they and why we use them?

Updated: Jan 30

Negotiation is an essential part of everyday life, from negotiating a salary with your boss to bargaining for a better price at the market. But negotiation is also an art, one that requires a set of skills and strategies to be successful. However, some negotiators resort to distributive negotiation tactics, such as good cop bad cop, artificial deadlines, and even unethical behavior, to try to gain the upper hand. While these tactics may seem effective in a competitive zero-sum negotiation, they also risk creating a vicious cycle of threats and demands which can lead to impasse and distrust.

In this article, we will explore some common distributive negotiation tactics and explain why people use them. Let’s start with a few common ones.


Salami Tactic

The salami tactic is a negotiation tactic that involves breaking down a large demand into smaller, more manageable parts. Negotiators often use this tactic when they know that the other party is unwilling to make a large concession but might be more open to smaller ones. The salami tactic can be effective because it allows negotiators to make progress towards their goals without triggering resistance from the other party. So for example if you are looking to negotiate a bed from a €850 price down to €700. By offering €700, you may get turned down immediately, but if you start with asking for a 10% discount, this could be entertained. Then you follow that up by asking them for a 40€ rebate if you buy the showroom model. This could also be entertained. Then you try and find a scratch on the showroom model and ask them for another €25 rebate. Before they know it, you've nibbled your way down with small concessions, all the way to your intended €700 goal.


Good Cop/Bad Cop

The good cop/bad cop tactic involves two negotiators, one who acts as the "good cop" and one who acts as the "bad cop." The good cop is friendly and empathetic, while the bad cop is aggressive and confrontational. The goal of this tactic is to make the other party feel more comfortable with the good cop and more willing to make concessions.


Cherry Picking

Cherry picking is a tactic that involves selectively choosing information or facts that support your position while ignoring or downplaying information that doesn't. This tactic is effective because it can make the other party more receptive to your arguments and less likely to resist your demands.


Limited Authority

Limited authority is a tactic that involves claiming that you don't have the authority to make certain concessions or decisions, even if you actually do. This can allow you to buy time and think things through more thorougly. But a big watch-out here is the frequency of use. Used too much and people will not want to negotiate with you anymore. They’ll demand someone with authority next time.


The Nibble

The nibble is a tactic that involves making a small, last-minute demand just as the negotiation is about to be finalized. The goal of this tactic is to get the other party to make a small concession that they might not have made otherwise. The nibble can be effective because it takes advantage of the other party's desire to close the deal. This is sometimes referred to as the “one-last-thing” tactic or “the Columbo”. Consider who has the actual time pressure and whether you’re interested in making a last concession conditional to another one?


Deadline

The deadline tactic involves setting a firm deadline for the negotiation to be completed. The goal of this tactic is to create urgency and pressure on the other party to make concessions before the deadline expires. Deadlines can be effective because they can create a sense of finality and a need for closure. Consider asking what happens if the deadline is not met?


Walk Away

The walk away tactic involves threatening to walk away from the negotiation if your demands are not met. This tactic can be effective because it creates urgency and pressure on the other party to make concessions. Be careful on using this one as one must always consider how to get back to the table if used ineffectively.


Negotiation is a complex process, and distributive negotiation tactics are just one part of it. However, understanding these tactics can be a valuable tool in achieving a successful negotiation outcome. Negotiation tactics are used for a variety of reasons, but the most common goal is to achieve a more favorable outcome in the negotiation. The way to do that is to get inside your head and try and create different perceptions of power, pressure or anything else to get you to nudge in their favour. To defuse these tactics, negotiators should have a clear understanding of their own business drivers, objectives and alternatives (BATNA). They should also be made well aware of the existence of different distributive tactics as identifying them when your counterpart is using these tends to defuse them.


If you’re looking on using some of these yourself, always ask yourself: am I in a competitive zero-sum negotiation or a collaborative negotiation? Lastly you should make sure to align this with your internal stakeholders and determine if sacrificing trust is worth the potential gain.

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