Responding to Distributive Tactics (“Dirty Tricks”)

by Prof. Daniel Z. Levin, Rutgers University




Possible Responses

1.  Good Cop/
Bad Cop

“You don’t want to deal with Bob; he plays hardball. Maybe you and I can work something out.”

·        Recognize silently and ignore it

·        “Do you two need to take a moment to coordinate? I’m hearing two different things.”

·        Ask for an objective standard

·        Respond with humor: “I thought Bob was going to be the good cop and you were supposed to be the bad cop.”

2.  Emotional Intimidation

Showing anger


Creating guilt


·        Be soft on people, hard on problem (i.e., be sympathetic to feelings, but no concessions on issues in exchange)

·        “Reflect” the emotion back with tentative statements like, “It sounds like you’re upset.”

·        Wait it out quietly; silence

·        Take a break

3.  Lowball (or Highball) Offer

$7,000 stated price for a Turkish rug worth $2,000

·        Ask for justifications

·        Reciprocate with an opposite extreme

·        Ignore it

4.  Opening with a “Take It or Leave It” Offer

“Let’s not waste our time haggling back and forth, just to end up in the middle. Our offer is in the middle where we would have ended up anyway and is fair to both sides [sure it is! —DL]. Take it or leave it.”

·        Emphasize the value of  voice/buy-in, especially if implementation is key

·        Provide evidence that people negotiate in this situation

·        Ask them to explain their deal, thereby opening up negotiations

·        Reciprocate with a counter final offer

·        Evaluate the deal vis-à-vis BATNA and accept or reject it

·        Here is why I am the exception; here is why you should deal with me

·        Go to the media: “They’re not bargaining in good faith. They won’t even listen to our concerns.”

5.  Exploiting the Trappings of Power

Big desk

Chairs of different heights

Judicial robes; uniforms

·        Relocate to more neutral setting

·        Recognize and ignore it

·        Review planning document to refocus on what’s important

6.  Increasing an Offer’s Appearance of Legitimacy

“That’s our policy.”

Slick brochures describing their offer

·        Ask for reasons

·         “This situation is an exception, because….”

·        Reciprocate: “Well, my policy is….”

·        Preparations; know your stuff

·        Deal with policy maker

·        Tell them that their competition does this

·        Point out unintended negative consequences caused by the policy


7.  Pretending to Have Limited Authority

“I’m going to have to run this deal by my manager.”

·        Ask to deal directly with the decision maker

·        Ask about decision maker’s interests (e.g., accountant worried about cash flow), then repackage the deal accordingly

·        Reciprocate (e.g., spouse, business partner, boss)

8.  Playing a Game of Chicken

“We will only give you pay raises in the form of profit sharing, not guaranteed annual raises. So go ahead and strike; we’ll just close down the plants and move production elsewhere.”

·        Look for creative ways around it (either jointly with the other side or behind their back)

·        Resist on principle (“I never yield to pressure, but I’m happy to focus on the merits of the issue.”)

·        Look for ways to get them to refocus on interests

·        Call their bluff

9.  Lying about Priorities

E.g., E.g., “If I accept this job offer, I’d really like to work in your Atlanta office, although—in exchange for better benefits—I might be willing to consider New York [actually, I secretly prefer New York].”


·        Make multiple equivalent offers at the same time and then infer their priorities

·        Ask for reasons

10. Nibbling

“Your price for the suit sounds fine. Why don’t you just throw in a tie to go with it.”

·        Reciprocate with a counter-nibble

·        Offer to re-open negotiations

·        If long-term relationship exists, maybe give a concession now in the hopes of getting a future concession in return