15 Dirtiest Negotiation Tactics and How To Counter Them Successfully

By Simi
15 Dirtiest Negotiation Tactics and How To Counter Them Successfully

As a businessperson, one of the most common occurrences you will ever face in your day-to-day activities is negotiations. Dealing with negotiation should be as easy as saying ‘yes’ or no depending on how good the deal is, right? In a perfect world, sure, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Being in the business, you should have your own back first, but at the same time, the customer shouldn’t feel ripped off. This shouldn’t be much of a problem since a good negotiator won’t want to eat into your profits, rather reach what, to them, seems like a fair bargain. However, you will often run into customers who intend nothing less than malice.

Customers who only have their best interests at heart will use different kinds of psychological attacks on you in order to get what they want. This may sound silly because there’s no way such an approach could be effective. You’ve been in the business too long, you know all the ins and outs, the crooks and crannies that crooks use to steal your money.

That’s what most people like to think, but at the end of the day, they become unsuspecting victims of sophisticated attacks on the psyche. At the same time, even if you do recognize such attacks, a customer is a customer as long as they’re willing to pay enough. You don’t just want them to walk away. You can now see the dilemma this puts you in.

To be fair, that may be too much credit on the would-be negotiator’s part and too little on the average American’s – a bit of an overstatement. Anecdotally, the commonplace of such dirty tactics is growing and the trend likely won’t slow down anytime soon. The sooner you learn to recognize them and root them out, the less the chances you’re going to fall prey to them.

The left at the altar tactic

A negotiation is essentially a confrontation of emotions. In such a situation, the brain’s fight or flight mechanism is usually triggered. People who aren’t used to negotiation will often feel a sense of discomfort when attempting to negotiate the price of a commodity. This is the brain’s defense mechanism against getting harmed which may lead to a feeling of psychological trauma.

Negotiators will often take advantage of this mechanism, especially when they realize the person they are negotiating with is an amateur. The ‘left at the altar’ technique is when the person negotiating threatens to leave or makes movements that suggest they’ve lost interest in the negotiation. This is in order to prompt you, a seller desperate to move his wares, to concede and accept a price much lower than you intended.

Take the example of a car salesman attempting to move cars. He’ll set up his price, and the buyer, being a shrewd negotiator realizes he can pitch a price a little lower than what he’s offered. However, he tries to lowball the salesman, who, knowing the car’s value to be more than that, throws a counter-offer. At this point, the negotiator says something along the lines of, “yeah, no thanks. I’m not that interested in getting a car right now anyway.” This is with the hope that the salesman, desperate to sell the car and get his precious commission, will be willing to pitch even lower.

The countermeasure for such an approach is simple: don’t fall for the bait. If he threatens to drop the deal, thank him for the service and let it go through a quiet period. If you feel the buyer might still be interested, resurrect the discussions after about thirty days or when they call back. This time around, the ball is in your court.

Speculated prospective growth

Another common technique and perhaps the most misused is the ‘future sales growth’ technique. This is also similarly used by people who are trying to take advantage of desperate sellers. A prime example goes a little like this: the buyer offers a terribly low price that you normally wouldn’t even bother considering. When you bring this up, he counters you with the old, ‘I’ll bring you lots of customers’ or ‘you will have gained a loyal customer for life.’

The people who suffer the most from such exploitation are those whose work is skill-based rather than time-based. For instance, a digital portrait could cost anything upwards of five hundred dollars. The customer’s complaint? ‘Why should I pay you five hundred dollars for something that took you three hours to finish?’ or ‘I’ll be giving you lots of exposure.’

If they are willing to pay you to begin with or already acknowledge the fact that your work is appreciably good, there’s no need for you to accept such a price. No matter how desperate you are, you aren’t going to feed on ‘exposure.’ There’s a term for such treatment – the call girl principle. It simply states that the value of a given service greatly diminishes once rendered. It’s borrowed from the fact that call girls will always ask for payment before the deed. Most customers won’t feel inclined to pay afterward even though they may have the money.

Dealing with such customers should be fairly easy. If, early on in the project, they seem flaky, demand a deposit from them. Once the job is done, you can then demand they pay you the rest or you will otherwise keep the deposit and fail to submit the work.

Calling a higher authority

This technique is often called upon to create a sense of fear in you, with the hopes that you will back down and give in to the buyers’ demands. This is usually used in conjunction with the buyer talking on a phone or otherwise consulting someone behind the scenes.

The negotiation process should start as usual, with the buyer requesting you to quote a price that they deem fair. If they notice you won’t budge, they will say something along the lines of, ‘I’m not the one paying, though’ or ‘I don’t handle the expenses. That’s what I was told it should cost.’ Most times, this third party doesn’t really exist and the negotiator is simply trying to play the role of a victim.

Most times, such a person is only trying to make you feel sorry for them because of their seeming ignorance. This is all with the hope that you’re going to back down and accept their bargain. Since the likelihood of the outside person is unlikely to exist in the first place, chances are pretty high they are faking pity.

If you’re willing to trust the instinct that the person is actually faking it all, then the best approach to take would be to stand your ground. At which point, you should stop negotiating with the person who has approached you and demand to speak to whoever is in charge instead. If they back down, then your instinct was right all along. If there actually happens to be a third party involved, you can then resume the negotiations with whoever is really in charge. If not, you’re just wasting your time and efforts.

Crunch time

This type of negotiation tactic is usually used by people who feel like they don’t have much to lose from the deal. Regardless of how it goes, they feel like they will have gotten their way one way or the other.

The crunch time tactic involves dismissiveness. Unlike other approaches that usually seem to have some sort of genuine concerns at heart, this method usually comes off as rude. The negotiator first lowers your guard and then attacks you when you least expect it. Normally, they expect to catch you with your guard down so that you will retreat and are therefore more likely to accept their bargain.

Obviously, anticipating such an attack is difficult since always having your guard up makes you seem untrustworthy. Similarly, you may not be able to regain your composure fast enough to counter the attack and you’ll find yourself reluctantly giving in. It may seem too simplistic to work in practice, but you’d be surprised how often such a tactic is used. It’s so widely applied used that if you follow formal debates and negotiations, it’s quite commonplace among professionals. If you’re unlucky enough to find someone who knows their trade, countering them may be pretty difficult.

Since they will likely be watching you for any kind of reaction in order to know whether they’ve had an effect or not, you can use this to your advantage. After they’ve executed the attack, you should either feign shock (or just roll with it if you actually were) and repeat the same offer as before. This is referred to as the ‘flinch technique’ for obvious reasons.

Bring in the dancer

Bringing in the dancer is, in literal terms, a way of bringing in something that serves as nothing more than a distraction. This method works in much the same way the colloquial expression suggests.

It involves the person drifting off into details that won’t necessarily have anything to do with the original discussion. They will often drift off into details that you didn’t ask for or even care about. For instance, if they were negotiating for a dress she likes, they could divert the story over to one of her favorite dresses. This may include details about where and how she acquired the dress, perhaps even for how much, how great the dress was and how she ultimately grew too large to wear it any longer.

Such details are not pertinent to the discussion at the end and are merely meant to distract you from the topic at hand. In fact, if she’s shrewd enough, she might even draw you into her way of thinking. Once again, this also tries to get you to lower your guard and hit you below the belt when you least expect it.

Luckily enough, this kind of approach is easy enough to detect. Once they start deviating from the original topic at hand, something is already fishy. Try not to get too lost in the details they give you, but lend an ear just in case they actually lend a valid point, however unlikely it may seem. Once they are done talking, or if you can’t be bothered to listen, interrupt them and ask what that has to do with the specific offer. You can then get back into actually negotiating the deal.

Re-trading the deal

Re-trading the deal is another kind of technique that you can easily run into in the wild. It’s a technique that’s usually used by people who either didn’t intend to pay to begin with or just want to wring you dry. More aptly, re-trading the deal should be renamed ‘redacting the deal.’

It occurs after you’ve seemingly successfully negotiated a deal with the customer, but just as they are about to leave, they change their mind. At this point, they will try to renegotiate the deal, predictably enough, with even lower rates than before. The thing about this kind of negotiator that makes them so annoying is that they give you a false sense of hope and bring you crashing back down.

More often than not, they will try to redact the deal just as they are making the payment. This will once again put you in a vulnerable position that they will ruthlessly attempt to exploit. In fact, this kind of approach may shift into a ‘left at the altar’ deal if they are willing to call their bluffs.

This is the last step of the well-devised master plan, where you should faithfully call them back and put a new offer on the plate. The simplest way of dealing with this kind of approach is to ignore them. Simply say you aren’t willing to renegotiate your position, and if they aren’t willing to accept that, let them walk away. Someone who is willing to stoop low enough to use this approach likely wasn’t going to stick to the deal anyway. It’s not worth your time and energy to pursue a sale that was never going to be.

The Huntley and Brinkley approach

This technique, just some of the ones mentioned before, is meant to take advantage of the brain’s innate fight or flight principle. Whenever used, the expected reaction is that you’ll give in to the intrusive anxiety and let the bargain go.

This approach involves a tag team between two or more people who will attempt to get you to back down due to the number advantage. Most times, they don’t intend to come off as threatening. However, it does extend into that vague zone at times. It will apply more to people who deal in physical goods over those who prefer to trade virtually.

It may seem crude and borderline illegal to do, because, heck, why not just rob you and get it over with? But in reality, all they want is for you to feel uncomfortable. At which point, you will likely give into the thought of them actually jumping you (or something along those lines).

Unless you’ve dealt with this kind of thing before, you might find yourself in a position where you have no choice but give in to their demands. It may no longer even feel like a negotiation because they are really just threatening you into giving them what they want. The best way to deal with this is to even things out – get someone to help you. Even if they don’t explicitly step in, have them close by so you have some sense of security. This should help you promptly restore your courage. If you feel you can’t handle it altogether, have someone else step in. If you don’t have an immediate backup, have them come another time when you likely will.

The raw deal

This technique seems to encompass a few of the others here, since whoever uses it is just as self-centered as the rest of them are. However, this technique is a bit more extreme than the others (save for the Huntley and Brinkley).

The raw deal approach is when a buyer simply won’t back down and won’t listen to whatever you’re saying. Essentially, it’s their way or the highway. Only in this case, you’re the one supposed to head for the highway. Using this approach, they may keep you occupied even for hours on end. This is with the hope that you will eventually give into their bickering and give them what they want.

Only the truly desperate ever turn to this technique, hence its rarity, but it’s not unheard of. In fact, they will often make themselves seem pitiable to guilt trip you out of your merchandise. Luckily, it’s not all that hard to defend yourself against it.

All you really need to do is ignore them with the hopes that they will go away. Alternatively, if you’re in a position to, you can call someone else to step in and help you out. This may be a second negotiator or even security. If they are really persistent, after all, they may need to be escorted out by use of force. On the other hand, if you’re feeling really humane and the person doesn’t seem like they’re just trying to mooch off you, or they need help, you could help out. Of course, the rule of proportionality should apply. You can’t possibly be expected to give away designer handbags or jewelry for free.

The Gish Gallop approach

If you’ve ever watched amateurs starting out at debating, or if you’ve ever heard of Duane T. Gish, then you’ve likely heard of the Gish Gallop. Often referred to as the fallacy of proof by verbosity, it involves overloading a person with so much information they find it difficult to remember what you said beforehand.

This approach operates much the same way in ordinary negotiations as it would in a professional debate. The person will typically try to overload certain bits of information that they otherwise cannot prove or back up if prompted. For instance, they may attempt to point out how many times they’ve visited before and gotten better prices, how they ran a shop once and would never charge so much, etc.

Sure, it isn’t nearly as effective as some of the others on this list, but you’d be surprised the kinds of things that happen to people when they are caught off-guard. Formally, it’s referred to as spreading. As a good negotiator, you’re expected to wait for the other party to finish speaking before you take your turn. In the process, they will throw more rubbish at you than you may think humanly possible.

The best way to respond to such bias is to be professional about it. Wait for them to finish whatever they have to say and get back into the original conversation. A lot of these points can be similarly reduced to just this one response, but since people act very differently in such situations, it’s impossible to say. However, being calm and as respectful as possible while they mumble on is a great way to deal with it. If you’re fed up, have them go their way.

Roaring brains

Just like bringing in the dancer, this approach is also meant to distract you from what you’re currently talking about. People who tend to use this approach will likely try to make themselves seem smarter than they really are. It involves lots and lots of talking, use of jargon and seeming expertise when they likely don’t know a single thing they are really talking about. In essence, this is just like a regular ol’ snow job, only with more distraction.

Typically, the negotiator will bring in lots of unnecessary information and thoroughly devalue the product based on their own perceived perceptions. Obviously, the said perceptions are all typically biased and you shouldn’t pay much heed to them. For instance, if you’re a designer, you might get a client who tries to compare your work with how they typically do it. They will question your methods and bring out big words and issues you may not even understand. Under all this weight, they try to bear down on you and have you give in to their faux superiority.

Countering such an attack will typically involve the confidence you have in your own skill or product. You may need to do a bit of research before getting back to them, but if you have adequate experience in the field, beating them back should be fairly simple.

Politely but firmly, hand their words back to them and correct them where they are wrong. Similar to the speculated prospective growth approach, you should ask for a deposit beforehand if they seem flaky. On the other hand, don’t hand them the product until you receive the payment in full.


This is easily one of the most common negotiation tactics to come across on a day-to-day basis. To its benefit, though, since it’s terribly overused by people who don’t know much about real negotiation, it’s pretty easy to get around.

It doesn’t warrant much explanation, but usually, a client will offer you an abnormally low price and you’ll have to work to get it back up. For instance, someone will try and offer half the price you originally quoted. This is usually in anticipation of you having intentionally set the price high, to begin with so it’s easy to talk the customer down to the original price. On this end of the spectrum, it’s referred to as highballing and is just as tedious and manipulative as when the customer does it.

However, a casual glance at the problem at hand should easily reveal why this approach is lopsided. Not all sellers intentionally give their commodities exorbitant prices to take advantage of an unknowing buyer. The few that do give a bad name to the rest. However, that doesn’t mean people will stop exploiting this loophole anytime soon.

The only real way to deal with this is to stand your ground. Tell them that your prices are fixed and not open to negotiations. If they are indeed open for negotiations, tell them you can only go so low. Lowballing is easily the typical seller’s least favorite of these methods, but there’s no real way to escape it. Be as it may, you would much rather learn how to deal with obnoxious customers rather than run away. After all, everyone has their own quirks to them.

Bogus “quantity discounts”

Another infamous technique is the ‘quantity discount’ method. It works more or less the same way as the ‘fake referrals’ method. It’s usually meant to exploit unknowing sellers by means of speculated growth without any meaningful data to back up the claims.

A good example would start off with a customer walking into your store and enquires about the price of commodities. On hearing the price, he seems impressed and asks for one or multiple of the same type. Before paying, he asks, ‘so, do I get a discount if I take like three more?’ Most people will look at him confused by the question because the answer is obviously no.

To their benefit, most people don’t understand how the economy of scale works. If you’re in wholesale, you can give off lots of discounts to someone purchasing in bulk. That way, they themselves can also turn a profit when they sell the item. If you’re a retailer, things work much differently. Giving every customer that asks for one a discount will lead to eating up a sizeable chunk of your profits.

Any retailer knows this, so requests for discounts should just be silently laughed off as a joke, not condescendingly, though. If you’re in the mood, you can also opt to educate him on how market equilibrium works. If not, explain to them that you don’t give discounts and everything comes at a fixed price. On the other hand, if you do give discounts, state your own rate because you will likely be lowballed into trying to accept a mediocre rate. In any case, it’s completely up to you.

Fake price comparisons

Yet another common method you will likely come across sooner or later is the fake price comparison. Most people who use this will probably be using numbers that they’ve just plucked out of thin air, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to turn the negotiation over in your favor.

Since this is so common, the chances are pretty high you’ve already run into this argument at one point or another. Once you pitch your price at them, the customer will likely respond with something along the lines of, ‘that’s too much. Joe Blows over there charges half of that’ or ‘that can’t be right. This usually costs just ten bucks.’

At this point, you’re left to wonder why they didn’t head over to Joe Blows’ to begin with if he has such cheap rates and can still turn a profit. On the other hand, does he really expect you to slash your price by half simply because he doesn’t understand how the economy works? It’s pretty simple. Either he’s lying or, well, he’s lying. It’s just a dirty attempt to lowball you.

To deal with such a customer, you don’t even need to actually compare your prices to Joe’s, unless the currency dropped while you were asleep. Don’t speak lowly of Joe’s. Calmly explain to them why you charge as much as you do and your prices are not dictated by what Joe does or doesn’t do. If you’re unlucky enough to run into an overly persistent one, tell them that if they really want such a subsidized rate, only Joe will help them out. Some battles are worth fighting, not others.

Wanting endless “Extras”

At the beginning of a project, the client is supposed to specify exactly what he or she wants to be included in the final package. However, if they start changing their minds about how things were to be done and ask you to add more features, they are likely trying to take advantage of you.

A prime example would be in the web development niche. Once the client gives you specific instructions that you proceed to execute, they should pay you after your done with the work. If you’re paranoid about it, you can ask for a deposit beforehand. If the client then starts to complain about how there’s no blog to accompany the static site, and if you could do it.

The endless extras client usually also belittles your value at the same time. For instance, asking for additional features, like adding a new page. After all, you just copy-paste some code and change a few things around, right? Whether or not they understand that you get paid for the amount of time you spend doing that amount of tweaking is completely up to you to decide.

If you suspect the client is trying to take advantage of you like this, just outright deny adding anything else to the project. This will probably be accompanied by lots of insults and accusations of you being dishonest. Take it to heart, remain professional and state to them once again that you’d reached an agreement regarding the project before. If he doesn’t agree with your terms, state that you will keep the deposit as payment for what you’ve already done. This should be in addition to withholding the project until the amount is paid in full.


Flinching is an instinctive natural reaction to the threat of physical harm. Oftentimes, though, the same can be said of someone who threatens you in any other way. Basically, it is meant to result in a build-up of discomfort, anxiety and possibly guilt on your part.

Flinching is when the other party reacts with an extremely strong negative physical reaction. This could be gasping for air, looking shocked or confused and acting in a manner that implies your proposal is absurd. Unless the person at hand is a seasoned pro at faking their facial expressions, they should be pretty easy to call out.

The flinch maneuver is basically meant to induce a feeling of guilt for ‘taking advantage of your customers. People who use this are your typical person looking for a cheaper deal than you are probably willing to give. Of course, there’s the possibility that their reaction is real. But that’s unlikely, and even so, it shouldn’t change the fact that they are simply trying to shift the blame onto you.

Dealing with people who use this should be as simple as not paying attention to any irrelevant points they bring up. As they are trying to attack you on an emotional level, you have to be careful not to actually get hooked on what they have to say. Afterwards, give them a sound explanation as to why everything is so ‘expensive’ and that it’s likely the same anywhere else they will try to visit. You can’t be a hundred percent certain of how genuine their reactions are, so try to entertain their efforts. Just like every other customer you deal with, remain calm the whole time you speak.