Competitive Bargainers

How do you deal with a competitive or positional bargainer? Someone who takes a position, anchors and doesn’t move? These people frustrate us as we look for the magic formula to cause them to make concessions or show flexibility.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula.

Usually, we try to convince them that they should move off of their position. We think of all of the reasoned arguments we can make and hope they will be convinced.

Try something counter-intuitive: instead of focusing on why their position is wrong, focus on trying to get an understanding about why they think they’re right. Show them that you’re open to be persuaded by them. Ask them how they came up with the position. In order to change someone’s mind, we need to first understand where their mind is; it is only when we fully understand their view that we can strategize most effectively to change that view.

Also, once you understand their justification for their position and have shown that you’re open to be persuaded by them, they’re much more likely to be open to be persuaded by you.


How do you know when to interrupt someone? We all want to be polite and let people finish their thoughts. However, if we don’t interrupt the other person they may think that we agree with everything they’re saying. Also, if we let them speak for a long time we may forget our own thoughts.

As a general rule, it’s better not to interrupt. No one likes to be interrupted and the other person may resent the interruption.

If you are worried that they may interpret your silence as agreement, one strategy may be to interrupt at an opportune time and indicate that, “I may not agree with everything you say and I’ll address your comments at the end, but in the meantime, please continue and I won’t further interrupt.” That way, you let the person continue and make it clear that you’re not necessarily agreeing with everything.

If you are worried about forgetting your points, you can write down your thoughts instead of interjecting them; this allows you to track your thoughts while allowing the other person to finish talking.

Taking Breaks

We have a tendency to want to push quickly through our negotiations. Unfortunately, that sometimes means we don’t get the benefit of taking a break.

Taking a break gives us a chance to sit back and consider what we’re doing and to think about whether we’re being pushed into a decision that isn’t ideal.

Taking a break with the other negotiator also gives us a chance to speak to them on a social level. Getting a coffee with the person you’re negotiating with can lead to unanticipated benefits. You start to see each other as people rather than as adversaries; this change in perception can lead to more creative deals.

Expressing Emotions

How can you use emotion to your advantage in a negotiation? One answer is to actually express how you feel, but in a calm, productive, purposeful way. If something is bothering you or upsetting you, say so and talk about it with the other person.

We sometimes think it’s wrong or ‘touchy-feely’ to talk about our emotions, so we hide them and avoid talking about them. But if we do talk about our emotions, others may react positively with a far clearer and more balanced view of what we say and do.

Most people have an internal desire to help others who are distressed and ask for help. When someone expresses distress, the response is generally sympathetic and may generate a supportive response.

Discussing Consequences

People often use threats in negotiations. They threaten the other side with what they’ll do if the other side doesn’t agree with them. “If you don’t like those terms, I’ll walk.” The problem with threats is they often just lead to counter-threats and an escalation of the dispute.

There’s nothing wrong with educating the other side about the consequences of what will happen if a deal isn’t reached, but it’s better to do so in a way that suggests you would prefer not to go that route, rather than presenting it as a threat.

That doesn’t mean you should always tell the other side what you will do if no deal is reached. You should only disclose what you’ll do if it will be more beneficial than harmful. If your plan B is terrible, it’s better to avoid discussion about what will happen if you don’t reach a deal and just focus on the deal itself. Even if your plan B is good, if you reveal it, there is no incentive on their part to give you a higher value than your plan B would provide.

The “Gut Feel” Test

How do you know how much to disclose to the other side in a negotiation and how much to keep close to the vest? Many people think it’s just a ‘gut feel’ test and that you should disclose information if you feel comfortable but you should not if you feel uncomfortable.

The problem with a gut feel test is that your gut may not give you the right answer. You may disclose something that can hurt you or keep confidential something that may have allowed for a great creative deal.

It’s rarely a mistake to disclose information about your interests (your goals and concerns). If you let the other party know your goals and concerns, they may find ways to meet your interests that you hadn’t thought of.

Be Honest

What do you do when the other person in a negotiation asks you something and you don’t know the answer? You can’t be expected to anticipate every question.

Many people are embarrassed when they’re asked a question and don’t know the answer. They may feel the need to either make up an answer or avoid the question. Making up an answer definitely has pitfalls. Avoiding the question may not be much better as it may create suspicion.

The best approach is to be honest. It’s ok to say that you don’t know the answer to a question. You may need time to find out the answer, or you may not be able to get that answer. That’s okay. People appreciate it when you admit that you’re not perfect and don’t know everything. You will come across as genuine, which will be beneficial to your relationship.

You can also indicate that it’s a good question, and that you’d like to reflect and investigate further before responding, to ensure that the response is full and worthy of the question.

Deal or No Deal?

If you walk away from the negotiation, have you failed? Definitely not. Some of the best deals are the ones we don’t make. If you say no and instead, take a course of action that’s better for you than the deal on the table, you’ve made the right decision.

Untrained negotiators sometimes accept deals because they don’t want to fail. They see a deal as a success and no deal as a failure. Others accept deals because they’re bullied into them, or feel the time pressure and say yes just to get the deal done.

These are all bad reasons to say yes. You should only say yes if the proposal that’s offered is better for you than the result if you walk away. Otherwise, saying no is the right thing to do.

Pushy Negotiators

Some negotiators think that they get the best deals by being pushy and waiting for others to cave in.

Sometimes the other side does cave in and the pushy negotiator succeeds in getting what he or she wants. However, a number of things can go wrong if you’re too pushy in a negotiation. First, you may not get a deal when there is a deal that you could have reached. Pushing may push people away. Or a tit for tat reaction may occur, with both sides walking away from the table expecting the other to cave in and neither does. Everyone loses in this situation

Classic reactions to being pushed are pushing back, withdrawing, or locking in defensively.

Also, this style may permanently damage the parties’ relationship. That may or may not seem important in the moment, yet, it may be impactful at a later time.


Are the best negotiators quiet or more talkative? There’s no correct answer to this question. We all have to be comfortable with our own style. If you’re a talker, you may not be comfortable if you just listen. If you’re the quiet type, you won’t feel right if you try to dominate the discussion.

Studies have shown that the most effective negotiators do more listening than less effective negotiators. They gather the information they need while asking probing questions to find out more. Most people like to talk, especially about themselves and what they want. Asking them questions will make them comfortable and allow you to get more information. This can be very helpful in determining your next move in the negotiation. There is an old saying that one rarely learns anything while talking.

Explore Options

Can you negotiate with your wife or husband? Of course! You do it all the time. You decide who cooks, who takes out the garbage, who walks the dog, and what movie you go to. These are real negotiations that require real skill.

Negotiation is not just about giving in or bullying to get your way. Most of us wouldn’t consider bullying our partner about what movie we should go to, yet some of us might consider bullying the other side in a business negotiation. The challenge is in the long-term consequences to the relationship.

That’s not to say that giving in is the answer. Some of us just give in to our partner to avoid a fight. We end up doing things we don’t like and we resent it.

Neither extreme is necessary. In both our personal life and in business, we can explore options and find a solution that meets both our interests and the other person’s.


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