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Dealing with a Cut-throat Negotiator


The Black Swan Method™ was originally designed for the cut-throat negotiator. Check out this quick clip to learn how to deal with these folks (and keep reading through to the end of the article for a bonus tip): 


Cut-throat negotiators are predators—just like international kidnappers and terrorists. They aim to identify your weaknesses and then exploit them.

There are three keys to responding to a cut-throat:

  1. Deference: The secret to gaining the upper hand in a negotiation is giving the other side the illusion of control. You do this with deference.
  2. Tactical Empathy™: Tactical Empathy needs to be interwoven throughout your negotiation and must be used as the precursor to assertion.
  3. Mastering no: Saying no to assert yourself and gain the upper hand.

Does your negotiation strategy fit their personality? Use this guide to  negotiate successfully with anyone »

The Power of No

Let’s start with mastering no. This is letting them hear no ... and getting them to feel it, too—sometimes without actually saying it. For the best results, deference and Tactical Empathy have to be interwoven through your approach. 

Ned Colletti, the former general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers (they went from worst team to best  his first year there) says “I like to let out ‘no’ a little at a time.”

A great many cut-throat negotiators won’t let up until you’ve said no twice, and really meant it. They’ve actually been trained to do that. Hearing no twice indicates that they’ve done their job correctly.

You can’t change the fact that they don’t pay any attention to what their negotiation style does to the long-term relationship. They will remain oblivious to it, whether intentionally or by the default nature of their role.

Cut-throat negotiators are just going to pound you or threaten you either overtly or subtly until you squeal. And squeal twice. Or at least until they felt that you have.

So, instead of squealing, simply master the art of saying no deferentially — instead of painfully. Let them feel it. Let them perceive it firmly.  

This is one of the reasons How am I supposed to do that? works so well and so often.  Sprinkle in the other phases of no as needed: 

  • I’m sorry that just doesn't work for me.  
  • I’m sorry, I’m afraid we don’t do that.
  • And finally, No. 

And you will be fine.

The Cut-throat Negotiator’s Weaknesses

Frequently, the cut-throat’s weakness is their need for control. And they also need to feel they’ve gotten the best price possible. That’s the key word there: feel.  

As a kidnapping negotiator, my bosses used to ask me a variation of the same question all the time: When will they release the hostage?  

My answer? As soon as they feel they’ve gotten everything they can

This doesn’t mean that they actually ended up with the best deal. Just that they felt they did.

How stupid is that? We’re actually talking about a kidnapper's feelings! How did the kidnapper feel about the deal?!

So, do what you need to do to make your cut-throat counterpart feel it sooner.  

They want to feel in control. Use deference. Even say to them: Wow. You’re in control here.  You really have the upper hand.

I used to say that to State Department people overseas all the time when they would remind me (after I’d given them direction) that they were in charge.  

I’d say to them, OK. You’re in charge, and then I’d tell them what to do. They’d get a happy smile on their face and then do whatever I asked.

They lusted for the feeling of control. There’s a reason lust is one of the seven deadly sins.  

Conquer Cut-throats with Tone of Voice

A deferential approach really comes across in tone of voice. The late-night FM DJ voice will be effective with all types regardless of whether they have a weakness for the need for control, the best price, or both.

Keep in mind that best is a relative term. Like beauty, it's in the eye of the beholder. If they’ve worked really hard for it, it’s the best

You make your best deal and DO NOT cave in on price. Let them make their bonus on someone else. 

With procurement negotiators who are hard bargainers, Tactical Empathy (e.g., Labels™, Mirrors™, and Summary™) has to be interwoven through everything you say.  

The great advantage you have over a procurement negotiator is that—if they are bargaining with you at all to begin with—they have an internal customer waiting for the deal with you.  

Procurement doesn’t waste time with sources they don’t want. When they actually engage in the process, you are the favorite. Tactical Empathy—not an adjustment on price—is your counteroffer.  

Summarize the situation and go dead silent. Count one, one thousand, two, one thousand to yourself. Wait for them to break the silence. Label and Mirror their response. 

Bonus Tip: Using ‘I’ Messages  

Whenever you feel like you want to give in or walk away as a result of the bad, threatening, or otherwise nasty behavior of your counterpart, the better response is to use an “I” message

It has three parts;

  • When you [state counterproductive behavior]
  • I feel [your emotions]
  • Because [reason the behavior is a problem]

For example: 

    • When you threaten and make demands, I feel frustrated because it seems like you don’t actually want to make a deal.
  • When you ask us for a detailed list of all our costs, I feel I am wasting my time because that effort will cause this deal to no longer be profitable for us.
  • When you tell me something different than what the contract says, I feel I am wasting my time because the courts will uphold the contract language.

“I” messages are one of the Negotiation 9™ skills and The Black Swan Group has a new online training focused explicitly on them!

Next time you’re staring down a cut-throat, give them the illusion of control while channeling the tone of the late-night FM DJ, and make it rain!

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