The Niceties of Negotiating

by Etiquette International

Negotiating seems to bring out the best and the worst in people. Unless you create a win-win negotiating situation, everyone loses eventually. If you win and your customer loses, you will lose that customer. If your customer wins and you lose, you can go out of business. Win-win is the only way! So what are the niceties in the nuances of negotiating? Here are some of the most commonly asked questions and answers.

  1. So much of the way people behave in negotiations causes anger, bitterness, hostility, and antagonism. What are some of the behaviors that undermine people when they negotiate?

    The most common ploy is to overpower or intimidate the opposition through a variety of dirty tricks. But that leaves one side feeling used and abused, and as you said hostile, bitter, and angry. The other behavior that undermines the negotiating process is to focus on the relationship, to try to be nice and liked. While the likeability factor can play a role, giving you a better chance of achieving your goals if the opposing side likes you, you shouldn't let that get in the way of the negotiating process. Minding one's manners is not synonymous with playing doormat and having people walk all over you. You can be strong and still be courteous.

  2. What are some of the tactics used to intimidate?

    The opposition makes negative comments about your appearance to rattle you. They keep you waiting, or they interrupt the negotiations to take calls while you twiddle your thumbs and get yourself all worked up. They don't listen - or at least make a pretense of not listening - and make you repeat everything to throw you off. They deliberately refuse to make eye contact. They play good cop/bad cop just like on TV shows like NYPD Blue or Homicide. They browbeat, denigrate and insult the opposing side and tell them that their opinions are all wrong. And finally, they make threats.

  3. How do you handle people who pull these tactics on you?

    Anybody who pulls these cheap tricks must realize that by attacking the other side and putting them on the defensive, they risk damaging the relationship, possibly permanently. If you are on the receiving end of these behaviors, keep your emotions in check. Easier said than done, but the other side is trying to make you lose your cool, and you'll play right into their hands. Don't counterattack. Acknowledge their behavior to defuse confrontation and to help prevent a recurrence. Or, deflect the attack. Remember, you are in control of your emotions, not the other person.

  4. Well, let's look at specifics. How would you handle derogatory comments on your appearance?

    While we should always separate the people from the issues, a quick comment about the rough night you must have had last night can be just enough to throw you off. So, smile sweetly, and inform the critic that your appearance has never before interfered with your skills as a negotiator, so let's start negotiating.

  5. What about being kept waiting?

    Issues of time are a major source of offense in our culture. Keeping people waiting is a petty power play that usually insults the one kept waiting. I would call them on it by suggesting rescheduling for another day when they have time to devote to the negotiating table. Ditto for people who purposely don't listen. A comment like, "You're obviously very distracted today, and I wouldn't want to take advantage of your inattention. Let's reschedule." usually has them blustering that there is no problem really.

  6. And that good guy/bad guy routine?

    "There seems to be some disagreement between you. Perhaps the two of you need a few minutes to sort out your objectives here today. Why don't we break for 15 minutes while you work it out?"

  7. But threats aren't that easy to ignore...

    No they're not, and they're usually the sign of an inexperienced or a bad negotiator. Threats can be handled in a variety of ways, depending on the situation and your feelings about the threat. You can ignore it, call the bluff, make it difficult for them, or propose to take it to the press. It's hard to be specific.

  8. What are some of the ways to facilitate negotiations?

    Respect time by being punctual and prepared. Work on your communication skills. Ask open-ended questions rather than issue pronouncements. Be careful of the word "why", though, because it can be perceived as accusatory. Invite discussion, and be open to correction and persuasion. "Please correct me if I'm wrong ..." or "Help me to understand..." are much more likely to spur the negotiating process and give you valuable information than some pronouncement from your position platform. Analyze and improve upon ideas from the opposition's point of view. Ask their advice.

    When in doubt, use silence. It makes most people very uncomfortable. Just remember, he who speaks first loses.

  9. You mentioned "our culture", is negotiating in other cultures much different?

    It most certainly is. Each culture has its own set of principles and values that determine how people think and behave. There is no generic international model, so there is a greater potential for misunderstanding because your opponent views the world differently. You heap issues on top of the issues on the table.

  10. In which way?

    First of all, there is time again. Not only must you allow a great deal more time for the entire process, but you must also deal with differing cultural time perspectives.

    The opposing sides views on status, dignity, and protocol must also be factored in to the equation. Then there is the issue of language. You will need to explain a great deal more, and you will probably also have to work with an interpreter. You must be very careful of your choice of words, avoiding slang, jokes, and technical expressions...all of which can cramp your usual style. You must also be aware of cultural prejudices and stereotypes that the other side may hold. Remember, their values are different from yours.

    And, on top of all that, you probably have to apply these differing behaviors to an entire negotiating team rather than an individual negotiator. Other cultures can be much more team-oriented than Americans with their strong sense of individuality.

  11. Any comments or suggestions in closing?

    Always leave on a positive note to maintain a working relationship for the future. Negotiations should maintain, if not improve, the relationship.


Etiquette International is a full-service business etiquette firm that works with organizations that want their people to be more effective and have greater impact in all they do. Since 1989, Etiquette International has advised the corporate, multinational, and private arenas on American and international protocol, business etiquette, and entertaining.

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