Recall when you were a young child gathered with your friends. You’re all in deep discussion about what game you’ll play together. Timmy suggests dodge ball, Susie offers a board game, and you too like the board game idea. Thus, your and Suzie’s democracy votes board game, while Timmy angrily refuses. Eventually, Timmy gives you the ultimatum, “if we don’t play dodge ball, I’m going home!” It’s a temperamental withdrawal tactic that people continually use throughout their lives – usually with a little less immaturity.
This is where your counterpart, often dramatically, will exit the discussion hoping you’ll fear a no-deal or no-conclusion and make a concession just to bring them back to the table. By doing so, they gain a concession without giving one. You’ll often see a hasty change in demeanor and location, and hear a “fine then…” or “this is too much…” or “this is ridiculous…” or “we’re getting nowhere…”
Consider the following techniques to manage the Withdrawal Technique:
- Use a Hypothetical. Let’s say someone says something like, “I have told you that I do not think that I can get this proposal agreed to by my Board, so I am going to have to stop these discussions entirely.” While this sounds like a Withdrawal, the fact that the other side provides a condition regarding getting the proposal “agreed to by the board” provides an indication that the withdrawal may not be a withdrawal. To test the other side, you could ask: “Hypothetically speaking, if you were able to get it past the Board, would you be willing to continue the conversation?” If the other side agrees to continue the discussion, then you have prevented the Withdrawal.
- Offer Mutual Concessions. Rather than making a one-sided concession just to get the other side to the table, propose a resolution where each side makes a concession. This approach gives the other side a potential reason to return, but it does not provide them with a unilateral gain just to bring them back to the table.
- Focus on Previous Progress. Rather than conceding to get the other side to the table, try to get the other side to agree that there has been substantial progress made in the past and that momentum may help remind them that although there is frustration at this point, the past progress you have made should justify that the other side not just walk away at this point.
The man who discovered Oprah, Dennis Swanson, former Chicago TV exec, recalls how it all unfolded in 1983:
“Well, you know, she had the best attorney in Baltimore, Ron Shapiro, who handled Brooks Robinson, a lot of the Orioles, who were a championship team at that time. The tricky part of it was, her contract didn’t expire until the end of the year. But then, the people that had the contract had a 60-day option in there, and I said to Shapiro, I said, ‘We’ll wait till January 1, because she’s worth waiting for, but I can’t wait the 60 days beyond that.’ He negotiated out of that. We put her on the air the first of January, and we were in last place when we put her on the air – and we won the February (ratings) less than a month later.”
Click on the attached link to find out more about the role SNI Chairman, Ron Shapiro, played in the early years of Oprah Winfrey’s career.
People may use three types of tactics to make you concede your pricing. They may start with “Give me a ballpark price;” “You have to do better than that;” and “Let’s Split the Difference.” Each of these is difficult to handle, and when combined throughout a discussion of price, they can create a “triple-whammy.”
Let’s take a look at how to manage each of these monetary price concessions.
- Give me a Ballpark Price. There are two ways to manage this tactic. First you should resist the urge to provide a ballpark price. Rather than giving a figure off of the top of your head, tell the other side that you would much prefer to be able to think about the issue more so that you can make a more realistic assessment. If taking this approach is not possible, then make sure to lowball your ballpark to prevent getting locked into a bad deal before the discussion even starts.
- You Have to do Better than that. Defend against this tactic by asking the other side, “How much better do I have to do?” Asking this will force the other side to at least put a stake in the ground before you bid against yourself with no commitment from the other side.
- Split the Difference. If the other side offers to split the difference, try to anchor them to the “split the difference price” and then continue to discuss. Imagine you are offering $1,000 and the other side is asking for $2,000 and they suggest that you “split the difference.” Try the following: “I do not think that I can do $1,500, but I appreciate that you are willing to compromise. Now that I’m at $1,000 and you can agree to $1,500, I think that we are closer to reaching an agreement.” If you can then continue the discussion and then offer to “be fair” and split the difference, you now may be able to end up at $1,250.
Sometimes you may find yourself in a situation with two or more participants on one team, you’ll notice one partner acting very cordial and empathetic, where the other partner is extremely temperamental and demeaning. The “bad cop” threatens you and probably declares that there is “no reason to continue conversations.” Once you begin to fear that you might lose the deal, the “good cop” swoops in to assure you that all is not lost and if you can just be reasonable, perhaps you can both find a resolution. The object is to coerce you into believing that the “good cop” is on your team, and thereby get you to provide additional information or even make concessions that you would not have otherwise made.
This is yet another tactic to manipulate you. Watch out for the good cop/bad cop scenario as it can lead you down a dangerous path in poor negotiation skills.
- Call their Game – Smile convincingly and say, “This feels a lot like good cop/bad cop. I do not want to get caught up in games like this. We have serious issues facing us, and if both of you are needed to make a decision, I suggest you get him back in the room.”
- Ignore the Bad Cop – The Good Cop/Bad Cop tactic only works if you allow the bad cop to get you to lose your focus. Let the bad cop expel his energy so you can move forward and focus on the business at hand.
- Terminate the Session – Turn to the good cop and tell him that it is obvious that the other person is too upset to carry forward. This should get the good cop to attempt to convince you to stay and you should thereby be able to regain control.
While it may be tempting, going “toe-to-toe” with the bad cop is usually not an effective way to manage this technique. Even if you are able to quiet down the bad cop, going into attack mode will likely cause you to lose your focus. The other side will use this loss of focus to get you to reveal information or make concessions that you may not have done if you had been able to maintain a more focused approach.