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14 Tactics of Adversarial Negotiators and Countermeasures to Level the Playing Field

Adversarial negotiators deal through manipulation. These buyers use a range of pressure tactics to defeat you and get what they want. Fortunately, adversarial negotiators are easy to spot if you know what to look for, and once you recognize the tactics they quickly lose power.

14 Common Adversarial Negotiation Tactics & Countermeasures

1. Gives False Deadlines

  • Issue:  Pressures you to agree to terms before you are ready.
  • Solution:  Don’t allow yourself or the sale process to be rushed. If you are forced to fast-forward through demonstrations and explanations, you could be accused of glossing over important details later on. Be prepared, test with questions, and realize that everything (including time) is negotiable.

2. Delays the Decision and Ignores Deadlines

  • Issue:  Creates anxiety, provokes concessions. Do they really want to buy? Is this a priority, or are they fishing?
  • Solution:  Determine what is causing the delay. Perhaps other projects have gotten in the way, but they need to realize that your time is important too. Probe initial deadlines and what may have changed. Do not feel pressured to make concessions due to the buyer’s (lack of) movement. Protect yourself (C.Y.A.!) by documenting your communications, being sure to note deadlines and key steps in any voicemails or emails left for the client as well as the consequences for any delays.

3. Starts Over in Middle of Negotiations

  • Issue:  Reopens the negotiation to keep what he/she has gotten and tries to get more.
  • Solution:  If one term is to be changed, reopen all of the terms. Fair is fair, and both seller and buyer should feel like winners.

4. Uses Surprise

  • Issue:  Causes you to negotiate before you are prepared.
  • Solution:  It could be an oversight that something wasn’t brought up sooner, but it could also be a sign of other problems to come before or after the sale. Do not handle the issue there and then. Call time or table it until you are prepared. Remember the old commercial tagline: “Never let them see you sweat.” Turn the tables on them to delay your reaction or response.

5. Wants to Negotiate too Soon (i.e., demands price up front)

  • Issue:  Gets you to give an estimated price or ballpark and then holds you to the lower figure.
  • Solution:  Say that you want to provide pricing information, but ask for data so that you can give specific, accurate pricing. Begin the trading process — give information to get information. You might also provide general high-, medium-, and low-priced options before you know what’s to be included in the sale and committing to a price.

6. Negotiates the Future

  • Issue:  Dangles a carrot with a promise that it will materialize later.
  • Solution:  Get specifics from the client in writing. If something seems too good to be true, assume that it is. What you do on this deal will set parameters for the next one. Yes, perhaps a concession now could yield a larger opportunity down the road, but get authorization from your sales manager before committing.

7. Creates an Uncomfortable Environment

  • Issue:  Tries to gain an unfair advantage — sunlight in your eyes, hot room, long hours, no food or break, and changes in negotiators.
  • Solution:  If this is done intentionally, then that is pretty low and speaks to the type of person you are dealing with. Confer with your team to verify that it’s not just you feeling under the weather. Ask to change the environment (e.g., turn down the temperature, adjust the seating, move rooms) and don’t be afraid to call for a break or reschedule the meeting.

8. Suddenly Loses Interest

  • Issue:  Makes you think you will lose the deal in an attempt to gain better terms.
  • Solution:  Don’t panic. Ask what changed and recognize that it may be a tactic. Use emotional muscle and be patient. Don’t nag, but stay in regular contact and document your communications, key milestones and decisions, and consequences for the sale if delays persist.

9. Outnumbers You

  • Issue:  Intimidation through a large contingent of buyers in the meeting.
  • Solution:  Ask for clarification of attendees’ roles in advance of the sales meeting. If the sale will affect other functions or areas of the business, it is logical that the buyer may want to include his colleagues in the sales meetings. If the sale or delivery is large or complex, consider expanding your sales team accordingly. But if you find yourself being bullied, hold your ground and schedule a follow up meeting when you can return with reinforcements!

10. Plays Dumb

  • Issue:  Gets you to back down by feigning a lack of awareness, expectation, or assumption.
  • Solution:  Do not allow the buyer’s “not knowing” to impact your thinking or terms. You should not have to alter the deal or make sacrifices due to your client’s lack of knowledge or attention. You’re the expert, so it is incumbent that you clearly and thoroughly spell out each step along with pricing, timing, delivery, etc. to avoid any misunderstanding.

11. Uses Past Experience (negative or positive) Against You

  • Issue:  Makes you feel guilty or less confident in an attempt to tip the scales in his favor.
  • Solution:  Acknowledge past situations such as customer loyalty or delivery-gone-bad, but keep your eye on the ball and stay in the present. You shouldn’t feel as though you owe the client anything. See through any such emotion by thinking of how you would explain a discounted or padded sale to your boss. If you can’t easily justify it, then move on. If it’s a reasonable request offer to check with your boss, but make no promises.

12. Uses Silence

  • Issue:  Pressures you to concede — the first to talk after the price or a demand is on the table is the first to fold.
  • Solution:  Keep quiet! Be silent after you state your price. Don’t stammer on, making excuses or explaining this or that – you will only be feeding them ammunition that can be used against you.

13. Uses “Broken Record”

  • Issue:  Wear you down by repeatedly barraging you with demands, concerns, budgets, limitations, or expectations.
  • Solution:  Be a “broken record” yourself and ask questions. If you don’t receive a satisfactory answer, ask again until you are  comfortable. Call them out by acknowledging that “You’re obviously concerned about xyz, yet you still haven’t answered my question. I’m trying to help you, but you either don’t know or don’t want to tell me the answer. Let’s resolve this so we can move on.”

14. Uses the “Nibble”

  • Issue:  Gets a last-minute concession.
  • Solution:  Do not let down your guard at the end of the negotiation when you think you have a deal. Don’t let that feeling of elation that the deal is done cause you to agree to a concession no matter how small it may seem. Ask yourself: “What does it do to my profitability and future deals?”

Many of these issues can be managed through clear communication and by documenting steps, interactions, decision milestones, and consequences throughout the sale process.

Both sales reps and buyers should operate under the assumption that they are building a long-term vendor relationship and not just making a one-time transaction. When making a purchase of any kind on any scale, both seller and buyer should feel confident in the deal. When something goes awry, it might be unintentional and easily explained, but it could also signal larger problems to come down the road. Your bottom line: be willing to walk away and let the client know it.

Do you agree with our list? Feel free to add additional tactics and countermeasures in the comments section! If you don’t know the countermeasure, we’ll be glad to help you think it through.

About the Author

Richardson is a global sales training and performance improvement company. Our goal is to transform every buyer experience by empowering sellers with critical skills so they can create value to buyers and drive meaningful conversations. Our methodology combines a market proven sales and coaching curriculum with an innovative and customizable approach to learning that ensures your sales teams learn, master, and apply those behaviors where and when it matters most — in front of your customers. It’s our job to anticipate change in your industry so that your sales team can focus on fostering long-term relationships, becoming indispensable partners for their buyers.

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