Sneaky Negotiation Tricks Are Your Worst Enemy: Here are 5 You Must Defeat

5 Sneaky Negotiation Tricks You Can Spot in Business and How to Overcome Them

Negotiating is a skill every small business owner needs to master to be successful. If your confidence was rattled the last time you worked out the terms of a new deal, you’re not alone. You might have been the victim of sneaky negotiating tactics designed to undermine you.

Small Business Trends spoke with Simon Letchford, Managing Director, and Brian Buck, Negotiation Consultant, from Scotwork. Their business is teaching the art of negotiation. They shared five sneaky negotiation techniques you can spot in business and how to overcome them.

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Sneaky Negotiation Tricks to Avoid

Programmed Behavior

Letchford says everyone wants to stay in control of any negotiation. That means learning to recognize what he calls programmed behavior and not doing anything to foster it.

He uses the example of a child that throws a temper tantrum and gets a bag of candy from his parents to placate him . Adults unconsciously learn a series of behaviors they use to similar ends.

“So, staying in control means not rewarding the behaviors you want to see less of,” Letchford says.

Of course the trick is in being able to identify these behaviors — some are programmed and others are deliberate.

Passing the Buck

“We see this a lot where someone is passing their problem onto the other party,” Buck says. This is a ploy where one person blames the other for a businesses related issue and looks for compensation.

“Not all problems are real by the way,” Buck says. The trick is to understand this blame game is designed to get concessions and not feel guilty. Don’t offer a series a fixes when someone tells your prices hurt their client base. Instead, ask them right away what you can do to right the situation.

“That way you’re giving the responsibility for the solution back to the individual,” Buck says. Volleying it back this way helps to keep the negotiation geared to business issues and not emotional ones.    

Good Cop/Bad Cop

This might be a bit of a cliché from police shows, but it works on inexperienced negotiators according to Letchford. This is highly effective when only one of the players is in the room at a time, he said.

This often plays out where the good cop wants to meet your price or take advantage of your offer but needs to confer with the bad cop who may be the boss.

Resisting this sneaky technique goes beyond bucking up against it.

“It’s in your interest to get an early lead on who the decision makers are and what the approval process is,” Letchford says. He also adds it’s good to deal with the bad cop first.

Undermining Your Confidence

It’s the very nature of negotiating to try yo get something for less. The person across the table will look for the issues they feel they have the most leverage on. These could include price, quality or a variety of other factors.

“They’ll try and use that to extract the most value from you,” Buck says.

The trick to maintaining control is to turn the tables and discover your adversary’s priorities. If they focus on your price and you know time to market is important to them, you have a starting point to trade lower priority items for higher ones.

For example, you might be able to get more money for your widgets if your client wants them to arrive overnight. Buck explains the advantage here.

“It’s about giving the other party what they want with terms that are acceptable to you.”

If you’re well prepared this way, there’s usually a way to say yes to a deal.


Any successful negotiation should be unemotional. One of the biggest sneaky tricks is using aggression. It’s an overarching theme that’s found in each of the others.

“It’s a bullying tactic that’s meant to keep the other party off balance,” Buck says. Staying, calm and being well prepared goes a long way. Recognizing these sneaky negotiating techniques for what they are is best accomplished with a cool head.

Negotiation Photo via Shutterstock


Rob Starr Rob Starr is a staff writer for Small Business Trends. Rob is a freelance journalist and content strategist/manager with three decades of experience in both print and online writing. He currently works in New York City as a copywriter and all across North America for a variety of editing and writing enterprises.

11 Reactions
  1. Yes. Customers can sniff snakeoil salesmen 100 miles away. So forget about the scripts and relate with your customers like their human for they are.

    • Honesty is the best policy. No doubt.

    • Absolutely. Who doesn’t immediately recognize a script being worked on them versus sincere conversation.

      Plus, a lot of script readers have poor listening skills because they are waiting to voice the next lines of their script on the blitz to the money.


      No sale for you!

  2. The trick is to not care about the money. You need to care more about helping your customer with their problem.

  3. I have to agree with aggression. Aggressive marketers seems to be too desperate for the money, it is exhausting. I always want to move away from them because of the stress.

  4. Beware of the managers who use mental tactics and play on your psyhiceky. Beware of the Managers who use the SWOT theory on you. Your Strength’s, Weaknesses, Opportunities for them to take you down and Threats they think you will come back with. I have has this happen to me and the Manager didn’t win.

  5. Good job Joanne.

  6. I’ve seen some tutorials on guest blogging that were for sale and pretty good! The info you shared here ranks right up there with the guides being sold – THANKS for sharing!”

  7. I’ve seen the “Good Cop/Bad Cop” scenario play out many times and it is not just the inexperienced that get caught. I guess it all ties in with your first point in relation to learned behavior.

    I always find that looking for a win/win scenario is always a good approach. If you can demonstrate how everybody benefits from an outcome then you are well on the way to getting there.

  8. Hi Garry and Mike

    Garry, thanks for the kind comments. Mike, business is about everybody winning and making money together. I like your outlook.

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