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Handling Opposition


Disciplines > Negotiation > Activities > Handling Opposition

Understanding real opposition | Managing negative tactics | Cranking the tension | See also


When you meet opposition during a negotiation, what do you do? The first step is to understand whether the person is using deliberate tactics to trip you up or whether they have a genuine and reasonable reason to disagree with you.

Understanding real opposition

Before assuming the other person is opposing you for unreasonable reasons, it is worth taking a moment or two to get a better view of the situation.

Stand back

A good first step when you meet opposition is to stand back and look at what is happening. Are you the cause of their opposition? Are they reacting to something you said? Maybe you have offended them in some way.

Notice also how you are viewing them. Are you framing them to yourself as an 'enemy' or 'bad guy' in some way? Do you see them as someone to overcome? How you think about them will affect your words and body language.

Stand in their shoes

To understand the other person better, it can be very illuminating to see things from their point of view. Take on the mantle of their beliefs, values and preferences and see how the world looks. Understand how their goals are driving to do what they are doing. See what other influences are affecting them.

I can see how important it is for you that you get home early today.

Step to their side

A most disarming approach is to reframe the negotiation not as a competition but as a collaborative problem-solving exercise. Using the words 'we', 'us' and 'our' makes 'you' and 'me' irrelevant. We are a social species and the offer of working with someone rather than against them can be a tempting offer in many situations.

What we need to do is figure out what we must do today, then we can take a look at how tomorrow will affect each of us.

Depersonalize the problem

Talking about 'the problem' turns it into a concrete 'thing' that you can figuratively put in front of you (especially if you draw or write about it). Making it a thing stops it from belonging to one person or another and turns it into something separate.

How can we make sure that the work gets done in time?

Creating a joint problem also supplants individual wants and positions. By including their needs and your needs into the same problem, you bring the negotiators together.

Managing negative tactics

When they start using tactics, the first step is to see what they are doing and then you can act to defuse them. When you show the other person that you have caught them in the act of using socially doubtful methods, you may shame them into more collaborative working.

Go around blocks

When they refuse to negotiate, rather than meeting them head on in pointless argument, find ways of going around the blocks they place in your way. When they see that you can get around their obstinacy, many people will remove the block and negotiate more cooperatively rather than be left trying to fight with nothing.

Well, if you are not able to change my settings then, perhaps I could talk to your supervisor about it now.

Expose tricks

When they use deceptive methods, show that you can see what they are doing. Name the game. Show that you have a full understanding of deceptive methods. When you do not use them yourself, even though you understand them, you are taking a higher moral position.

Are you trying to throw me a red herring? It's a neat trick but I can see what you are doing. It will be more effective if we work together on this rather than playing games.

Resist coercion

When they use bully-boy tactics on you, show your courage and stand up to them. Most bullies are also cowards and will back down when confronted.

You can threaten me with leaving, but I will not be persuaded by such methods. I would rather you stay, but to use that as a weapon is unacceptable.

Cranking the tension

Whilst getting closer to the other person and defusing negative tactics, you may also want to crank up the tension that will drive them into more collaborative behavior.

Use easy agreement

The first step is to go for agreement. Find those things that they will accept without argument. Get them saying 'yes' with a yes-set of questions with which they can easily agree. Find easy 'no-brainer' trades that are hard to refuse. Guide their decisions, making it clear for them how advantageous it is to agree with you.

Do you care about your family? Do you want them to be safe in a storm? Would a refuge shelter like this be a safe place in a storm?

There's no need to sign up yet -- we've a trial system you can use free for a month.

Use difficult disagreement

If they do not take the carrots that you offer them, the next step is to show that you can use a stick. A sadly large number of people have beliefs about others that assume a 'dog eat dog' combative world, and the only way to earn their respect is to demonstrate strength. You may have already done this in your opening and argument, but trying to be collaborative and using easy agreement may lead to them reverting to dominant behavior.

Show them consequences of not collaborating with you. Use a forced choice, whereby only one option is acceptable for them. Use steadily more coercive methods (within acceptable social norms) to get them to negotiate with you.

If you don't let him go, then what do you think he will do to you?

We can go to the opera , a rock concert or my parents.

Steadily expose your walk-away alternative

The final step is to steadily expose and deploy your walk-away alternative. When the other person sees that you are prepared to back out and that you will not be hurt by this action, then they must face the consequences for them (which you can also expose). This can be very concerning for them if their walk-away is worse than yours (which it very likely will be, if you are well-prepared.

You know, I was thinking of offering this to Sam.

I know that Sam would be interested in taking this assignment.

Well, if you can't afford the time, Sam will get the work. I've already worked out how he can offload his current activities.

See also

Negotiation tactics, Tension principle, The walk-away alternative

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