Getting yourself into difficult bargaining is one thing. But being stuck in bad faith negotiations is a whole new level of hardship.
And even though practice assigns the duty of good faith negotiations to all parties involved, it’s not uncommon to run into “false negotiators” who are not sitting at the table to reach an agreement.
The level of damage they can cause can vary, but the process remains the same across the board: these people will use abusive negotiation tactics in situations of inequality of bargaining power. At best, they could cost you your time. At worst, you could lose it all.
Here’s how bad faith negotiation works and what you can do to minimize its impact.
According to a widely accepted definition, negotiating in bad faith means entering bargaining with no intention of reaching an agreement. In other words, this is the process of “false negotiation,” whereby a person enters bargaining under false pretenses. They pretend to work towards a resolution while keeping their true motivations undisclosed. In practice, this kind of practice often involves stalling the process, making unreasonable last-minute demands, or sending in a person that doesn’t have the decision-making power.
The end goal hidden behind bad faith varies, but it’s usually one of the following:
A false negotiator seeking to gain a competitive advantage in a chosen industry will enter the bargaining only to make you reveal as much of the important intelligence they need. They might offer attractive incentives for you to enter the process so that they can have a chance to ask critical questions they’re interested in.
As the term implies, using false negotiations as a “chip” resembles the tactics of “faking” in a poker game. In such a scenario, a false negotiator uses one negotiation process to win at another. For example, a job seeker might enter into multiple negotiations with employers they don’t intend to work for. The sole purpose of this “distributive bargaining” would be raising their price on the market and ultimately getting a job they want under preferable terms and conditions.
This is a broad category of bad faith motivation, involving various reasons for entering negotiations to “buy time.” Procrastinating negotiators usually have a specific timetable in mind and use false bargaining tactics to manipulate deadlines or disrupt predefined time frames.
Of course, no matter the goal, all such behavior is inconsiderate – to say the least. In some cases, it could even be illegal and prosecutable in a court of law.
The worst thing about bad faith negotiation tactics is that they’re not so apparent at first sight. It isn’t easy to pinpoint a false negotiator in practice because most of their strategies are also used as legitimate bargaining tools.
That is why authors of a new study in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, “The Art and Science of Not Reaching Agreement,” recommend keeping an eye on a “syndrome of signals,” including
Because bad faith bargainers are not sitting at the table to reach a resolution, they deliberately expand time frames or find other ways to avoid closing the deal.
The symptom is pretty much self-explanatory. As false negotiators are, by definition, parties that hide their true objectives, it’s natural that they will hesitate to answer specific questions. Instead, they will likely gear the conversation towards irrelevant subjects, ramble on without saying anything, or start a counteroffensive by pointing questions your way.
As part of the stalling tactics, bad faith negotiators will often assume a non-accountable position and claim that various factors are tempering closing a deal. For example, they might use a habitual insistence on answering to their superiors as an excuse for not taking any action in the process.
To counterbalance their inaction, false negotiators usually pay generous lip service about being committed to the negotiations. For example, they will promise future willingness to collaborate, make false action plans, or repeatedly use the “from now on” phrase.
if all of the previously mentioned symptoms can send mixed signals, assigning a lawyer with no negotiating power is one of the most evident signs of bad faith. This is often a way to pressure the other side into signing an agreement or a form of abandoning the negotiation process.
If you’re confident that the negotiating process is heading in the wrong direction, away from an agreement, there are a few things you can do. Inspecting the other party for a syndrome of mentioned signals is, of course, the first step you should take. If you still have your doubts or want to leave the bargaining painlessly, negotiation theory recommends the following:
Before anything else, take a deep dive into the false negotiator’s words. Inspect their communication posture with scrutiny. Ask many open-ended questions, and be sure to use a lot of silence. This will not only prevent you from revealing vital information but can confuse the person sitting in front of you.
Get a thorough background check on a person pretending to negotiate with you. Seasoned false negotiators are often followed by a bad reputation, which is definitely a red flag. Or, in another scenario, be sure if they are not connected to your competition or might have any other interest in obtaining valuable intel from you.
Christopher Voss, the CEO of The Black Swan Group and former FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator, recommends a particular confrontation with false negotiators. He claims that approaching bad faith bargainers with a “focused comparison” is the best way to deal with such behaviors. This is his map of the confrontation:
Lastly, be sure never to give in to pressure. Do not sign anything suspicious beforehand, nor feel obliged to put your name below a dissatisfying agreement.
In the end, it’s important to acknowledge the alluring power bad faith negotiation can have over professional negotiators. It can be an inviting shortcut toward reaching desired goals.
However, in most cases, it’s a dangerous road that can have detrimental consequences on your reputation and career.
Nurturing genuine negotiation skills is probably the most efficient antidote to fighting such temptation.
If you think it’s time to kickstart your negotiation and conflict resolution career, download the CBU prospectus to learn more about our programmes. Or contact us today with any questions you may have.