Solutions To The 5 Trickiest Arguments in A Negotiation

You’ve been noticing the negotiation isn’t going quite as smoothly as you had hoped, but now, all of a sudden, the person across the table starts blurting out statistical evidence, approximate quotations from authorities in the field, emotional appeals and other people’s vaguely related experiences. Things you can’t verify. Things you can neither confirm nor deny. Things that put you on the spot. So what do you do?

First, breathe. But even before that, prepare. As a smart negotiator, you should never start proceedings without preparing for the possibility of one of these nasty arguments coming up:

  1. Statistics
  2. Authority 
  3. Projections and forecasts
  4. Personal feelings and experiences
  5. Moral appeals

Let’s look at them one at a time and see what methods we can find for dealing with them without caving in.

1. Statistics

My favorite. Statistics are everywhere today. We are swamped with statistics that don’t really say anything, and we’re supposed to trust them, because they’re… scientific, aren’t they? Well, I don’t know. Let’s see. What does the fact that a family’s (husband and wife) total income is €5,000 tell us about the two spouses? Statistics will tell you, this family has a per capita income of €2,500, which might lead you to believe they both work at pretty common mid-level jobs. What conclusions would you draw? But what if I told you the husband has a good management job and the woman is a housewife – with no income at all? See how that changes the terms of the equation? The “statistical” individual does not exist. And median values usually reflect reality better than averages.

My point: don’t trust statistics too much and let your negotiation partner know it.

How to respond:  Challenge their validity as documentary evidence (either in general, or in this particular case.) Question the methods and the sources of the statistical research presented by the other side. Put the pressure back on your counterpart. After all, we all know how easily respondents are influenced by the way the questions are phrased, for instance. Minimize the relevance of such statistics.

2. Authority

Another great one. In this age of information overflow, everyone is an expert of some kind. And anybody can name some academic with a great quotation on a subject that suits them. The Internet is full of these things. Your counterpart might starting dropping names of authority figures who have said such and such. Does that mean you have to give in to them?

How to respond:  Again, use meta-communication to challenge the relevance of such an approach, and of that particular authority’s musings on your subject of concern. If possible, come up with another opposing authority and citation. My personal favorite solution, though: ask for the exact and full quotation, and for the exact context in which that particular opinion was expressed! If nothing else works, try to downgrade the importance of said authority (at least for the topic at hand).

3. Projections and forecasts

“If you do this now, then later so and so will happen…”. Really, and you know that for sure? How? Care to explain?

How to respond: Ask for the facts and presuppositions on which such predictions are based. Question their validity and certainty. Generate reasonable doubt that things will occur as foreseen by your counterpart.

4. Personal feelings and experiences

Another common argument especially when your counterpart is running out of rational arguments. “My neighbor got twice as much as you’re offering for her apartment.” “If I sell you so cheap, my family will go hungry.” “Mrs. B. from Department X also feels this way.” “Mr. Y is also unhappy with the way….” etc, etc. The astute negotiator across the table is trying to affect you emotionally and to use your need for consensus against you.

How to respond: Move the communication to the meta level ( “I notice you are bringing personal feelings/other people’s opinions into this very rational/specific matter…”) and challenge the relevance of subjective, unverifiable perceptions in a business negotiation. Question the acceptability and pertinence of such an argument. Doubt the truth of hearsay and the legitimacy of generalizations based on one or two cases of personal experience. On the other side, you can drill deeper and show interest. Ask more questions, be respectful, let your counterpart tell the story and feel heard. Often, the story itself will end up serving enough counter-arguments you can use to limit its effect on the negotiation.

5. Moral appeals

“You, as an enlightened person…”, “You, as an honest, fair individual…”, “Your responsibility for the welfare of… should…”

Creepy. Yet effective. It’s a thinly veiled personal attack and/or reproach. We all want to be good people and to be seen as honest and fair by others. But how honest and fair is the person manipulating you like this?

How to respond: Challenge the relevance (meta-communication). Ask your counterpart to define the moral yardstick against which he is supposedly measuring you (“What exactly do you mean by….?” “How exactly do you define fairness/enlightenment/…?”). Show formal agreement, then express arguments that speak against that particular point of view.

One last note: always keep in mind the purpose and goal of the negotiation, the importance of the ensuing relationship and long-term effects. It’s not about squashing your “adversary”. It is about engendering a win-win that can leave room for a civilized exchange and mutual respect later on.

Hopefully, this helps you prepare better and avoid the unsettling feeling of having to deal with unexpected “tricky” arguments in your future negotiations!

Source: Pawlowski, K. – Verhandlungskurs MSCR 2014.



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