Trust in negotiations may develop naturally over time, but negotiators rarely have the luxury of letting nature take its course. Thus it sometimes seems easiest to play it safe with cautious deals involving few tradeoffs, few concessions, and little information sharing between parties. But avoiding risk can mean missing out on significant opportunities. For this reason, … Read More
Learn how to negotiate like a diplomat, think on your feet like an improv performer, and master job offer negotiation like a professional athlete when you download a copy of our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.
What are Hardball Tactics?
Rather than spurring agreement, most hardball tactics in negotiations tend to escalate disputes and drive parties even farther apart.
In difficult negotiations and disputes, hardball tactics like punishment and threats often seem like the only way to win concessions. Some negotiators seem to believe that hardball tactics are the key to success in any negotiation. They resort to extreme demands and even unethical behavior to try to get the upper hand in a negotiation.
One of the most common hardball tactics is the ultimatum. However, many ultimatums are not true deal breakers. If you ignore an ultimatum, it will be easier for your counterpart to back down later because you have not engaged with or legitimized the ultimatum.
If ignoring an ultimatum is not possible or you can’t comfortably move on to other issues without acknowledging it, there is another option: reframing the statement as a non-ultimatum before continuing with the conversation.
For example, if someone says, “I will never do this,” you might respond: “I can understand, given where we are today, that this would be very difficult for you to do.”
The ideal is to prevent your negotiation from disintegrating into hardball tactics in the first place. To achieve that, you first need to make a commitment not to engage in these tactics yourself. Remember that there are typically better ways of meeting your goals, such as building trust, asking lots of questions, and exploring differences.
You can learn more about avoiding hardball tactics and find out how to make a deal better and faster than ever before with this free report, Getting the Deal Done, from Harvard Law School.
We will send you a download link to your copy of the report and notify you by email when we post new negotiation advice and information on our website.
The following items are tagged hardball tactics:
In negotiation, our success often hinges on our bargaining power—which in turn can depend on forces beyond our control. That truism was highlighted in two recent disputes arising from business negotiations over the pricing of copyrighted material in the digital era, one from the music world, the other from publishing. … Read More
In negotiations and disputes, punishment and threats often seem like the only way to win concessions. But business negotiators would do well to remember how Time Warner’s gambit unfolded. … Read More
When transferring property, sellers sometimes insist on real estate rights of first refusal – the chance to be first in line to repurchase the property if their buyer later decides to sell. … Read More
Conflict resolution is the process of resolving a dispute or a conflict by meeting at least some of each side’s needs and addressing their interests. Conflict resolution sometimes requires both a power-based and an interest-based approach, such as the simultaneous pursuit of litigation (the use of legal power) and negotiation (attempts to reconcile each party’s … Read More
Don’t be caught unprepared by hard bargainers, warn Robert Mnookin, Scott Peppet, and Andrew Tulumello in their book Beyond Winning. … Read More
How can you get through to people who seem uninterested in finding common ground? How can you deal with seemingly irrational negotiators who use insults, threats, and other hardball tactics to try to get their way? … Read More
What can business negotiators learn from current negotiations in the news? Quite a bit, according to the dozens of negotiation experts who contributed to the January 2019 special issue of the Negotiation Journal, entitled “Negotiation and Conflict Resolution in the Age of Trump.” … Read More
Conflict resolution success stories in the news can be few and far between. Too often, when a dispute arises, parties escalate the conflict through hardball tactics in negotiation (threats, lies, and the like) rather than taking steps to address and minimize it. When conflict resolution success stories do appear, we typically fail to absorb their … Read More
Coke vs. Pepsi. Clinton vs. Trump. Apple vs. Samsung. The New York Yankees vs. the Boston Red Sox. Whether we work in business, politics, sports, or another arena, our competitors sometimes turn into fierce rivals. In addition, many sales, legal, and financial firms structure jobs, incentives, and promotion systems in ways that pit employees against one … Read More
Here’s a list of some of the most notable negotiation flops – from deals that were over before they started, to those that were botched at the table, to those that proved disastrous well after the ink had dried. … Read More
Multiparty negotiations can be difficult to manage if you are unprepared for the formation of coalitions. Two-party and multiparty negotiations share some important similarities: the goal of discovering the zone of possible agreement, for example. However, there are some key differences that set them apart. As soon as the number of parties increases past two, … Read More
It’s Negotiation 101: to get what you want, you need to be able to make a credible threat to walk away from a subpar deal. And for your threat to be credible, you can’t walk in with a bad BATNA, you have to have a strong BATNA, or best alternative to a negotiated agreement. In … Read More
When a negotiation reaches an impasse, it can be tempting to use threats and punishment to try to coerce the other side into conceding. That happened in a dispute between Amazon and Hachette, one of the largest New York publishers, as reported in the New York Times. … Read More
When talks stall, it’s tempting to jump to conclusions: “It’s purely a price gap.” “They’re being unreasonable.” “We’re not communicating well.” “We’re in a weak position.” … Read More
QUESTION A counterpart recently made a “take it or leave it” offer during our negotiation. I wasn’t ready to accept the offer, but I didn’t want to walk away, either. Any advice on how to respond? ANSWER In my recent book, Negotiating the Impossible, I look at the many ways in which negotiators can break deadlocks and resolve … Read More
The 41-day armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon ended on February 11 when the last occupiers surrendered. Federal authorities in six states also arrested seven others accused of being involved in the occupation, according to the Associated Press. The standoff had begun when Ammon Bundy and his followers took over the … Read More
The Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35 to 10 in Super Bowl I. But that’s not the end of the story. In business negotiations, and particularly sales negotiation, enthusiasm is required when trying to convince our counterparts that we have what they need. But that enthusiasm isn’t always infectious. The tale of … Read More
In negotiation, your best source of power is typically your best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or BATNA. Having a strong outside alternative enables you to walk away from a deal that doesn’t meet your needs or that would compromise your vision or ethics. But when you are dealing with a negotiating partner who seems irreplaceable, … Read More
In the business world, we sometimes are tempted to avoid negotiating with unsavory counterparts—people or groups we view to be immoral, untrustworthy, or simply unlikable—even if they appear to offer the straightest path to our goals. Imagine a counterpart who works in a business that you believe to be immoral, someone who has a reputation for gossiping, or … Read More
In your negotiations, have you ever faced a truly difficult negotiator—someone whose behavior seems designed to provoke, thwart, and annoy you beyond all measure? For some Western leaders these days, the negotiator who best fits that description might be Russian president Vladimir Putin. Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, the Russian leader has seemed … Read More
Q: I avoid using hardball tactics in my professional negotiations, since they often backfire and escalate conflict. But at home, my wife and I often find ourselves resorting to threats, bribes, and lies to get our three young children (ages seven, five, and three) to cooperate, and I lose my cool more often than I’d … Read More
In Washington, D.C., lawmakers in Congress are angry at President Barack Obama. They view him as aloof, distant, unwilling to forge agreement, and unsupportive of their causes. And we’re not even talking about Republicans: Democrats have grown increasingly frustrated with Obama’s standoffish leadership style, report Carl Hulse, Jeremy W. Peters, and Michael D. Shear in a … Read More
In negotiation, visions of collaborating to create new sources of value can quickly evaporate when the other party engages in a power play—such as penalizing us financially, attacking our reputation, walking away, or threatening to do all of the above. Suddenly we find ourselves on the defensive, scrambling to do more than just break even. That’s … Read More
To turn up the heat on opponents, negotiators sometimes advertise their grievances. Here’s negotiation skills advice on when it’s a good idea to be vocal—and when to keep talks private. The decision seemed nonsensical. Early on the morning of March 7, 2010, with the Academy Awards telecast just hours away, the Walt Disney Company pulled the signal on … Read More
Most business negotiators understand that by working collaboratively with their counterparts while also advocating strongly on their own behalf, they can build agreements and longterm relationships that benefit both sides. During times of economic hardship, however, many negotiators abandon their commitment to cooperation and mutual gains. Instead, they fall back on competitive tactics, threatening the other … Read More
On October 31, 2013, Time Warner Cable reported a huge quarterly loss of television subscribers, the largest in its history: 306,000 of its 11.7 million subscribers had dropped the company, the New York Times reports. The bad news has been attributed largely to an impasse with television network CBS over fees, which led to Time … Read More
When months of negotiations with publishing house Simon & Schuster reached a standoff in January 2013, Barnes & Noble attempted to gain leverage by significantly reducing its orders of Simon & Schuster titles and engaging in other hardball tactics, such as refusing to book the publisher’s authors for in-store readings. … Read More
Adapted from “How to Deal When the Going Gets Tough,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter. Negotiators tend to feel pressured when they’re performing in front of an audience, according to Harvard Business School professor Deepak Malhotra. If your boss is watching your every move, if you are bargaining as part of a team, or if … Read More
Adapted from “Honey or Vinegar?”, first published in the Negotiation newsletter. Who brings out the best in us: someone nice or someone nasty? According to a recent study by Gerben A. van Kleef and colleagues of the University of Amsterdam, we may be more generous toward angry people than toward happy people. In the first two … Read More
What would you do if someone threatened you? Strike back? Run away? Beg for mercy? Try to negotiate? Last April, The New York Times in effect held a gun to the heads of Boston Globe employees – twice. The confrontation, say experts at the Harvard Program on Negotiation, offers valuable lessons in handling high-risk, high-stakes situations. Background: … Read More
The following book, Negotiation Genius, was co-winner of the 2008 CPR Award for Excellence in ADR (Outstanding Book Category). It provides clear and methodical advice for preparing for and executing any negotiation, drawing on decades of behavioral research and the experience of thousands of business clients. Whether you’ve “seen it all” or are just … Read More