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hardball tactics

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:

Top Ten Posts About Conflict Resolution

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Conflict Resolution.

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 

Dear Negotiation Coach: What is the Secret to Negotiating with Kids Successfully?

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Win-Win Negotiations.

Some of our toughest negotiations happen away from the bargaining table. In fact, they may happen closer to our dinner table. We recently received a question from a reader about negotiation with kids, and asked Program on Negotiation’s Katie Shonk for some insight. Q: I avoid using hardball tactics in my professional negotiations since they often … Read More 

Negotiation Skills: Building Trust in Negotiations

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Negotiation Skills.

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 

When Hard-Bargaining Isn’t Enough

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under Dispute Resolution.

Leonardo da Vinci’s painting Salvator Mundi has long been shrouded in mystery. The 16th-century portrait of Jesus Christ periodically disappeared over hundreds of years before being mistakenly sold at auction as another artist’s work for just £45 in 1958. In 2005, art dealers purchased the damaged painting for approximately $10,000 in an estate auction. After … Read More 

Dear Negotiation Coach: Responding (Or Not) to an Ultimatum in Negotiation

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Dispute Resolution.

Many times in our lives, we will encounter an ultimatum in negotiation. Sometimes the ultimatum is real, and often times it is not. However, there are ways to approach an ultimatum in negotiation to get past this sometimes burdensome hurdle. Professor Deepak Malhotra answers this week’s Dear Negotiation Coach column: QUESTION A counterpart recently made a “take … Read More 

Are Introverts at a Disadvantage in Negotiation?

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Negotiation Skills.

Are extroverts by nature better negotiators than introverts? Or are they at a disadvantage in negotiation? As we’ll see, the answer is far from decided. However, we all have clear opportunities to build on our own strengths and learn from those of others. Quiet, loud, and somewhere in between Introversion is a personality trait marked by a … Read More 

Conflict Resolution Success Stories: A Surprising Tale from Congress

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under Conflict Resolution.

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 

Hardball Tactics in Negotiation Increase with Rivalry

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under Negotiation Skills.

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 

10 Negotiation Failures

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Negotiation Skills.

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 

Teach Coalition Management in Multiparty Negotiations

Posted by Lara SanPietro & filed under Teaching Negotiation.

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 

When Dealmaking Breaks Down, Take the High Road

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under Dealmaking.

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 

With Patient Approach, FBI Steered Oregon Occupiers Toward Their BATNA

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under BATNA.

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 

In Negotiations with Ben Affleck, No Appealing BATNA

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under BATNA.

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 

“No One is Really in Charge” Hostage Taking and the Risks of No-Negotiation Policies

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Crisis Negotiations.

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 

Dealing with difficult people— even when you don’t want to

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Dealing with Difficult People.

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 

Dealing with negotiation power plays

Posted by PON Staff & filed under BATNA.

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 

Conflict Management Techniques: Should You Take Your Dispute Public?

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Conflict Resolution.

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 

How to Deal When the Going Gets Tough

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Conflict Resolution.

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 

When You’re on Stage

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Daily, Negotiation Skills.

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 

Should you be nasty or nice?

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Daily, Negotiation Skills.

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 

Tough Tactics: Do ‘Death Threats’ Really Work?

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Business Negotiations.

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 

Boost your negotiations skills and confidence

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Daily, Negotiation Skills, Resources, Reviews of Books.

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