AKA: Lying. Negotiating in bad faith, B.S.
Sample usage (Alvin and Bob): Bob was speaking to Alvin. “Listen, Alvin – this deal is yours to win or lose. Personally, I’d like to continue working with you. But I’ve got another team that wants in…” Bob knew that Alvin knew that Bob was lying. It didn’t matter, though, because Alvin was twitchy. Even the possibility that he could be replaced made him nervous.
Intent: Misinformation. Tactical lying. Can be positive (“This opportunity is a game changer – it will literally change the way the game is played. Literally.”) or negative (“Take it or leave it. I’ve got lots of other state monopolies that want my products”) .
Style: Competitive or Accommodative. Bluffs work on the extremes – they bump up a competitive claim, or slow down an accommodator’s descent.
Category: Information Manager
PIFH (Power/influence Fear or Hope): Any & All. Bluffing works with power or influence, fear and hope. Sometimes you’ll bluff about having more power than you do – other times you’ll make the consequences of NO DEAL seem a lot worse for him.
Counter: Breathe. Why? A reverse Trial Balloon (if I agree to sign....)
Note: Here’s the deal with Bluffing – it’s a lie. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. Truth management is an important business and negotiating skill. The first rule still applies: think first, then talk. So let’s think about bluffing…
- It works. It works as well with the powerful as with front line hagglers. It can be strategic, tactical, or operational. It works so well that you may wonder why people don’t do it all the time. Well, some do. But you avoid that type of negotiator – and so does every other decent counter-party. Don’t get a reputation for dishonesty.
- It stops working when people expect it. Bluffing behavior gets built into expectations early. Think of bluffing in poker – the idea is to make people think you have a more powerful hand. But if they assume you are bluffing or have guessed your “tell” (the subconscious, unintentional signal that tells people when you are bluffing), then they will never think of you as powerful without proof.
- People don’t like partnering with a bluffer - and other bluffers are the worst about this. People expect you to be honest with them, regardless of how they treat everyone else.
- Bluffing, Lying, and Omission. This is part culture, part jurisdictional. Make sure your bluffs aren’t breaking the law – especially overseas. Never promise anything, stay away from specific numbers and dates, and always have at least one solution or call to action for the guy across the table. Remember that what you consider a harmless bluff he may consider an insult to his intelligence. Conflict may ensue. Omission is the seemingly safe choice, but if you overuse it you come off as condescending and unreliable. Ok for retail – but not strategic partner material.
- Calling his bluff. This can also be cultural or and EQ issue. Some people consider it hilarious when you call their bluff – they purposely throw out ridiculous proposals and ideas almost like icebreakers at a party. Others will consider it deeply embarrassing. In many Asian and Middle Eastern situations, calling someone’s bluff is not a minor thing.
A client once asked me if I knew of any body-language tricks that could help reveal when a negotiator is bluffing.
“Look at his mouth,” I told him.
“If it’s moving, then there’s a good chance he’s lying.”