Top Things That Will Catch You Off-Guard During Negotiations and How to Prepare

You want to be prepared for your upcoming negotiation so you do your homework, research the company, come up with a reasonable salary (if you are negotiating salary), and practice with mock negotiations.  All of these preparations are certainly valuable, but they might not be enough to fully prepare you for what’s to come.  When it comes to negotiations, it is inevitable that someone is going to catch you off guard at some point.  Negotiations can be difficult to plan for because you never know what your counterpart is going to say.  Here are some of the most common questions and tactics that might throw you off in a negotiation, and tips for how to prepare for them.

“How much are you currently making?”

If you are interviewing for a new position, this sounds like a reasonable question, right? This can actually be a tricky tactic used by employers to gauge if you would be willing to accept a lower offer.  If you disclose your exact salary, they are likely going to start with a lower number, assuming that you would be happy with a 10-15% pay increase.  Therefore, the best response is to avoid giving an exact number.  Instead, respond with someone like, “I’d prefer not to discuss what I am currently making because the position that I am interviewing for isn’t exactly the same as my current job.  I would prefer to discuss the responsibilities first and then I’m sure we could agree on an appropriate salary.”  If you have already listed your current salary in a preliminary interview or on the application, be prepared to discuss significant responsibilities that you might have taken on that would improve your skill set.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have any room to negotiate.”

You might hear this in a salary negotiation or a business negotiation and it can certainly seem frustrating to a novice negotiator.  However, it is important to remember that some things really aren’t negotiable and in such cases, you will need to look for alternative ways to meet the needs of both parties.  For example, if the salary is truly non-negotiable it’s a good time to ask about the compensation package as a whole including vacation, tuition reimbursement, stock options, flex hours, etc.  For other business deals where price is not negotiable, it is important to ask about other benefits such as payment options, extra time, or any other alternative benefits.

“We need an answer quickly.”

This hardball tactic puts negotiators on the spot, trying to force them into a quick decision.  Sometimes people will request an answer immediately or within 48 hours and you will be unable to provide them with an adequate response that quickly.  There are a couple of ways to prepare for this tactic.  You could respond with something like, “I’d be happy to give you an answer today as long as we could comprise a reasonable escape clause.”  This would give you the opportunity to get out of the agreement should there be an issue that comes up.  Another way to handle this situation would be to reiterate your commitment to customer satisfaction with a response such as, “Customer satisfaction is our primary goal so I don’t want to rush this process but rather take the time I need to give you the best service I can.”  This will buy you a little more time to discuss with your superior and come up with a counter offer if needed.

The Take-It-Or-Leave-It Tactic

This hard bargaining tactic can be intimidating to the novice negotiator so it is important to diffuse the tactic by ignoring it.   Instead, focus on the content of the offer and be prepared to propose a counteroffer that meets the needs of both parties.  It is important to prepare ahead of time for this type of negotiating strategy and have a plan in place should this occur.  Go into the negotiation knowing what your alternative solutions will be and what you are willing to walk away with.

“My hands are tied.”

It is not uncommon for your opponent to refuse your offer with a statement that their hands are tied or that they have limited discretion to negotiate.  In this instance, respond by simply asking, “Who can I speak with that has the authority to make a decision?”   You are not accepting their answer as hard truth and you are putting them in a position to present you with someone who has greater authority than them to negotiate.