How to negotiate with a win/lose player

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How do you negotiate with someone who has no desire to try for a win/win solution? 

I have observed some people who seem to judge whether or not they "win" by how badly - and visibly - they beat you.

Boy yellingAnyone come to mind?

Believe it or not, the genesis of this post was NOT the US election. Having said that, it apparently is the impetus for numerous articles on the subject, including .

We had been discussing negotiating at our CEO Peer-to-Peer group for some time and we started asking questions about the (not always correct) assumptions many people made for negotiating:

  • For a negotiation to be successful, trust must be established
  • The best negotiation is when all parties try for a win-win solution

MousetrapNot so fast, says Lewis Schiff, a member of the Business Owners Council for Inc. magazine.  According to Schiff, in an article at,

" It turns out that if you look at the very best in negotiation thinking, the notion of "win-win" is widely regarded as a dangerous trap."

There are numerous sources of advice on how to be a better negotiator, including Harvard University: .  Some of the advice can make you aware of general principals that are good for you to know.

But do we really believe there is a magic formula for succeeding in negotiation?  Is there a book that will make you a master negotiator in all circumstances?  Chris Murray, a Sales Coach answers that question with one of his own;

"Think about it: if someone had found a way to manipulate human choice and free will – if someone actually had that kind of power – wouldn’t it be a tad surprising if they then decided to share their secret with the masses in a book for $20?".

If there is no one-size-fits-all magic formula, what is the traditional model for negotiating?

Win Lose MatrixThe classic set of options is presented as a 2x2 matrix, with each party having a choice to make for themselves and the other: Win or Lose.  Each party is aware of the other's desires and will use that knowledge to make their decisions during the negotiation.

Win Lose Matrix - Only WinHowever, negotiators with a track record of successfully concluding negotiations - defined as consistently getting what they want from a deal - simply do not even consider the option that has them losing and you winning.  Your interests are of little to no concern to them; they only see what they want and pursue it vigorously.

If the above is real, how do you approach a negotiation where the other party either wants to see you lose - the more and the more visibly the better - or where the other party is not really concerned with your outcome and is only focused on their own.  These are not the same thing.  One is a mean-spirited bully; and the other could be called insensitive, but they would not be against a solution that got you what you want as long as it got them what they want.  They just are not going to be the one putting the effort in to making that happen.

Liar with Long Nose ShadowAnd of course, there are times when the other party simply feels no need to be truthful to you - either intentionally or by getting caught up in the process of negotiating.  An interesting article in the 2016 July/August edition of Harvard Business Review at would suggest that not everything that happens in a negotiation is as it seems.

So what do you do in those circumstances?

  1. You must have a walk-away position clearly defined
    and you must be willing to walk away if the deal cannot get you what you need. 
    But you would not share that information with the other party.
  2. Put aside your ego ...
    You must focus the negotiation on having the other party see the result as them winning. 
    To you it does not mean you are losing, but to some it may. 
    That is fine, so long as you get what you need.

Karate Kicking IconThis approach is like the difference between the martial arts of karate and akido.  Karate you all know as a sport that can equip you to break boards and bodies in order to win an altercation.  Akido is a relatively new martial art, created in Japan by Morihei Ueshiba.  Ueshiba's goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.  Defending yourself against an aggressive negotiator while still protecting their ego by letting them believe they won, employs a similar philosophy.

None of the above means you don't come prepared; It is just that with someone who will not try to find a win/win solution, you need to come with a different mindset.  All the standard pre-negotiation prep work applies:

  • Clearly define what you want and what you will not accept
    • Have a firm sense of your best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) and don’t let your opponent shake your resolve.
  • Rank order your priorities so you can stay focused on the important needs
  • Review the concepts of "Anchoring" and avoid being the one pulled far away from your mid-point
    • If possible, you make the first offer to create the anchor point
  • Understand the other party's needs and some options to accomplish them
  • Understand the underlying drivers behind the other party's stated needs
  • Be prepared for an iterative process; although sometimes frustrating, it is proven to leave both parties feeling better about the outcome
  • If possible, change the "pie" so you are not playing a zero-sum game and can each get more than you could individually
  • Make sure you are negotiating with someone who can make decisions (or send in a representative of your own)

By all means, if you can work with someone who is willing to find a win/win solution, do so.  It makes for sustained relationships over time.  It is the philosophy behind the Rotary 4-way test for any agreement reached between two or more people:Rotary Logo

  • Is the agreement based on the Truth
  • Is the agreement Fair to all concerned
  • Will the agreement build Goodwill and Better Friendships
  • Will the agreement bring Benefit to all concerned

A wonderful philosophy and one worthy of pursuit if it is possible.  But if the other party will not act according to this philosophy, you need to be aware of this and negotiate accordingly.

Negotiation is crucial to the success of any business and, realistically, to the well being of any society.  There are very few absolutes in this world as evidenced by the article on defining an appropriate level of tolerance (and no, more is NOT always better) at .

Embrace the art and science - and the benefit - of negotiation and you will make life better for all involved.

Everything is negotiable. Whether or not the negotiation is easy is another thing.
Carrie Fisher

I will close with the sage advice given by a man known to be a good negotiator:

Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.
― John F. Kennedy

Posted in General Leadership, Sales.


  1. This means that while one side wins the other loses and this outcome may well damage future relationships between the parties.  It also increases the likelihood of relationships breaking down, of people walking out or refusing to deal with the winners again and the process ending in a bitter dispute. Through haggling – the giving and making of concessions – a compromise is reached, and each side’s hope is that this compromise will be in their favour.

    • In normal situations, this comment reflects what is recommended. However, with a win/lose player, haggling can sometimes just get their competitive juices going and make them more determined than usual to beat you – visibly. Compromise ends up being all you, and through the iterative process of haggling, you convince yourself you have made the best deal possible, even though the final deal is well outside your initially established thresholds for an acceptable deal.

      So the process recommended still applies.

      Before you start the negotiations:
      – know what you want
      – set your limits
      – rank order your priorities
      Once in the negotiation:
      – stay within them
      – be willing to walk away

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