When it comes to negotiating contracts, it’s not the details that will get you—it’s the people. After all, you know commercial real estate inside and out, and you could probably pinpoint a contract’s potential pitfalls or cost-savers in your sleep.
But the human side of negotiation? The part with the unpredictable emotions, egos, and unexpected demands? That isn’t quite as simple—especially when you’re facing a tough negotiator.
It’s true: people would rather have their car break down in traffic, sleep on an airport floor, or endure a long, hot funeral than brave an interpersonal conflict, says Hal Movius, negotiation consultant and author of Resolve: Negotiating Life’s Conflicts with Greater Confidence.
In challenging negotiations, it’s hard not to let feelings flare up and carry you away. But Movius says that rehearsing your response to common “tough tactics" will help you stay calm.
“A little voice in our head will say something like, ‘I knew this was going to happen. No big deal. Here goes.’” he says.
In his book, he covers several possible responses to tough negotiation tactics. Here are just a few:
1. Extreme opening offer
- What happened: Your opponent just named their terms, and you’re not sure whether to laugh or be furious.
- How to respond: Stay curious and get more information. Say, “Help me understand why you proposed this. What makes it fair?” This gives you time to frame a thoughtful and informed response.
- What happened: Your opponent throws out a demand. “We can’t do less than $20 million for this deal,” they say.
- How to respond: Don’t immediately dive in with a response! Keep the conversation open and ask about interests. Say, “Okay, I’m glad we can talk about this today. I’m aware of what you’re asking, and I’d like to know a bit more about what’s behind it so I can give you several options that could work for us both.” When you know what’s driving their demands, you can uncover creative solutions.
- What happened: Your opponent is throwing out all sorts of numbers to frame the conversation: “The going rate for this type of property is $100/square foot."
- How to respond: Put their anchor in context. “A rate of $100/square foot may be fair for some buildings in this category, but this one has some unique advantages, like X and Y, that put it in a different class. And I’ve seen similar properties go for $130-$150/square foot."
- What happened: Your opponent’s not going to budge. “Take it or leave it!” they say.
- How to respond: Reframe impasse as an option. Say, “We could walk away from this, but that could be costly and risky for both of us.” Here’s where it’s useful to have done some thinking in advance: what do they stand to lose by walking away? What do you stand to lose? “If you’ve thought hard about the consequences of no agreement for each side, you’ll know whether their ultimatum is more likely to be a true ultimatum that signals the limit of what the other side can offer, or just a hard bargaining tactic,” says Movius.