“I can’t believe they want to negotiate every single point,” my client said. “It makes no sense. These are standard terms, and many of their changes represent no functional difference.”
What can you do when facing someone who wants to negotiate everything – even seemingly incontrovertible issues?
Start by exploring the rationale underlying your counterpart’s “fight everything” strategy. Then design a counterstrategy to address it.
Here are some reasons why a “fight everything” approach may seem sensible, plus some ways to counter them.
One, some negotiators believe that fighting over everything will wear down their counterparts and will thus result in more favorable concessions to their side.
Sometimes, of course, this is true. Many don’t like to fight, especially over minor issues, and will be more likely to concede than to aggressively engage.
But here’s the problem – the more you give in, the more these “fighters” become emboldened and double down. After all, their strategy is working. Plus, even though the issues may appear inconsequential, they may collectively add up to a significant difference.
Many years ago I litigated a case against a law firm with a reputation for aggressively litigating over everything. They made the litigation so unpleasant for opposing counsel, and for opposing clients, that no one wanted to deal with them.
With such a reputation, they theorized, opposing counsel and clients would either be more likely to settle early and favorably for their clients (to avoid the pain of dealing with them), or at least concede more than they might otherwise.
Two, parties being paid based on their time have a financial self-interest in dragging out the negotiation. You can rack up a lot of time if you dispute everything in a deal.
Three, agents on behalf of principals might fight over everything in an effort to show their clients how they aggressively represent them.
Finally, some parties evaluate how well they do by how far and how often they get their counterparts to concede. Have you ever heard someone say “we got a great deal as we got the other side to move more than us”? Those who fight over everything will rack up seemingly more concessions than others, even if the volume of concessions may make little substantive difference to the parties.
So what can you do?
First, don’t just cave again and again. While this appeasement may provide some short-term peace, it will be long-term counterproductive. On the other hand, it’s also not preferable to get caught in a downward spiral with everyone fighting everything. That could be disastrous for everyone.
Second, reach out to folks who have previously negotiated with your counterpart and find out what has worked in the past for them. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Here are some responses you might hear:
- A shot across the bow might be required so they know you will fight, if necessary. But also note you don’t think such fighting would be good for anyone.
- If it’s an agent utilizing this strategy (like a lawyer), directly engage their bosses or clients on this. Then illustrate how a different strategy would be more efficient and effective for everyone.
- Explicitly recognize their strategy, thus effectively undermining it, by saying “You know, just last week my counterpart in another deal tried the same thing, negotiating over everything. But as soon as he learned we were more than willing to fight, he backed right off. Hopefully we won’t have to go through that exercise again here – it wasn’t good for anyone.”
Of course, if you have a good alternative to doing a deal with them (a good Plan B), you might just refuse to negotiate with your counterpart until they come ready to deal in good faith.