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Delay Tactics: When to Stall and How to Recognize When Someone Is Giving You the Run-Around

September 29, 2011

“Stalling,” simply enough, refers to delaying certain decisions and other details within the realm of negotiation. Typically, a negotiator will employ this tactic in order to inspire uneasiness and doubt in an opponent. However, stalling can also be used more ethically in order to buy time for additional research or internal discussion. It is also a great option if you are worried about your emotions bleeding into your work and you simply need time to cool off.

Of course, like any business maneuver, delay tactics are not without risk.  It is necessary to consider that your competitor might read a sudden absence of communication or change of plans as being combative. This is especially harmful if the negotiation has already proven to be choppy . Indeed, the effects may turn out to be the opposite of what you’ve intended. Instead of buying yourself more time, you may end up under even more pressure. Worse, the other party, feeling neglected, may simply decide to withdraw his offer.

But remember, even if you decide to avoid stalling as a tactic, it doesn’t mean your opponent won’t, so it is important to be able to recognize it when  it’s happening to you. For example, if the other asks you to look at further documentation when all of the necessary information to begin negotiation is already present, there’s a good chance he’s up to something.

Similarly, if the person you’re dealing with suddenly decides that he’s not qualified to negotiate, and that his boss is out of town for the week, you’ve probably got a “staller” on your hands. Also, always be on the lookout for the same questions or ideas being recycled over and over again.

The best way to deal with this is to give the other guy a taste of his own medicine—don’t be the first to give in. Take the little vacation your fellow negotiator gave you and use it to your advantage. Do some extra-credit work to be sure you’re doubly-prepared when he finally decides he’s ready to talk.

Of course, the ideal option would be to circumvent the situation all together by setting  timetables and deadlines at the outset of the negotiation. Make sure the other party understands right off the bat what is expected of him as far as scheduling is concerned.

 You should also be aware that some people stall not as a ploy, but as a defense mechanism. If a negotiator doesn’t seem to want to make up his mind, or uses overly-formal language, or brings up obscure procedural issues , it’s best not to waste your energy on trying to psyche him out. Scale things back, take it slow. Gently remind him of your terms and other matters you’ve discussed. Take time out to start things over, checking with the other party every step of the way.

 This post is excerpted from Keld Jensen’s upcoming book Power Bargaining: Adding Value to Commercial Negotiations to be published early 2012.

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