How to Deal with Someone Who’s Using Black Swan Tactics on You

    

You enter a negotiation. What if there’s a Black Swan-trained ninja on the other side?

In such a scenario, you’re most likely dealing with one of three tactics:

  1. How am I supposed to do that?
  2. A No-oriented question™ 
  3. Some sort of Label™ (that’s giving you a bad feeling)

negotiation tactics

First, some context: At The Black Swan Group, we use our teachings on each other all the time!  

The real issue is this: Where is the other side coming from? The context of the tactic will tell you a lot. As Brandon Voss says, Situation drives strategy.

On our team, we’re helping each other. But we also realize that we need to stay sharp. To do that, we use these skills in all of our conversations. Why? Because without maintenance, they deteriorate for everyone—even us!

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There are quite a few cutthroat negotiators who’ve read the book. Mostly these tend to fall into the procurement/contract negotiator types.  

A comment on procurement: This is, in reality, a hard job. There are quite a few really good and caring people doing it. They are usually under a great deal of pressure. Please don’t automatically assume that all of them are “the enemy”—even though their profession has a significant number of people who act like it.

The Black Swan Method™ was originally designed to cope with the toughest procurement negotiators on Earth anyway: kidnappers.

One way or the other, someone who is using Black Swan tactics against you will only be effective at either questions or Labels—not both.

If they use Labels, they will tend to go in circles. They will not be effective in developing rapport or offering any insights. That’s a big tell.

In any case, let’s take a look at the three scenarios you’ll find yourself in when you’re facing a negotiator who’s trained in the Black Swan arts.

Being Asked ‘How am I supposed to do that?’

This is probably the most common Black Swan tactic you will run into. Procurement people love it because it is so simple and effective at obtaining concessions.

How am I supposed to do that? is actually an implementation question. So tell them! Give them an implementation plan. Their answer will explain a great deal. Listen carefully. Use Dynamic Silence™ and then Mirror™ the response.

In any negotiation, you need an implementation plan anyway. In the hostage negotiation world, before SWAT even got to a crisis site, they were required to have an emergency assault plan. They would refine it when they got there and the negotiators started feeding them information. SWAT expected that they would adapt their plan, but they came ready with one regardless.

Similarly, you should have an implementation plan that you are prepared to adapt for when the negotiations get started.

Respond to This Question with a Label

There’s a big difference between reacting and responding. Talented negotiators learn to respond to the question behind the question.

You can do this by responding with Labels:

  • Sounds like ... you’re lost?
  • Sounds like if I tell you how to do it ... you will?
  • Sounds like you’re looking... for something else?

Because How am I supposed to do that? is an implementation question, you can choose to focus your Labels on implementation issues:

  • It sounds like there are people affected by this who are not on board?

In any event, the point here is to focus on implementation. Use your skills to stay in the moment and clear up whether or not there really are implementation issues or if this is a manipulation tactic.  

If it’s manipulation, your counterpart is going to run out of time. Tactical Empathy™ is your best countermove. Stick with it.

Being Manipulated with No-Oriented Questions and Labels

As I mentioned earlier, what’s the context? 

I am grateful when someone who is collaborating with me uses no-oriented questions because it helps me think.

What do I do when someone uses them (or Labels) out of context that are designed to manipulate me? I will answer once, make it clear to them that I am aware of their tactic, and then I walk. 

Examples of this manipulation might be:

  • Are you afraid to submit an RFP to us? (We absolutely don’t submit RFPs to anyone.)
  • Have you given up on submitting an RFP to us? (Same issue.)

Or any form of Have you given up on ... ? regarding something we never started or don’t do at all (and of course that means we never started it). Situation drives strategy.

I walk away. I end politely—the last impression is the lasting impression—and I walk away. If they won’t allow me to end politely, I end the conversation anyway.

  • Thank you for the opportunity. It was generous. Goodbye.

One Deadly Sin of Negotiation™ is taking yourself hostage by needing the deal. It’s an abundant world out there. In the amount of time you will spend on someone manipulating you, you could have made two deals with someone who treats you with respect. 

Don’t be afraid to walk when you’re being manipulated. Walking away from folks who aren’t operating in good faith can be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.

Here’s to recognizing whether your counterpart is using our tactics against you. When you do that, figure out how to respond, and get ready to unleash your success.

negotiating contracts

Chris Voss

About The Author

Christopher Voss is the CEO of The Black Swan Group, a firm that solves business negotiation problems with hostage negotiation strategies. Chris founded the Black Swan Group, in 2008 upon his retirement from the FBI where he was the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. Chris is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Southern California (USC) Marshall School of Business and Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business where he teaches business negotiation in both M.B.A. programs.