As a run up to the final stages to publication of my third book, Tactics in the Technocracy, I am posting a tactic, explaining, how it is used, and how to handle it. As my readers know, I look at a negotiation as three systems: strategic – things we do prior to the negotiation; operational – things that impact the operation of the negotiation such as media, environment and timing; and tactical – things we do in the heat of negotiation.
In this series of posts I will pick a tactic, define it, and tell you what to do if it is used on you or, perhaps how you can use it. Please feel free to comment and add your experiences.
This tactic is aimed “at/to the person” and has nothing to do with the substance of the negotiation. It is aggressive, can be abusive, and puts us immediately on the defensive; that is, if we take the bait.
Attacking something about the adverse party may take the form of saying something direct, such as, “experienced negotiators don’t ask for that.” Or passively attacking in an utterance such as, “how long have you worked in this industry?” It may be even sarcastic as an attempt at humor, “Nice shirt, neighborhood’s going bad.”
There are many subtitles to this as far as experience level, behavior, and intent. Fisher and Ury, in Getting to Yes, emphasize focusing on the problem, not the people. This is an important starting point to gain progress on the accord. If you use the ad hominem tactic, know that it may increase tension, cause frustration, and move you away from your goal.
To handle this tactic, you have a choice. You can either ignore it or call the other side on the inappropriate nature of tactic. The former would be appropriate if you want to deceive them into a level of confidence while you reserve your attacks at a later point, saving your skills for more beneficial use later, in Sun Tzu style. The latter choice shows dominance and ensures you are taken seriously, but may become a distraction if too much emphasis is placed on it, so prudence is warranted.