Top 10 Worst Negotiation Tactics of 2015

Here are some of the worst negotiation tactics displayed during calendar year 2015 – from hard-bargaining, distributive negotiation strategies aimed at getting the whole pie to stonewalling strategies intended to stymy the development of a negotiated agreement


Both self-proclaimed negotiation experts and novices alike tried out tactics that flopped at the bargaining table this year. Some erred by miscalculating their BATNAs (and their counterparts’), while others made the mistake of shunning negotiation altogether.

10. Stonewalling the negotiation process. Contract negotiations between Jason Pierre-Paul and the New York Giants demonstrate the hazards of intentionally stonewalling your counterpart in negotiations. A successful defensive end with the Giants since 2010, Pierre-Paul was renegotiating his contract after a couple of mildly disappointing seasons. The Giants’ offer of a “franchise tag” designation did not sit well with Pierre-Paul, who bargained hard for a better deal. The Giants countered with a multiyear, $60 million contract. Pierre-Paul again held out. After sustaining an injury in which he lost his right index finger, the Giants retracted their multiyear contract offer, leaving Pierre-Paul with the original offer.

Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a BetterNegotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

9. Choosing not to negotiate with difficult partners. In January 2015 the Negotiation Briefings newsletter featured an article, “Dealing with difficult people – even when you don’t want to,” discussing the impasse NATO leaders had reached with Russian President Vladimir Putin with regards to his unilateral actions in the Crimea. Aside from exhibiting obstinacy in the face of a unified European front, Putin also proffered a unilateral solution to the Ukraine crisis using a seven point memo he had written on a napkin prior to the summit, a seven point memo which he then failed to implement in any meaningful way.

8. A flawed team approach. Three of the costars of “The Real Housewives of New York” tried the team approach when they joined forces this fall to demand high salaries for the show’s new season from their network, Bravo. But the women didn’t have a strong BATNA, or best alternative to a negotiated agreement, and Bravo did—the women could be easily replaced. Consequently, the maneuver was “a useless exercise in nothing,” as their castmate, business mogul Bethenny Frankel, noted.

7. “Blurred Lines” in court. Crooner Robin Thicke’s 2013 hit single “Blurred Lines” attracted so many comparisons to Marvin Gaye’s song “Got to Give It Up” that the singer and his cowriters become concerned that the Gaye family might try to sue them for copyright infringement. Rather than try to negotiate a solution, though, Thicke and his team preemptively sued Gaye’s family for declaratory judgment on the matter, a move that naturally attracted a countersuit. In March 2015, a jury ruled against Thicke, reaffirming that collaborative overtures are often a better opening move than litigation.

6. Failing to negotiate for yourself. The Sony Pictures email leak scandal rocked the world of Hollywood when it revealed personal correspondence between executives, directors, and actors. One of the more interesting revelations we explored in the May 2015 article “Negotiate for what you need to succeed,” published inNegotiation Briefings, was that the blockbuster film American Hustle’s female stars were being paid less than their male counterparts, leading many to decry the gender inequality prevalent in salary and compensation not only in Hollywood but in other industries. This situation highlights the importance of being able to advocate for yourself in negotiations, a skill distinctly different from but closely related to that of advocating on behalf of others.

Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a BetterNegotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

5. Edward Snowden’s bad BATNA. Edward Snowden, the controversial whistleblower who leaked documents about the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance program, has had little luck negotiating his three felony charges with the U.S. federal government. In hopes of returning to the United States from exile in Moscow, Snowden says he has offered to go to prison, but his appeals appear to be falling on deaf ears. The case serves as a reminder that despite your best negotiation tactics, sometimes the only factor that can overcome a bad BATNA is the passage of time.

4. Reddit’s “no haggling” policy. This spring, Elaine Pao, then the CEO of Reddit, revealed that her company was attempting to correct the persistent gender gap in employee pay by forbidding internal salary negotiations. The well-intentioned policy put Reddit at a disadvantage in the cutthroat high-tech labor market and sent the incorrect message that women are incapable of negotiating assertively on their own behalf. A better approach to addressing the gender pay gap? Give employees access to negotiating training and root out sources of hidden bias in your organization.

3. Stopping outsiders from sabotaging your negotiations. One of the most difficult tactics negotiators may grapple with at the bargaining table is the attempt by outsiders to derail or sabotage a negotiated agreement as we discussed in our June 2015 Negotiation Briefings article, “Stopping Outsiders from Sabotaging Your Deal.” This exact problem was faced by John Kerry’s negotiating team in early 2015 as they tried to negotiate a nuclear arms deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Congressional Republicans, staunchly opposed to any agreement with Iran, crafted a separate statement that they sent to Iran’s Supreme Leader, an effort many saw as one geared towards subverting any potentially negotiated agreement.

2. An overly orderly approach. A first round of talks launched by the U.S. government aimed at restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba proved disappointing in January, with the parties making little headway. One reason may have been their decision to focus on one issue at a time, a choice that can keep parties focused on their positions. By contrast, you are far more likely to notice potential tradeoffs that may exist across issues when you discuss them simultaneously.

1. Brinksmanship with benefactors. As he approached European creditors this summer for a new bailout package for Greece, Alexis Tsipras, then the nation’s prime minister, struck a combative tone that did not go over well. Dissatisfied with the deal on the table, Tsipras put it up for a referendum vote in Greece. After Greeks rejected it, the Greek economy tumbled even further, and Tsipras and his team were forced to accept an even worse package from Europe. The lesson? A conciliatory tone will carry you much further than brinksmanship when you’re making bold requests.