Negotiating: how to respond to an unreasonable offer

Coworkers on business negotiations in night office

Negotiation is a key life skill, and it is a skill that can be life changing. We’ve worked with clients across multiple industries—from restauranteurs to real estate agents—and we’ve encountered just about every negotiation tactic under the sun. In this post, we look at the unreasonable, the stubborn, and the cantankerous counterparty, and we seek to answer the question ‘how should you respond to an unreasonable offer or unreasonable negotiating position’.

Have you been in a negotiation with someone who just kept… asking for more or who could not move past an unreasonable position? Negotiations can be everything from productive and useful to a complete waste of time. If you’re working a deal with someone who won’t budge, it can feel like they’re deliberately making the negotiation process difficult.

How do you respond? Well, there are a number of points to understand about this situation, and we’ll cover them below.

1. Don’t respond to unreasonable offers in an unreasonable manner.  Most offers are not there to be taken, they are clues, part of the communication and negotiation process and no more. See each offer for what it is, information that you can use to understand the counterparty, their concerns and their level of understanding of the negation. Oftentimes an unreasonable offer is a clear sign that your counterparty does not adequately understand the respective positions of the parties. It may also be a sign that they are angry and frustrated. 

2. To respond to an unreasonable offer made due to a lack of information: give the counterparty what they need to make a reasonable assessment. That may require specialist help, such as reports from advisors, accountants and others. In response the counterparty may then seek to distance their position from that independent information, a further sign that they are approaching the negotiation in an irrational way. 

3. Take time out. Aggressive negotiators believe that they get can an upper hand by their tone, and by pure rage. They can’t. When faced with aggression, take a break, slow down the process and don’t respond in kind. It is important to realise that everyone will need to ‘save face’ if a negotiation is to succeed, so don’t embarrass the angry chihuahua too much. 

4. Re-frame the discussion. Negotiations should be principles-based and the principles at play should be those that matter to the parties. Oftentimes negotiations get side tracked. Refocus discussion to state succinctly what each party is trying to achieve and then look to find creative ways to achieve that. 

Finally: Realise that not every negotiation will be successful. Sometimes it is time to concede and other times it is time to press on.

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Connor James

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