Manipulation: A useful or unscrupulous negotiation tactic?

I recently had a debate about whether manipulation is the right word to describe the choreographed movement that is key to business negotiations.

The word manipulate has two meanings: ‘Handle or control (a tool, mechanism, information, etc.) in a skilful manner’ or ‘control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly or unscrupulously’.

In my view, negotiations do involve an element of manipulation (albeit without any unscrupulous behaviour). The preparation and planning phase of a negotiation, making sure the scene is set, the way you open a negotiation, your choice of words, the data you choose to share or hide, the way you choose to present the data, the information you supply in advance to condition the other party - in my mind is all manipulation. The action of manipulating something (data, your behaviour, the setting, the timing, the agenda) in a skilful manner.

When you get to the heart of the negotiation your objective is to move the other parties away from their position, while standing firm on your own. You may explain how you feel, you might provide them with facts or you might hint at possible negative outcomes, we call these persuasion methods emotion, logic and threat.

These are powerful ways to get parties to move. They require you to handle or control the meeting in a skilful manner. If you use these methods to manipulate the other party you will get them to move from their position without needing to concede your position. It is for this reason we call these persuasion methods ‘one way movers’.

Bargaining and compromise can come later and often require less manipulation or flair. Bargaining and compromise are often seen as more authentic persuasion methods in a negotiation as they are ‘two way movers’ i.e. both parties are trading and haggling.

Remember, negotiation is an art that requires skill. Learning to use one way movers will improve your success in this vital business field, but please not in an unscrupulous way!

Andy Brown is a consultant with Negotiation Resource International, a division of PMMS Group

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