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Defending Against Two Major Negotiating Tactics


If you've been in sales or negotiation for a long time, you know this process has more to do with who is on the other side of the table, more than what you're actually selling. Understanding—and more importantly, defending against—negotiation tactics can be the key to securing a deal that actually leaves you margin and gives your prospect or client the services they need.

Two techniques that can trip up salespeople are:

  1. The Flinch
  2. Nibbling

These two can be an issue because, deep down, we all want to be liked! These tactics rely on that little bug inside all of us that really wants to make the people around us happy. But your job as a salesperson isn't to be liked, though you should be likable! Your job is to remain an adult and find the solution that serves everyone's interests.

Let's take a look at these two techniques employed by negotiators and how you can defend against them.

The Flinch

When a prospect hears your price and immediately responds with an exclamation of surprise or disbelief, like "Wow, I didn't think it would be that much!" this is a flinch. At first glance, it may seem like a genuine reaction of shock. However, seasoned sales professionals recognize this as a deliberate tactic designed to manipulate the other person.

The Flinch's Defense

Your first instinct may be to cut the cost without changing anything in the proposal. Do not do this!

Ideally, you will have covered the investment levels that make sense when you completed the budget step of your sales process with your prospect, and this can mitigate some uses of the flinch gambit. But often, seasoned negotiators will find or manufacture something to be shocked by.

Instead, you can boil down your proposal to include less work for you and investment for them and see if it makes sense to slowly start working together. You can also add something that is valuable to them but inexpensive or easy for you to provide, to help balance things out for them.


As the negotiation progresses, a client might request seemingly small additions or adjustments without offering anything in return: "Could we get an extra session or license?" or "How about a slight discount for the bulk that we're purchasing in?”

This is nibbling. Although it might not seem like a big deal initially, constantly accommodating these 'small' requests can quickly eat away at your margins and the perceived value of your offering.

Oftentimes the salesperson on the other end of this feels a sense of sweet relief when this tactic comes. The prospect wants what they sell! They can tell their manager the deal is moving forward and start counting their commission.

Nibbling's Defense

But not so fast! If you keep giving, you'll keep getting asked. To defend against this one in the long term, you have to get mentally and emotionally tough. You cannot follow the normal rules of relationships or politeness in a negotiating conversation.

In the moment, you can use the ARA formula to work through it quickly:

  • Acknowledge their request
  • Reassure that you understand what they need
  • Ask a question

Say something along the lines of "I appreciate you asking if we can throw that in. So when it comes time for us to do the proposal, should we spend a few minutes looking at that?

Looking For More?

If you want in-depth negotiating information, check out my book, Negotiating from the Inside Out. If you need personalized coaching on any part of the sales process, our firm specializes in supporting salespeople in many industries, so feel free to reach out.

Clint Babcock

Clint Babcock

Clint has nearly 25 years of experience developing and directing organizations' recruiting and sales strategies, as well as coaching and mentoring "C-level" executives. His expertise is in training inside and outside consultative sales teams in new business development, profit and loss management, sales compensation, key account management, and product/service positioning. Specialties include corporate sales training, public speaking, hiring assessments, and business development structuring.