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How to Spot and Combat Hardball Tactics in Salary Negotiation: Bluffing

Hardball Tactics in Negotiation at the office


Amina stands nervously in front of Jon's desk.

Amina: "Jon, given my recent achievements and the added responsibilities, I believe a discussion about a raise is appropriate."


Jon (raising an eyebrow): "Amina, asking for more money just months after your last increment? You’ll be seen as ungrateful. Everyone is making sacrifices."


Amina (taken aback): "I've done my research, Jon. It’s not about being ungrateful. It’s about being fairly compensated."


Jon: "Let's leave it at that. Remember, gratitude goes a long way."


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Later, At a Networking Event


Amina, holding a drink, spots Ria, Jon's manager. Gathering her courage, she approaches Ria.


Amina: "Ria, it's good to see you here. May I have a word?"


Ria: "Of course, Amina. How's everything?"


Amina (taking a deep breath): "I’m sorry you thought I was being ungrateful. I did my homework before discussing my compensation with Jon. My intent was never to seem unappreciative."


Ria (genuinely puzzled): "I'm not sure what you’re referring to, Amina."


Amina: "Jon mentioned that you'd be disappointed if I asked for more money, suggesting I'd be seen as ungrateful."


Ria: "I've never spoken to Jon about this. This is news to me."


Quiet Corner at Networking Event

Amina and Ria find a more private spot.


Ria (concerned): It's troubling to hear that Jon might be misrepresenting conversations. I do not believe that bluffing or lying in a negotiation is productive for long term employee engagement.


Amina: "I trusted him. It hurts to think he might have lied to manipulate the situation."


Ria: "I'll address this with Jon. No one should feel undervalued or be misled."


Later at Amina’s Apartment


Amina, reflecting on the day's events, sits on her couch with her laptop open.


Amina (thinking aloud): "Working under someone who plays with trust isn't where I want to be. It's time for a change."


She begins updating her resume, determined to find an environment that values honesty and transparency.


Ria’s Office

Ria sits pensively, waiting for Jon to arrive.


Jon: "You wanted to see me, Ria?"

Ria: "Yes, about Amina's recent pay raise negotiation. Did you imply that I would see her as ungrateful if she asked for a raise?"

Jon (hesitating): "I... I thought it would deter her."

Ria: "That's not leadership, Jon. It's manipulation. We need to have a serious conversation about ethics."


Understanding Bluffing


Bluffing is a hardball tactic in negotiation. At its core, bluffing in negotiations means presenting a front that might not wholly align with reality. It's the act of overstating, understating, or fabricating a position, offer, or piece of information. Why? The simple answer is leverage. A successful bluff can push the other party to acquiesce to terms they might not have considered otherwise. But there's a thin line between strategic bluffing and outright deception, and crossing it can have serious implications.


The Risks and Rewards of Bluffing


Bluffing isn't just about making things up. A bluff in a negotiation is someone who understands and manipulates the cognitive biases and emotional responses of their counterpart. By feeding into fears, uncertainties, or even overconfidence, a bluffer can steer a negotiation in their desired direction.


For example, consider the principle of loss aversion—people tend to fear losses more than they value gains. By presenting a scenario where the other party might "lose out," even if it's a bluff, you're tapping into a strong motivator.


Like any other tactic in negotiation, there is a fine line which you should not cross. Bluffing designed to harm the other side in order to secure benefits for your side is in my opinion going too far.


Risks and Rewards: The Double-Edged Nature of Bluffing


There's no doubt that a well-executed bluff can be incredibly advantageous. It can:

  1. Shift the Power Dynamics: A convincing bluff can establish a perceived power difference, even if it's fleeting.

  2. Speed Up Resolutions: Sometimes, a bluff can expedite decisions, especially if the other party believes they have limited options or time.

  3. Optimize Outcomes: With the right bluff, you might achieve more favorable terms or concessions.

However, these rewards come with substantial risks:

  1. Erosion of Trust: If you're caught bluffing, the trust painstakingly built over hours, days, or even years can evaporate in a moment.

  2. Reputational Damage: In professional settings, your credibility is paramount. A revealed bluff can tarnish your image and impede future dealings.

  3. Potential for Escalation: Bluffing can be met with counter-bluffs or aggressive pushback, potentially leading to stalemates.

Detecting and Defusing Bluffs


Being on the receiving end of a bluff can feel upsetting, but there are strategies to detect and defuse them:

  1. In-depth Research: Understand the landscape, the market, and the potential positions of your negotiating counterpart. Prior to getting to the negotiation table, use game theory to play out scenarios. This can help you identify inconsistencies in their claims and be prepared to counter act.

  2. Questioning Techniques: Ask open-ended, probing questions. These can compel the bluffer to provide more detail, increasing the chance they'll trip up.

  3. Look for Non-Verbal Cues: Inconsistencies between what's being said and body language can hint at a bluff. Look for signs of nervousness, overcompensation, or evasiveness.

  4. Establish a Baseline: By knowing how someone usually behaves in neutral situations, you can identify deviations in behavior, which might indicate bluffing. For example, if you are talking with your manager, it's likely that you can detect subtle signs that he or she is bluffing.

To Bluff or Not: Ethical Considerations


Bluffing raises moral and ethical questions. Is it merely a strategic tool, or does it verge on dishonesty? While there's no universal answer, the distinction often lies in intent and impact. A harmless bluff that doesn't materially harm anyone might be viewed differently from a bluff that leads to significant losses or damages.


Bluffing in negotiations is replete with potential benefits and risks. While it might seem like an attractive route to gain an upper hand, it's essential to understand the long term impact. Whether you're considering bluffing or suspect you're on the receiving end of one, arm yourself with knowledge, preparation, and a clear understanding of the ethical landscape. If you are an employee who is at the receiving end of a bluff, consider if the manager is the right manager for you and your long term career advancement.


In Amina's story, Amina landed a new job in a start-up company focused on sustainability initiatives. She is thriving in this purpose driven culture.


Secure a pay raise, the right way!


This is the script I have used to ask and receive thousands of dollars in additional compensation. Own your financial security by negotiating the pay raise you deserve!



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