Win-Lose Techniques

The first and foremost thing is to know the techniques. Firstly for recognition, and secondly for defence. There are about 20 or so major techniques, and hundreds of variations; I'll fill them in as I recall them.

All of these have names. I might have gotten some of the names wrong, but that's ok, as the purpose here is to help us discuss and recognise them.

The general approach is to read and learn the technique, and remember the defence. Then, one day someone will use it on you or you will see it used somewhere. At this point, remember the defence and use it, as best you can. Using it will reinforce the process.

The Hot Potatoe

The Appeal to God

The appeal to God as a negotiating tactic is also more formally related to The Appeal to Authority as an argumentation fallacy.

The way this is used in win-lose negotiation is quite cunning. Your opponent refers to an authority as being that which he must defer to in any decision making and compromise. Yet he grants you no such benefit. This then makes for an asymmetric power situation; you have to decide for yourself, but any tough decisions or compromises that go against your opponent can be deferred.

Which means that whenever you win a point, or make up some ground, your opponenet says "my boss will need to agree to that..." and of course she never will.


The defence is simple. If the person you are negotiation with hasn't the power, simply stop negotiating with that person and insist on starting again with the higher authority. This will place a dilemma in front of your opponent. Either the authority does not exist - a common enough trick - and the bluff has been called, or the opponent will be cut out. Either way a choice has to be made, and the response will give you more information about what the game is.

The Guilty Arm Twist

"No amount of personal success justifies a failure in the home."

Grafitti seen ...

The Last Minute Deal Killer


In order to elicit - drag - information out of his opponent, a good win-lose negotiator will often resort to Eliza.

Eliza was an early computer similation of a psychology technique that involves turning the subject's statements into a question. The trick is to bounce back everything said as a question. For example, if you typed into the Eliza program "I am in love with you" she might respond with "How does it feel to be in love with me?"

As a program, Eliza could do this all day long! The beauty of this technique is that it reveals nothing about Eliza, yet encourages the subject to "free-flow" with their thoughts. Ideal for psychoanalysis, of course, and sometimes used in win-lose.


The defence is to recognise it, and to bring to bear questions of your own. Just simply recognising that the other person is playing this game is enough to turn it off, especially if the win-loser knows what he is doing.

However, be careful! Many people will not realise the invasiveness of what they are doing and have been doing naturally for their entire lives. Accusing them of using a 'tactic' will likely offend.

Practice statements of recognition on this tactic.

The Irrational Backdoor

We bring up our children to analyse rationally. But, we also bring them up with some backdoors to rational behaviour inserted into their conciousness. For the most part, we don't even know we're doing it, but a canny negotiator knows them all.

The basic ploy is to associate something you believe to be bad with an action your opponent wants you to avoid, or the reverse. If he can associate something good with that action he wants you to take, then by not taking it, you feel that you are bad.

In no particular order:

If you love your kids...

A favourite of the insurance salesman or any safety product. Who can resist, when to not buy this product would say to the world that you don't love your children?

The defence is to see through, and say, bluntly (to yourself if you have to), "I love my kids, but that has nothing to do with whether this product is safe or not." Once you see through the bluster, it is a trick that is worthless. Better, it allows a counter-attack, because there is almost always a short fall in safety. "In fact, I'm not sure if it is the best option for my kids, because you lack certain safety features blah blah ..." Still, be careful with counter-attacking as a master negotiator can tie you in knots.

The Patriot

This is the famous American notion of serving ones country, but it is not solely american by any stretch, all countries have their deep-rooted nationalistic urges.

The call for all Patriots goes out on a regular basis, generally when a bureaucratic division or department is attempting to get citizens to do something that they ordinarily would run a mile from, for good rational reasons. For example, rational citizens would ask why they are being invited to fight in some far away land, but patriots would not. Likewise, rational citizens would question the cost-effectiveness of an identity card, whereas patriots do not.

What has patriotism got to do with it? Nothing, but it has been instilled since an early age and results in a very powerful way to sway people. Who, after all, is going to stand up and say "I am not a patriot?"

A variation on the theme is the term "Un-American." Again, this is by no means uniquely american, but is much less pronounced in other countries. The British and German cultures have this to some extent, whereby citizens are urged to remember their cultural inheritence. In fact, the concept of "being British" was invented by Whitehall around the 18th century in order to attempt to meld the dominant English with the unruly Scots and Welsh.

Countries like Australia and Spain do not display this, perhaps because of their much more heterogenous backgrounds An Australian would not understand the exortation, and a Spaniard would wonder what the Basques or the Catalans would make of such.

The backdoor of nationality is bandied about often by two opposing sides, without any sense of confusion, especially in America. What it is to be really "American" is therefore lost in the noise, and to my knowledge has never been discovered.

The defence - simply to state that such and such is not the country you were brought up to believe in. Once the charletan trick is exposed, you can then go on to list the points whereby ones culture suggests otherwise than what is being asked.

The Legitimate Purpose

Closely associated with the Irrational Backdoor is the Legitimate Purpose, also known as the loaded question. In this argument, a statement or question is posed that cannot be disagreed with, without placing you in a difficult position.

Do you believe that Police should carry guns for legitimate law enforcement purposes?

The signal that this is a loaded question is the term legitimate. In this case, you are faced with the choice of agreeing, or denying the police their legitimate law enforcement. The fallacy in the argument is that only the legitimate case exists; as such it is a clear signal that the questioner is trying to hide the alternates, that there might be non-legitimate results or actions.


In general the best strategy is simply to state complete and firm disagreement up front. This will normally knock the proposer off track, and at this point state that the question is loaded to be a trick question with only one right answer, and is therefore trying to hide the alternate.

Why, you may ask, if this is such a serious debate, is it necessary to hide the alternate case?


From Nerdherding. Copied directly! I called it Tennis to give it a name. A better one is forthcoming when you invent it ;)

Tennis is the occasional habit of experienced project managers to quickly return requests to their clients for "clarification". A project manager once described it using a dangerously mixed metaphor:

You can't drop a ball that isn't in your court.

If this practice is used to avoid misunderstandings then its (obviously) win-win. It can also be used in a defensive manner by contractors who have been hurt by clients who occasionally ask for things that they don't actually want or are impractical (this happens quite a bit in government consulting).

The evil side appears when it is used as a delaying tactic or as a way to create a bureaucratic block that can be easily removed in an act of "artificial good faith".


If someone uses this technique (win-lose) on you - simply ask for some examples of the format they want information in. The chances are they don't have such a format and will be shamed into being genuinely helpful. If they do have examples then you will be able to formulate your request in a more convenient manner. Win either way!

Tactics of General Defence

Are found in the general techniques to detect win-lose negotiation styles. See win-win Tactics, especially "Engaging and Detecting."