Sometimes it's best to play dumb in a negotiation

Sometimes it’s best to play dumb in a negotiation
Image Credit: Insomnia Cured Here

I don’t know about you, but I like it when I’m able to impress other people with just how smart I am. I like to show them that I’ve researched the issues that we’re negotiating and that I have a lot of experience in this area. However, it turns out that this might be the wrong approach in certain cases. Sometimes it may be better to come across as being just a little bit dumb…

Why Dumb Is Powerful

When you claim to not know something in a negotiation, something happens to the other side of the table. They have to slow down. They start to realize that they are not going to be able to use their negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to pressure you into making a decision on something until you feel as though you understand what is being negotiated. In short, they are going to have to alter their negotiating strategy because of what you are telling them that you don’t know.

When you come across as not knowing everything that you need to know in order to participate in a negotiation, this can provoke a number of different responses. These can include curiosity, humility, open-mindedness. Since you have now slowed things down and forced the other side to spend more time than they and anticipated explaining things to you, you’ve also opened the door to more innovative ideas that you might have overlooked if you had come across as being smart or, even worse, knowing it all.

The reasons that you may feel as though you need to play it dumb can be many and different. One of the more common ones is simply that you didn’t have time to familiarize yourself with what is going to be negotiated or the history associated with the other side of the table. What this means is that during the negotiations you’ll be spending a lot of time listening. When asked a question, this is when you’ll have to play dumb.

Exactly What Does Dumb Look Like?

Let us assume that you really are not dumb. So just exactly how are you going to go about playing dumb during your next negotiation? One of the simplest ways of going about doing this is to slow down your responses. Make it appear as though you are really pondering every response that you provide. Control your tone and make sure that you tread lightly – don’t provoke anyone because you don’t know enough to do so.

When you do speak, make sure that you quantify what you say. This will interject a note of doubt into what you are saying and communicate to the other side that you are not sure about what is going on. In the event that someone asks you a question, understand that you have options. You don’t have to respond to the question immediately. Instead, take your time. This will confirm that you are not sure what is going on.

One of the most powerful things that you can do is to get comfortable spending time in silence. Communicate that you are not quite sure what is going on by not being in a hurry to clarify issues associated with the negotiation. When you are asked a question, respond with a question. You can ask the other side what they would do in this situation if they were you. When they tell you, you can say “Thanks, too bad you are not me” and nothing has been changed.

What All Of This Means For You

How we are perceived by the other side of the table is important to all of us during a negotiation. We’d like to be able to come across as being smart and knowledgeable about the issues that are being negotiated. However, it turns out that in some cases it may be to our advantage for the other side to view us as being dumb.

Not fully understanding what is going on puts you in a powerful position. The other side can’t expect you to make a decision until you know what is involved in that decision and so they are going to have to be patient while you come up to speed. They can’t pressure you because you really don’t know what you are talking about. When you want to play dumb you need to move slowly, watch what you say, and answer questions with more questions.

Yes, your personal pride may end up taking a hit, but by playing dumb in your next principled negotiation you may be able to convince the other side to not pressure you to make a decision so fast. This will buy you more time to try to get them to make more concessions to you. Take your time, play it dumb, and then walk away with the deal that you wanted.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that it is possible to play it too dumb during a negotiation?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Negotiator Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Negotiator Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As negotiators we like to think of ourselves as being “all knowing” and “invincible”. In fact, we’d really like the other side of the table to view us in that way no matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques are being used. However, the reality is that we really don’t know everything. In fact, not only do we not know everything, but we also probably don’t know everything that we need to know in order to get the best deal out of this negotiation. It sure looks like we need to ask for some help.


Take No Prisoners In Your Next Negotiation

Take No Prisoners In Your Next Negotiation

How your next negotiation is going to turn out will be determined by how you open the negotiation. No matter if the other side is a push-over or a tough customer, you are going to have to decide how you want the negotiation to start and then you are going to have to take steps to make it happen.

What You’ll Find Inside:


What makes an opening so very important in a negotiation is that it lays the groundwork for everything else that will follow. No matter if you are planning on using the “reverse godfather” approach or just want to duke it out like Howard Stern did with his employer, you are going to have to make sure that you have a set of guiding principles that you follow.

The other side will see how you are starting out and they will work to counter you at every step. They may hit you with a “best and final offer” – will you know what to do when this happens? You have the ability to hit them back by using status symbols or perhaps even physical intimidation.

A key part of any negotiation that you open is to understand who is going to be doing the negotiating: boys or girls. This is critical because they do negotiate differently. As the pressure starts to build in your next negotiation, you are going to have to make sure that you know how to handle a high-stress negotiation.

Not every negotiation that you open will be the same. Some will be extreme and you’ll have to deal with that when it happens. If you are a good negotiator, then you’ll know how to use testing in order to find out what the other side is really up to. In the end, it’s all going to come down to your personality. Do you really have what it takes to be a great negotiator?

Click Here to check this book out on Amazon

Click Here to check this book out in other formats


The Options That You Have Are Determined By Framing

September 16, 2016

More than once when I’ve been involved in a negotiation with all of its negotiation styles and negotiating techniques, there has come a point in the negotiations when the other side has put down their pen, looked at me, and said “so what’s it going to be: option A or option B?” Ouch, talk about […]

Read the full article →

The Best Negotiators Know That They Can Learn From Children

September 2, 2016

As negotiators, we all want to become better at what we do. Now, there are a lot of different ways to go about doing this. We can attend fancy course, read a lot of books, or even watch countless hours of videos in order to develop our negotiation styles and negotiating techniques. However, it turns […]

Read the full article →

How Negotiators Can Deal With “Scrambled Eggs”

August 26, 2016

If you ever take a look at the types of people who are attracted to the negotiating profession, you’ll find that they normally share a great deal in common. Specifically, these are people who like things to be nice and neat. Everything has a place for them. What they really don’t like is chaos. That’s […]

Read the full article →

New Book: Secrets To Organizing A Speech For Maximum Impact

August 25, 2016

The goal of any speaker is that when they give their speech their audience hangs on their every word. In order to make this happen, we need to find ways to organize our speech so that we can both capture and hold our audience’s attention from start to finish. What You’ll Find Inside: BACK TO […]

Read the full article →

How To Influence The Other Side During A Negotiation

August 19, 2016

Ultimately a negotiation is all about getting the other side to do what you want them to do. You can ask them, threaten them, beg them, intimidate them, or try a number of other things but ultimately all of your negotiation styles and negotiating techniques are designed to find a way to get them to […]

Read the full article →

The Best Way To Start A Negotiation

August 12, 2016

When I’m working with negotiators who want to become better, one of the questions that I’m presented with the most often is not about different negotiation styles or negotiating techniques, instead it is “what is the best way to start a negotiation”. The answer to this question is “any way that will end up getting […]

Read the full article →

The Ultimate Secret Of Negotiating Success

August 5, 2016

As negotiators we all want to be successful. We may define what we mean by success differently, but in the end it all comes down to the same thing – we want to get our way in the negotiations without having to give too much away. Although there are many different negotiation styles and negotiating […]

Read the full article →

Any Successful Negotiation Is All About Commitment

July 29, 2016

I believe that it pretty much goes without saying that the goal of any negotiation is to eventually reach an agreement with the other side of the table. It’s how we are able to reach that agreement despite all of the negotiation styles and negotiating techniques that are being used that can at times be […]

Read the full article →