Negotiators Need To Understand The Power Of “Fait Accompli”

When something is done in a negotiation, is it really done?
When something is done in a negotiation, is it really done?
Image Credit: Merriam-Webster

I don’t know about you, but from my point-of-view it can take a very long time to negotiate certain things. You create your negotiating negotiation styles and negotiating techniques, spend your time talking with the other side for days, weeks or even months and then when all is over and done with, with a little luck, you now have an agreement with the other side. Finally, we can now all go on to work on other things. Or can we?

Just Exactly What Happens After The Deal Is Done?

So just exactly what do you think will happen after you reach an agreement with the other side of the table? If you are like most of us, you assume that the other side will read the agreement and then start to live up to their side of it. In many cases this is what happens – that’s why we are willing to negotiate in the first place. However, there is really no guarantee that this is what is going to happen.

As negotiators we need to understand what might be running through the mind of the other side of the table. Sure, they wanted to reach an agreement with us as a result of entering into negotiations with us; however, that does not mean that they need to like the agreement that was reached. The reasons for this can be many and varied. They may have been under time pressure, they may have felt that they didn’t really have any other options, etc. They signed the deal, but they were not happy about doing so.

This now leaves them in a difficult position. What should they do? One option that they have, and the one that we hope that they select, is to live up to the terms of the deal that they’ve signed with us. They do have other options. One is to just walk away from the deal and do none of it. There may be penalties in the deal that cover this, but they may feel that the penalties are better for them than implementing the deal. These two options represent extremes. It turns out that the other side has yet another option available to them.

Say Hello To Fait Accompli

So it turns out that there is this thing called “fait accompli”. The definition of fait accompli is something that “… has already happened or been decided before those affected hear about it, leaving them with no option but to accept.” It turns out that fait accompli is yet one more option that the other side of the table has available to them if they are not happy with the deal with you that they have agreed to.

So how would this work? It’s pretty simple. What we need to realize as negotiators is that once something is done, it is very, very hard to undo. This is exactly what fait accompli is all about – an accomplished fact. In the world of negotiating this is a tactic that buyers who have entered into an agreement with you will employ if they don’t like the terms of the deal that they signed.

Fait accompli looks like this: a signed check is very difficult to return, a signed contract is also very difficult to return. This is why a buyer will send you a check for US$1,200 when you were expecting a check for US$1,500. Perhaps you agreed to allow the buyer to take 5% off of their bill with you if they paid their bill in 15 days. They end up taking 30 days to pay their bill and then they still take the 5% off of the bill. Will you return the check to them? Probably not.

What All Of This Means For You

As negotiators, our job is to try find a set of agreements that will allow both sides to agree to a deal. All too often, we think that when we are able to reach this point in a principled negotiation, it’s all over. It’s time for us to move on to our next negotiation. However, that’s not the case. It turns out that how the other side chooses to implement the agreement is a critical part of the overall negotiation.

The other side may have agreed to the deal with you because they did not believe that they had other choices. Now that it has come time to execute the agreement, they have a number of options. They can live up to their agreements, they can not do what they agreed to do, or they can exhibit fait accompli. If they use fait accompli they’ll use the fact that it can be very difficult to return a check or a signed agreement. They will provide you with less than you were expecting and then hope that you’ll just accept it and move on.

Realizing that a negotiation is not over until both sides have lived up to their sides of the agreement is a fundamental understanding that every negotiator has to accept. The other side has a number of options when it comes to executing what they have agreed to. We need to keep our eyes open and determine if they are trying to exhibit fait accompli. If they are, then we’ve got to determine if we are going to be willing to live with this.

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

Question For You: If the other side decides to perform a fait accompli on you, what is your best response?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When we are negotiating with another party to sell them something, we need to be very careful how they are treating both us and the other vendors that they are talking with. The person who is buying the product is highly motivated to find a way to get the best possible price and to learn as much about what they’ll be buying as possible. One way that they may choose to go about doing this is to run what is called a “reverse auction”.

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