Why Fait Accompli Spells Bad News For Negotiators

by drjim on June 15, 2012

What are you going to do when they've gone and done it already?

What are you going to do when they’ve gone and done it already?

When you enter into negotiations with somebody, the thought is that neither side is going to take action until the negotiations reach some sort of conclusion. We expect the other side to use all sorts of different negotiation styles and negotiating techniques during the discussions. However, sometimes either the other side or you do something before or during the negotiations that makes it a fait accompli – the deed is done. What is a negotiator to do now?

When The Other Side Does A Fait Accompli

The whole purpose of conducting a negotiation is to come to agreement with the other side of the table about what each of you will do. This is basically the negotiation definition. This plan can be thrown into turmoil if it turns out that the other side has already gone ahead and taken action – if the deed is done.

One classic example of this is when the other side wants to create something new, like a building, but needs to get permission to remove something before they can start. If they simply go ahead and knock down what was blocking their project from starting before they come to the negotiating table, then they’ve effectively performed a fait accompli.

Another example occurs when a manufacturer waits until the customer is desperate for the parts that they are going to supply them with, and then ships imperfect parts to them. Although this might not be what the customer really wants, they’ll have to accept them because they don’t have any time left.

When You Do A Fait Accompli

A fait accompli is not something that only the other side of the table can do. You can often find yourself in a situation where you may be guilty of doing the same thing. These actions are most defiantly not part of a principled negotiation.

Examples of this include situations in which you negotiated buy something for a given price and then turn around and when you provide the other side with the paperwork for the deal you actually offer them less. Your hope is that instead of going through the hassle of starting negotiations all over again, that they’ll just accept your deal.

Another technique has to do with how you accept goods that the other side provides to you. If you agree to buy lower quality goods and then during the inspection of the goods that are sent to you if you reject everything except for the higher quality items, then you’ve effectively pulled a fait accompli.

How To Defend Against A Fait Accompli

As tough as it can be to deal with, you actually do have some defenses when it comes to dealing with a fait accompli. The trick is that you have to realize that this could be an issue even as you go into the negotiations.

The first thing that you are going to want to do is to set up your defenses early on in the negotiations. Make sure that the other side of the table understands that you won’t put up with any fait accompli actions – have your lawyer send them a letter.

If necessary, take hostages. Take something of value to them and hold it during the negotiations. Having this kind of trading collateral will prevent the other side from taking fait accompli actions.

Finally, if you work a large performance guarantee or bond into the agreement, this can serve as motivation to the other side to play it straight. Once again, anything is possible you just need to be thinking along these lines as you go into the negotiations.

What All Of This Means For You

For a negotiator, there can be no bigger frustration than to discover during the negotiation process that the other side of the table has gone and done something that can be considered to be a fait accompli.

The other side of the table may use a fait accompli when they take some action that they know will have a negative consequence. They are willing to live with this penalty because the benefit of taking the action is much larger than the penalty. As a negotiator you may choose to use a fait accompli to get the other side to agree to the deal that you wanted to negotiate, but were unable to. Knowing that a fait accompli is possible, you can take actions to prevent it.

In negotiators, knowing what the other side is capable of is half the battle. Remain aware that a fait accompli is always possible and guard against it and you won’t have to worry about discovering that the deed is done!

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

Question For You: Do you think that it is ethical to take action before you’ve had a chance to negotiate if you should take that action?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

There is something almost magical about hard numbers: we all seem to assume that they are correct when we are presented with them during negotiations. However, I want you to think back to when you were in school and you were working on your math homework. Did you always come up with the right answer for every question? I think not. That’s why sales negotiators need to be very careful when the other side presents us with numbers – you can never accept numbers that you haven’t created yourself.

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