Escalation Power: How To Use It, How To Defend Against It

Sometimes Escalation Is Necessary…
Sometimes Escalation Is Necessary…

When we’re talking about negotiating and someone brings up the tactic of escalation what pops into your head right off the bat? Do you see yourself becoming frustrated with the person that you’re negotiating with and getting up and storming off to go have a talk with their boss? That’s one form of escalation, but that’s not what we’re going to talk about here – we’re going to talk about the other type of escalation…

The Escalation Tactic

During a negotiation you may find yourself in a situation where you’ve taken your price down as low as you can possibly go. However, the other side may not have picked up on the fact that they’ve reached the bottom and they may be pressing for even more concessions from you.

Simply put, that’s not going to happen. However, you need a way to signal to the other side that they’ve gone too far. At the same time you don’t want to lose this deal. Clearly a clever tactic is needed here.

When you use the escalation tactic, you revisit an issue that the other side thought was resolved, you apologize, and then you change it. Most commonly this involves raising your price.

A case in point would be if you were close to closing a deal and all of a sudden the other side of the table started to make a series of demands for shorter delivery times or asking for more time to pay their bills. Clearly you can’t accept these kinds of demands at this stage in the negotiations. By using the escalation tactic now you can go back and, after apologizing, raise the price that you had previously agreed to.

This is going to have a dramatic impact on the other side of the table. They’re not going to know what to do – now everything is once again up in the air. Assuming that they still want a deal (and they almost always do), they’re going to have to start to work to try to get the price back down to where it used to be.

By forcing them to do this, you will have effectively moved the focus of the negotiation from what they had been asking for back to the bottom line price. Once the original price has been reached again, the negotiations should be over and the issues that had been causing you problems should no longer be on the table.

How To Defend Against To Escalation Tactic

In the hands of a skilled sales negotiator, the escalation tactic is a powerful tool. That’s why if you find yourself sitting on the other side of the table when the escalation tactic starts to be used, you’re going to need to know what to do.

There is no simple way to deal with an escalation during a negotiation. What I can offer you is four steps that will provide you with a way to defend yourself against the full power of this tactic:


  • Call Them On It: using this tactic resets the clock on the sales negotiation and is going to require that both sides invest more time and energy than they had originally intended to. The other side may end up not being willing to make this kind of investment. Challenge them and find out.





  • Mirror Image: hey, they are resetting the clock so why not do the same thing yourself. Review what’s been agreed to so far and pick out one of their hard won points and state that you can’t live with what’s been agreed to and state that it’s going to have to be renegotiated.



  • Hit The Big Red Button: consider walking away from the deal. In fact, tell the other side of the table that you are considering walking away from the deal. See if this causes them to reconsider their use of this tactic.


What All Of This Means For You

Every negotiator needs to have a set of tactics that they can use in a variety of negotiating situations. Should you find yourself in a situation where the other side of the table is asking for too much from you, the escalation tactic provides you with an effective way to communicate to them that you are unwilling to budge.

The escalation tactic requires you to revisit some negotiation point, apologize to the other side of the table, and then undo the agreement that had been reached. More often than not this has to do with a previously agreed to price that you end up raising.

As a sales negotiator you are going to have to be careful when you use this powerful negotiating tactic. There are effective counter measures to it and if you aren’t fully committed to what you are doing, you may find yourself putting the deal at risk. The escalation tactic is one more tool for you to have on hand so that you can use it when the time is right.

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

Question For You: Under what circumstances do you think that using the escalation tactic would help you close a negotiation?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

How are your mind reading skills? Not so good? Dang – just imagine how handy that would come in during your next sales negotiation. You could just close your eyes and you’d be able to see what the other side of the table was thinking. I can’t help you get magical powers, but I might be able to do something that’s pretty close…