How Negotiators Can Deal With “Scrambled Eggs”

Confusion during a negotiation can both work for and against you
Confusion during a negotiation can both work for and against you
Image Credit: Hamburger Helper

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 why as negotiators who probably share this trait, we need to always be keeping an eye out for having scrambled eggs show up in our next negotiation.

What Are Scrambled Eggs?

If we can agree that negotiators like things to be organized, then they most defiantly don’t like it when negotiation styles and negotiating techniques are used to permit things to become mixed up. This is exactly what “scrambled eggs” is – a negotiating situation where the items being discussed have been deliberately mixed up. The reason for doing this can vary from negotiation to negotiation but it is always done for a tactical reason.

There are a number of reasons that either you or the other side of the table would introduce scrambled eggs into a negotiation. One reason would be to prevent a deadlock condition from occurring. If you don’t know where you are at, then you can’t actually say that you don’t believe that you are not going to be able to make any forward progress. Another reason can be simply to make a person work harder. The harder they are working, the more likely it is that they’ll make a mistake and that can only be good for the other side.

There are many other reasons that either side may decide to introduce scrambled eggs. A party may be trying to create a confusing situation that will permit them to push through a last minute proposal or perhaps they are trying to get out of a concession that was made earlier in the negotiations. What we always have to keep in the back of our minds when we see that scrambled eggs have been introduced is that this could all be part of a plan to determine how well we keep our act together when we are under pressure. The other side knows that mistakes can happen when people get confused.

How Can We Deal With Scrambled Eggs?

The most important thing that you need to keep in mind when you discover that the other side has introduced scrambled eggs into your next negotiation is that it is going to take self-confidence on your part to deal with this situation. The steps that you take after things become scrambled may very well determine the type of outcome that you can expect from this negotiation.

The first thing that you must be willing to do is to speak up and tell the other side “I don’t understand what you are saying.” They’ll respond to this in some fashion and you need to have the courage to keep saying “I don’t understand” until such time as you do understand. A favorite trick ot the scrambler is to try to get multiple issues being discussed at the same time – this is always more confusing. Don’t let this happen, insist on only one issue being discussed at a time.

You are in charge – you get to determine what gets discussed and when it gets discussed. What you are going to have to do is to chart your own course though this negotiation and then force the other side to come along with you. One point to keep in mind is that when a negotiation becomes confusing, both sides can become confused. This applies to the other side as much as it does to you. Since you know that the other side is counting on you making mistakes, watch yourself and make sure that you don’t make mistakes. Your #1 defense when someone else tries to use scrambled eggs against you is to stop negotiating until such time as you fully understand the issue that is being discussed.

What All Of This Means For You

When you find yourself in a principled negotiation where all of a sudden what seemed like a very clear set of issues that were to be negotiated has suddenly become much more confusing, you can be sure that a scrambler is at work. Someone (perhaps you!) is trying to change the negotiation by scrambling what is being discussed. You need to both recognize that this is happening and then react to it.

The reason that someone would want to make a negotiation more confusing than it already is are many and varied. They may want to prevent a deadlock, or perhaps just want to make the other side work harder so that there is a greater chance that they’ll make a mistake. If you find yourself dealing with a scrambled egg situation, you need to have to courage to tell the other side that you don’t know what they are saying. Stop the negotiations and keep saying this until you do fully understand what is going on.

Negotiating tactics can take on many different forms and the scrambled egg is one of them. The purpose of this tactic is to confuse you so much that you will make a mistake. Learn to recognize the scrambled egg when it is being used and take defensive measures. By doing this you’ll ensure that you’ll never make a confused decision that you’ll later come to regret.

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

Question For You: Do you think that you should call for a break in the negotiations when you notice that scrambled eggs are being used?

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 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 out that there may be a much more simple way for us to sharpen our negotiating skills. The more time that we spend with children, the more we may learn about effective negotiating.