Why Playing Dumb Is The Right Thing To Do In A Negotiation

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?

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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.