One negotiating technique you see used all the time is what I like to call the nibble. This occurs after you've shaken hands to close a deal, and just as you're getting ready to sign the papers to make it official, the other side tries to get one last concession on the table.
Every time I see this happen, I can't help thinking of the classic TV detective drama Columbo. Columbo, the detective, was a master of the nibble. He'd spend 10 minutes interviewing a subject, seemingly getting nowhere, and then, just as he put his hand on the doorknob to leave, he would turn around and say, "Just one more thing ... "
Here you are, thinking everything is done, and then you're forced to decide what to do next. It could drive you nuts.
One of the places you'll find the nibble used all the time is in car dealerships. You spend some time with the salesperson, asking them questions and test-driving cars, before walking to their desk to discuss the numbers. Then, after you think you've agreed to a number, they bring up some extra fees--like for the floor mats or the undercoating. And it always comes up at the last minute.
Another place you might encounter something like this is when you shop at a big-box retail store. Let's say you're buying a television. As the person rings you up, they try to get you to buy the extended warranty or maintenance insurance. Retailers make most of their profit on these add-ons at the last minute.
But nibbles can be even more subtle. You might agree to a deal only to find that some extra items or fees you never discussed show up in the fine print of your agreement.
We've all experienced it and no one likes it. So why do people try to use the nibble at all?
Nibbles tend to be highly profitable extras that earn the seller a bonus. Secondly, the strategy of deploying the nibble is that your emotional barriers are down. You think you already have a deal, so you're more likely to agree to whatever the extra ask is just to push things through.
Doing this certainly pushes some ethical boundaries, and it often leaves a bad taste in someone's mouth. They might be unlikely to do business with you again, but it can get you what you want.
The good news is that there are also ways you can counter the nibble.
Get the counterattack right
The most important thing you can do to counteract the nibble in a negotiation is to remember that you and the party you're negotiating with have some form of pressure to close the deal. While you might want that car or new television, you must recognize that the seller also wants you to make that purchase. That gives you more power than you might think.
Here are a couple of actions you can consider when you encounter the nibble.
1. Use humor
This is my favorite approach. If I find someone trying to get a nibble out of me, I'll laugh. And then say something like, "You're not serious, are you? You're willing to blow this deal up over a few extra dollars?" Then, zip your lips and let the silence work for you. As I have written, the first person who speaks during a negotiation like this loses. While this approach doesn't work every single time to remove the nibble, it will six times out of 10.
2. Call their bluff
The other action you can take is simply standing up and heading for the door. You could even say, "I deal from integrity, and I thought we had a deal. Either you cross that item off the agreement or I'm leaving." Yes, there might be some sunk cost to consider here regarding the time you spent up until this point. But you will also find that no competent salesperson will let someone ready to sign an agreement walk out the door over a minor nibble worth a few hundred bucks.
Use nibbles wisely
While the nibble is used extensively in negotiations, I'd advise you to be wary of using it too much or in the wrong situation. While it can certainly get you what you want once, it might turn the other person off so badly you'll never make a deal with them again. The good news is that if you find the nibble being used against you, now you have some options for making sure you counterattack it effectively.