Negotiation Skills — The Salami Technique
Some negotiators just love to play tactical games. In this article we will look at one their favourite negotiation tactics – the Salami technique – and think about how to rebuff it.
Salami sausages are big things (often spicy) that are eaten a slice at a time. They would be indigestible if taken in a single large piece. This aspect has led negotiators to use the name for a negotiation technique that tries to do just that: to win concessions in small doses (slices) when the other party would probably reject them if they were put on the table all at once. The technique is often used against a party that is mainly concerned with damage limitation.
Consider a tough union negotiating with management. Management would really just like to keep the status quo (damage limitation) but the union negotiators would like a whole host of goodies to take back for their members. These could include a pay rise, more holidays, flexible working hours, private health membership, better pension arrangements, improved canteen, increased allowances and so on. It is not difficult for the union to make a case for each of these and they can probably add to the list.
If the union negotiators use the salami tactic they will present just one of their demands for discussion and push hard to reach agreement. Let’s say they focus on a 6% pay rise and after a long discussion and some haggling they agree on 4%. Deal done, except there is more to come. That’s just the first slice of the salami and there is a whole sausage in the cupboard.
The next slice might be the holiday arrangements. The current 23 days is from a bygone age. ‘Other employers’ have agreed to 25 days plus public holidays. Let’s say they eventually reach agreement at 24 days this year and 25 days next year. Good! The managers might by now be congratulating themselves on their rusty negotiation skills and their damage limitation but the union representatives have been busy polishing their negotiation skills.
‘We would now like to discuss something that is very dear to the hearts of our members, the need for flexible working hours.’ The slicing of the salami sausage continues: private health, pension, canteen, allowances, and so on. By the end of the negotiations, when the management team add it all up they are staggered at what they have conceded, slice by slice. None of the individual items seemed all that great at the time but – add them all together and the cumulative effect is astonishing.
What went wrong?
The management negotiators were beguiled by one of the standard tactics used by skilled negotiators. Of course, presented like this, the salami technique looks so obvious that you might think that no management team could be so stupid as to be caught by it. However, just as a simple magic trick can seem incredible when performed by a skilled magician, so even simple negotiation skills like the salami technique can produce amazing results when used by skilled and experienced negotiators.
The salami is not restricted to management-union negotiations. Any negotiator who has a list of things on which they want to gain agreement can use it. Try it when you next buy a car. Are you buying just one item, the car? Or are you gaining agreement on several things: buying the car, filling the petrol tank, replacing worn tyres if it’s a used car, a free service next year, alloy wheels… and whatever else you can think of. Will they lose the sale over a tank of petrol or one new tyre?
So, what do you do if you are on the receiving end and the other party tries to salami you?
Of course, your first line of defence is to recognise what they are doing and your second is to put a stop to it. You will need to be assertive about this but the response is quite straightforward. The salami tactic works because the person being sliced does not recognise what is happening. Once you do, you can fight it.
How? Simply refuse agreement on any one slice until you have everything out on the table. ‘Is there anything else you want to discuss as part of these negotiations?’ Do not discuss details until you have formally agreed that everything is out in the open. Then put forward a proposal on a collective agreement — bundle the lot together.
The discussion can now begin in earnest and you can use your negotiation skills. You might trade one slice of salami off against another by offering some flexibility on, say, item one provided that they drop, say, items two and three. Continue like that until you are happy with the deal, then close.
Good luck! And watch out for that spicy sausage!
Author: Tony Atherton
© Tony Atherton 2005)