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Sucker Punches

How to tell if the other side is trying to play you for a patsy

This story appears in the November 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

In case you haven't noticed, deal-making can be intensely competitive. Do not be distracted by talk of principled negotiations, civility and win-win outcomes. Keep your gloves up and your eyes peeled. Even the most skilled deal-makers have fallen for a well-executed feint. Here are a few examples:

  • "So what's your bottom line?" Many opponents will test you with this quick jab to see how rapidly you'll undercut yourself. Negotiation is a ritual, and you have to respect the ritual. Your bottom line is for you to know and for the other side to find out. Give it up too easily or too early, and the other side will perceive you as an easy mark.

After all, once you tell your opponent what you'll settle for, you'll never really know if you could have done better. Cutting to the chase is best left to experienced deal-makers who have a lot of history behind them and in front of them.

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