The Negotiator Magazine

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The Red Herring
The Red Herring Gambit is a further twist on the Decoy Gambit. With the Decoy, the other person raises a phony issue to get concessions on a real issue. With the Red Herring, the other person makes a phony demand that he will subsequently withdraw, but only in exchange for a concession from you. If the Red Herring distracts you, it will deceive you into thinking that it's of major concern to the other side when it may not be.

The classic example of the use of a red herring came during the Korean War armistice talks. Very early in the talks the parties concerned agreed that each side would be represented at the table by officials of three neutral countries, along with their own national negotiators. The South Korean side selected Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland as their three neutral negotiators. The North Koreans chose Poland and Czechoslovakia, but couldn't seem to choose a third. They suggested that the talks start, and they would identify a third country later.

What they were really doing was leaving an opening for the Red Herring Gambit. When the time came and they had set the stage, they announced their selection for the third country: The Soviet Union. The international outcry was unanimous: "The Soviet Union? Now wait a minute. The Soviet Union isn't a neutral country."

The North Koreans responded by saying that the Soviets were not directly involved in the conflict, and there was no reason for them to be considered biased.

They waged the battle of the Red (pardon the pun) Herring for quite a while, until the situation became absurd. The North Koreans continued to insist that they couldn't understand what the objection was to using the Soviet Union as a neutral third party, until the objections of the South Koreans seemed as ludicrous as the demands of the North Koreans. The negotiations had stalemated.

Just as it seemed that the pointless arguing would continue forever, the North Koreans announced that they would abandon their insistence on having the Soviets at the negotiating table, but they expected a reciprocal concession.

Both sides had agreed earlier that during the negotiations, neither side would rebuild their airstrips. The North Koreans realized later that this left them at a severe disadvantage because we could fly planes off aircraft carriers, but they needed their runways. So the North Koreans decided that it was time to use the Red Herring Gambit and suggested the Soviet Union as the third neutral country. Now it was time to name the price: They would concede and choose a different country to represent them, but only if the South Koreans would waive the restriction on rebuilding the airfields.

The North Koreans never seriously thought that we would agree to letting the Soviet Union be part of the negotiations. However they were able to magically create a bargaining issue out of thin air and then trade it off later for an issue about which they really cared. When the other person is creating a red herring issue that she will try to trade off later, keep your eye on the real negotiating issues and don't let her link it to a concession you're reluctant to make.

Cherry Picking
Cherry Picking is a gambit that a buyer can use against a seller with devastating effect, unless the seller is a Power Negotiator and knows his or her options.

If you're thinking of acquiring a new piece of equipment for your company, you can use Cherry Picking to your advantage. Shop around and accumulate information before you make a decision. Call up companies and have all their sales people come in and make a presentation to you. You'll find that one has a good point in a particular area, perhaps a fast shipment. Another has a low price and a third has a good guarantee. So, from all these interviews, you piece together the ideal piece of equipment.

Then you go back to the one you like best and say, "I'd like to buy your equipment except that I want to get the longer guarantee. Or I want to get the faster shipping." In this way, you create the type of deal and the kind of contract that you want.

So, buyers should push for itemized contracts whereas sellers should avoid it. Because Cherry Picking is to me an unethical gambit, the perpetrator is less likely to do it to someone he knows and trusts than he is to a comparative stranger. So, sellers can forestall this tactic by building a personal relationship with the buyer.

Another way to handle people who might want to Cherry Pick you is to forestall the Gambit. Let's say that you're a contractor who is trying to sell a remodeling job to a homeowner, and you know she's going to talk to all the other contractors in town-how do you forestall it?

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Copyright © 2002 Roger Dawson