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The Salami Tactic


Some negotiators just love to play tactical games. In this article we will look at one of the most widely known negotiating tactics 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 as a whole sausage. This aspect has led negotiators to use the name for a negotiating technique that tries to win things bit by bit: 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. It is often used on a party that is mainly concerned with damage limitation. If that is your position - beware!

Let's invent a case of a tough union negotiating with management (it could equally well be a tough management negotiating with a union). Management would really just like to keep the status quo (damage limitation) but the union negotiators can try for 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 (for overnight stays, meals when away on business, mileage when using own car) and so on. It is not difficult for the union to make a convincing case for any of these. In different scenarios, a sales team might have a list of 'add-ons' to try to persuade buyers to 'invest in' whilst buyers might want some 'freebies' to clinch a deal.

If the union negotiators (or the sales team) decide to use the salami tactic they will present just one of their demands for discussion and push hard to reach agreement on it. 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 yet to come. The next slice of salami might be to try to implement the pay deal earlier than usual, like this month instead of waiting, as in previous years, until next April.

Whatever happens to the timing of the pay deal they have yet another slice of salami waiting – 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 for everyone next year. Good! The managers might by now be congratulating themselves on their rusty negotiation skills and their damage limitation – and then along comes the next slice of salami. The union representatives have been busy polishing their negotiating skills.

‘We would now like to discuss something that is very dear to the hearts of our members, the need for flexible working hours. This, of course, will not cost you the management anything at all as each employee will still work the same number of hours as now but our members would appreciate it as a sign of your modern approach to staff relations.’

And so 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, exaggerated and presented like this, the salami technique looks so obvious that you might think that nobody 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 and others can produce amazing results when used by skilled and experienced negotiators.

The salami technique is not only for union negotiators. Management negotiators use it to win lots of small concessions from unions, sales people use it, buyers use it - even teenagers use it on their parents! Any negotiator who has a list of things they want 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? No! Will they risk losing the deal over one new tyre? No! Will they risk losing the deal over…?

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 you want to include a discussion on (something you want to raise anyway)?’ ‘Is that everything?’

Once everything is out in the open put forward a proposal on a collective agreement – bundle the lot together. Then the discussion can begin in earnest and you can now bring out your negotiating skills. If, like the imaginary management team above, you are mainly concerned about damage limitation then trade one slice of salami off against another by offering some flexibility on, say, item one provided that they drop, say, item two or 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, 2008, 2013 (For permission to reproduce this article please write to Tony Atherton)



About the author:
Tony Atherton is a freelance trainer and writer with over 25 years' experience. He runs in-company courses in Technical Report Writing, Business Report Writing and Minute Taking. For course details click home.


Enquiries: E-mail direct to Tony Atherton or call 07976-390960

Based in Hampshire, England

Last updated 24 July 2014