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
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.
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. Lets 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. Thats 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. Lets 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
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?
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 its 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
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
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