As a mediation and conflict resolution specialist, I often encounter unethical participants who stretch the truth, spin the truth, and even outright lie. When used dishonestly, these hardball tactics can lead to significant harm and even the failure of the negotiation process. This is a serious issue that requires immediate attention. On May 6, 2024, I asked, “Does hard bargaining work?  It depends on your goals”.  In that discussion, I provided insights into navigating negotiations with hard, soft, and principled bargainers.  This article delves deeper into the strategies needed when dealing with a hard bargainer who is tough but also unethical and prone to lying.

Background and tactics

Have you been in a negotiation when the other side makes a statement like “take it or leave it” or “I have gone as far as I can go” but is willing to go further, lied, insulted you, or threatened you or your firm?  If you have felt backed into a corner and do not know what to do, this article will give you ideas and, in the end, provide you with other sources to help you going forward. Be aware that sometimes, these tactics are used to knock you off balance.

If you become angry, you may say or do something you otherwise would not say or do.

That can help the other side. Knowing this, you want to focus on the fact that no matter what, you will do your best not to become angry. Then, the question arises of what you could do or say to address and potentially de-escalate the situation.

Why is the other party playing hardball?

Consider this: what are your assumptions?  What potential biases might be influencing your decision-making and that of your team?  Now, let's turn our attention to the other party. 

What biases or assumptions might they be bringing to the table?

 Reflecting on these questions can help you better understand and respond to hardball tactics.  You might conclude that the other person is difficult to work with. If that's the case, I have a wealth of well-researched blogs on strategies for dealing with difficult people. These resources can be invaluable, but they go beyond the scope of this article.

Sometimes, a party may take a hardball position because they feel inadequate, they don’t know what to do, they are afraid, or they have found bullying to work with others in the past or for some other issue.  In this instance, you want to dig further and see if you can figure out why. What can you do?

Actions to take

Depending on the situation, you may need to walk away, take a break, back down, or become curious and ask various questions or for advice.  Here are some ideas to help you.

Start by asking why.  Use open-ended questions, not yes-no questions. Think about what other questions you will want to ask while the other person is answering your question. You may find out the other party has other pressures, concerns, or things impacting them. By probing further, it may be possible to develop creative alternatives to help them and you. Dig deeper with questions during the dialogue.

Consider asking why not. For example, they became angry in a negotiation where the other party was upset because we knew things they did not think we knew. A break was suggested and taken. When cooler heads returned,  questions were asked of the other party to detail their concerns. They were able to indicate why they could not proceed. Still, after gaining an understanding, we found a way to resolve the issue by bringing up other problems that could be initiated in conjunction with this issue.

Consider outside stakeholders. More than once, when a party was acting as a bully, I have asked how this may be perceived by other stakeholders outside of this negotiation, such as customers or clients, employees, vendors, shareholders, and others. Considering how this may be perceived can have a significant impact. Others have indicated that this negotiation is confidential. My next question is whether anything can remain confidential today with internet hacks and whistle-blowers. Would others consider the recommended hardball tactic as fair?

Consider brainstorming. Ask what-if questions. What if we could do something differently, for example, by conducting additional research, obtaining more data, or bouncing ideas off those who are not present but have set up conditions that prevent the team from proceeding further?

Reach out to others.  The first party to reach out is the other party.  Ask them what they would do if they were in your situation. Given that the other party is offering this as their solution, do they think this is fair? Consider reaching out to others and asking for advice. Who might have additional insight to assist you in the next round of negotiations?  

Call it what it is. This is a direct approach. Calling out the other side, they are playing hardball and lying. If someone is lying, share this without assaulting the other party. Use “I” instead of “you”.  For example, instead of saying, “You are lying,” say, I have information that states these are the facts.”  If someone contacts you and is upset, you may indicate that this probably is not the best time to have this conversation and that we should reschedule this for another time. This may provide the other party with saving face and result in a calmer negotiation in the future.


Negotiating with hardball tactics can be very difficult. Here are ideas on working with difficult people and six ideas to consider when dealing with a hard bargainer or liar. This is not all-inclusive, but these ideas may help you.  Check out this link from the Harvard Program on Negotiation and these links if you need assistance or want to learn more about collaboration, conflict resolution, or enhancing your Servant Manager skills

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]