“Beware Negotiation Mistakes – How To Avoid Danger Of Red Herrings”

“Negotiation red herrings – the sometimes confusing attempt to divert your attention from the current, who, what, when, or how, to why not.” -Greg Williams, The Master Negotiator & Body Language Expert

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“Beware Negotiation Mistakes

How To Avoid Danger Of Red Herrings”

People don’t realize they’re always negotiating.

When she made the offer, he thought it might be a red herring. That was the point the negotiation took a decided turn.

Negotiation is an intricate exchange loaded with situations that can derail your efforts. One such trap is what some negotiators label the infamous red herring.

Understand me; red herrings in a negotiation can be the leverage that gives you a significant advantage. It can also expose you as being devious if you misuse it.

So, what are negotiation red herrings? How might you avoid being stung by them and use them wisely to advance your negotiation efforts? This article answers those questions. It also gives you a negotiation tool that will allow you an upper hand when dealing with savvy negotiators.

What Are Negotiation Red Herrings?

Succinctly stated, red herrings are diversionary tactics used in negotiations to avert attention from one aspect of the talks to another. And if overused by either party, they can leave trust as a hostage in their wake while leading negotiators astray from their desired objectives.

Nevertheless, whether introducing irrelevant information, changing the topic abruptly, or exaggerating minor details, red herrings are a favorite tool of skilled negotiators, so I suggest you become skillful at using them too.

Identifying Red Herrings

To avoid falling prey to red herrings, observe signs of their arrival. Be aware of sudden shifts in the conversation, the opposition becoming long-winded, or placing too much attention on what should be small matters.

Some negotiators may introduce red herrings through their body language, going from openness to evasiveness, leading you to wonder what they may be attempting to conceal. It may all be a ploy to divert your attention from more prominent issues.

Combating Red Herrings

When you suspect your counterpart has introduced a red herring into the negotiation, pause and reassess what has occurred. Steer the talks back to the points you wish to discuss. Become hyper-vigilant about being swayed by irrelevancies intended to subvert your attention.

In the planning stage of your negotiation, identify what the other negotiator may attempt to accomplish by using red herrings. That identification will prepare you for the form in which they may appear and how to deal with them.

Preparation is the key to dealing with red herrings. Engaging in mock negotiation sessions during your planning phase and anticipating potential diversionary tactics will increase your ability to identify and fend off red herrings. Just be clear about your goals. You can confidently navigate past red herrings by understanding your objectives and being well-prepared with relevant facts. Because when you are well-prepared, you are less likely to be derailed by distractions. And that can be red herrings’ death knell.

Another way to thwart the other negotiator’s attempts to use red herrings against you is by heightening your listening skills and paying closer attention to their body language. You can gain insight into a negotiator’s pending attempts to introduce a red herring by the way they shift the nuances of their speech and body language.

For example, if they appear gregarious while sitting upright and shift to a more modest demeanor with drooping shoulders, that could signal that they are about to introduce a red herring into the negotiation; it could also mean the topic at hand has caused them to become melancholy.

The point is, be aware when such shifts occur and note what follows. Doing so will give you better insight into the starting point of red herrings’ introduction.  

How To Use Red Herrings In Negotiations

Remember, negotiators use red herrings to enhance their negotiation position. As such, look for ways you can use any aspect of value you and the other negotiator assign to an item.

Some negotiators will profess that a factor of the negotiation possesses significant worth, one that their opposite also senses value, and they will become willing to part with it for a like-kind exchange. Meanwhile, the factor offered has little, if any, value to that negotiator.

That is just one way to use them in negotiations. That is why you should seek out items of perceived value to use as possible red herrings. Every negotiation will have such opportunities for their usage interspersed throughout it. 

Caution About Red Herrings Usage

As stated, red herrings can be powerful manipulators when used right. But negotiators must be cautious about their usage. Thus, it is crucial to consider the potential consequences when utilizing red herrings.

While they can create momentary distractions and point the negotiation to your advantage, you may inject uneasiness into the negotiation process if you use them too much. A savvy negotiator exercises caution and ensures that the use of red herrings serves the ultimate goal of reaching mutually beneficial agreements.


In negotiations, red herrings have their pluses and minuses. That factor is determined by how and when negotiators use them.

By understanding the nature of red herrings, observing their potential starting point, and having effective strategies to combat and use them, you can safeguard yourself against their usage on you while using them to advantage your negotiation efforts.

Thus, red herrings may attempt to decoy your efforts, but with the proper preparation and focus, you can avert the direction they would take you unless it is to your advantage to go there. And everything will be right with the world.

Remember, you’re always negotiating!

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After reading this article, what are you thinking? I’d like to know. Reach me at Greg@TheMasterNegotiator.com

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