Language of a Negotiation
The language of a negotiation is a complicated smorgasbord of sounds, words and non-verbal signatures. Language, the proper use of it, is more than words or sounds in a negotiation. It is the meaning behind them that reveals the real meaning of the speaker. A lion or gorilla voice their intent to wreak havoc to make their prey cower or run. They know it is easier to bring down a large prey who has turned his back in fear. Were the elephant not to turn away, he would be a good contender and likely the lion would walk away rather than chance being crushed under the elephant's hoove.
When you are negotiating, having almost any conversation with anyone else, it is not your words that are being listened to as much as how you are phrasing them and the intonation of your delivery. And we, as adept social animals, often hide our true meaning with oblique comments and inflections so as not to expose ourselves unnecessarily.
The equation is simple: Language + Delivery = Intent x Obfuscation.
Delivery of an low-ball offer or seemingly unreasonable proposal along with a humorous inflection can be shrugged off as a joke if it is received and rejected out of hand. On the other hand, if it is not rejected but countered then you have a meaningful bid-ask situation and stand the chance of securing an agreement on attractive terms. The use of diametrically opposed inflection to provide cover when the message is substantially different then the other person expects is a calculated negotiating tactic. And it works!
As the recipient of such an offer understand the intent. The person using humor as a delivery tactic is likely fishing to see how you will react. By listening to the meaning behind the words, you will be better able to respond strategically rather than emotionally. If the offer is ridiculously low, you can choose to walk away or respond. If you are serious about making a deal, an effective response would be to calmly inform the other party of the value of the commodity, the basis for that valuation and ask them to reconsider their offer and do better. What you have done is delivered the message that you are informed; that you know the value of the commodity; that you are not desperate; and, that you are serious about reaching an agreement; if they are.
Recently when negotiating for a property in Beverly Hills, the other person threw out some obscenely high comparables. The numbers were astronomical. He did not say that he expected us to pay that amount. He did say that is what "others" were getting. My response was a civil recap of actual comps for like property and the flaws his site had as compared to them. Much later, after he had done his research (validating the information I had provided him), we were able to reach an accord. Had I simply reacted to his initial overture assuming he was serious, we would likely have parted company on the spot.
Learn to listen and observe and then, most important, think about the information you have just gathered before reacting.