Avoid The Mistake Everyone Makes Everyday

Avoid The Mistake Everyone Makes Everyday

Many times, I have to convince people to even think about negotiating. To some, it feels greedy:

“I just thankful that they gave me an offer.”

Others are already thinking about rejection before they even ask the question.

“They probably won’t like me if I go back and ask for more money.”

“They had another candidate, what if they just decide to go with her?”

These are fears that come from not feeling like you negotiate well, and not knowing how to handle whatever response you get from the other party. What if there was a way to negotiate that didn’t make you seem greedy, or make them dislike you? What if you could empathize with their position, and still be able to talk about higher compensation, or a lower price, or whatever it is?

Certainly good negotiators don’t negotiate only when they don’t care about the result, or don’t care about the other side, right?

It would be easy to just push a client in the other direction (you should negotiate, damn it!) but it’s a bit more subtle to understand why people back down, and then fix the problem. Most people don’t negotiate because they are afraid to hear “no.” In fact, many times I hear people shaping questions based on what they think the other party will say yes to. (I used to do this too.)

It’s better to prepare to hear no, and then be free to ask whatever you want. That way, you’re not disqualifying yourself from something the other party might easily give you.

Let’s take a quick example. I was in a department store last week buying a watch for a friend in Brazil (I was about to take a trip). Many people don’t think of this a potential “negotiation” but it is. In fact, I love such examples because they are a fantastic, low-tension training grounds for when you actually do have a bigger negotiation like a job or partnership.

I already knew what watch I wanted, so I picked up the box and talked to the guy behind the sales counter.

“Wow, that’s pricier than I expected. Do you happen to have a discount?” Full disclosure: plenty of times I do this more for the practice / entertainment than I do for the actual discount. In that case, I suggest tipping the same amount that you get the discount for. Good practice, and good karma.

“Are you from out of town?” he asked.

“No, I live here in SF. (I don’t promote lying, it’s a slippery slope, and something only unskilled negotiators indulge in.) Where are you from?” I ask him.


Brilliant. We exchanged a few pleasantries about the World Cup. (I didn’t even bother with speaking Portuguese, I was in a hurry and didn’t want to get stuck talking.) But I did make a connection.

“You know, we do have a discount if you’re from out of town.”

“Well, I’m taking the watch out of town, is that sort of the same thing? … I don’t want you to do anything that would get you in trouble.”

“I’ll give you the discount, just don’t say anything…” (oops.)

For most people, this hardly qualifies as a “negotiation.”  But I got $50 in 3 minutes, and both of us felt good about it.  What went right?

  • I asked outright, unafraid of a “no.”
  • I connected with him in a personal way.
  • The personal connection got him to offer up more information.
  • I creatively reframed the definition of his ‘discount.’
  • I asked for an exception, but gave him the choice to say no. (This preserves his autonomy in the decision and softens any pressure of the question.)

If you take these basic steps into a larger negotiation, the basic steps work the same, although each situation has it’s own nuances.

But it all started with me not disqualifying myself. I wasn’t afraid to hear ‘no.’  I’ll go more into how to get to that point (where no is acceptable, even invited) in further blog posts.