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Teaching People to Negotiate



Being a good negotiator is a skill you will find useful in many situations and especially as you participate in your family.  The skills you will develop will facilitate your being more effectively assertive, being a better problem solver, and being a better conflict manager.  Developing the skills is sometimes tedious and requires a lot of practice.  The payoff is both substantial and positive, though.

At first, it will be useful to move through the negotiation process in a step-by-step manner.  With practice and experience, you will gradually get to a point where effective negotiating is second nature to you and is not something that requires a lot of detailed activity.  At first, though, it is important to develop a negotiating plan, to seek out opportunities to practice, and to work with your consultant as your coach and negotiating guide.  It is a little like learning to play the piano.  Learning how is tedious and time consuming.  Being able to play well, however, is a very satisfying thing indeed.


1. What do you want that I have, control, or can do?  As odd as it may seem, this is frequently the step that inexperienced negotiators leave out.  Very specifically, what do you want that I have?  Here, we are talking about things, about concrete and tangible objects.  What do you want that I control?  Here we are talking about opportunities, resources, time, or other less tangible “things.”  What do you want me to do that I can do?  Here, it is important to think in terms of things that anyone with my skills, in my position, and with my resources “can do.”  In very specific terms, what do you want from me?

2. With “it” referring to what you want, can I actually give it to you?  This is another point that amateur negotiators frequently overlook.  What they want is something that the other person cannot, as a matter of individual choice, give to them.  Perhaps other people are involved, maybe it is not something that the individual has the right or authority to simply give away, perhaps it is not something that the person can actually do, or maybe there are other factors that have to be taken into consideration other than simply deciding to give it to you.  Under these conditions, simply negotiating with you is not enough, since I cannot simply give you what you want.  Be sure that your negotiations are directed to the individual or people who can give it to you.  Who all do you need to include in the negotiations?  You should not leave anyone out.

3. Assuming I can give you what you want, under what conditions do you think I can give it to you?  If you believe that I will simply give it to you without conditions, there is nothing about which to negotiate.  Simply ask me and I will give it to you.  Here, though, let’s assume that you think I will give it to you under some conditions.  In specific terms, what are those conditions?

4. Under what conditions will you accept it – accept what you want – assuming I am willing to give it to you?  Yes, you undoubtedly have conditions.  Suppose you want to use my car for a week while yours is in the shop.  It is my car, and I can let you use it.  You think I will let you use it if you agree to take good care of it, bring it back with a full tank of gas, and you pay my bus fare for the week.  Suppose my conditions are a little different, however.  I agree to let you use my car for one week if you agree to make my car payments for one year.  You will undoubtedly say, “No way.”  The point is that you do have conditions.  Under what conditions will you accept what you want if I give it to you?


5. A successful negotiation is a conditional transaction.  We do business under certain conditions.  If you are still in the game to this point, you have a clear statement of what you want, a set of conditions that you think I will have in doing business, and your conditions for doing business.  Make a chart with two columns with the left column including a list of your conditions and the right column including a list of my conditions.  Now, what are the points of convergence: conditions on your list and on mine?  The more points of convergence there are, the further along the negotiations are going in.  Your goal, of course, will be to reach a point where there is complete convergence, a point where the conditions on your list are the same as the conditions on my list.

6. What are the points of divergence: conditions that are on your list but are not on mine and conditions that are on my list but not on yours?  Being careful to be very specific, now, make a master list that includes only our points of divergence, noting beside each point whether it is my condition or your condition.  We will then negotiate our points of divergence.

As a central negotiating principle, keep in mind that you are never negotiating about what you want.  That is a given and is actually nonnegotiable.  If you did not want it, there is no point in pursuing it.  We are simply negotiating the terms and conditions under which I will give it to you: our points of divergence.  Amateur negotiators frequently fall into the trap of focusing on what they want.  Skilled negotiators focus on the points of divergence: what we will call the transfer conditions.


7. What do you have, what do you control, or what can you do that would be of value to me?  Look at my transfer conditions.  You may use them as a guide for determining what may be of value to me in this particular negotiating situation.  Make a list that includes what you can give to me in this particular negotiating situation.  Make notation of why you think it would be of value to me.  What benefits will I derive?  What you give to me combined with the benefits I will derive from it represent the consideration you are offering in the negotiation.

As a summary point, you have determined what you want, have determined the transfer conditions, and now have determined what your consideration can be to induce me to follow through with the transfer.  The stage for negotiating is set.

8. What are your negotiating limits?  Review your list of consideration elements.  Can you actually transfer control of them to me?  What are the long and short term implications for you of making this transfer?  Once you have considered the implications, revise your consideration list to include only those things you can give to me without jeopardizing yourself over time.  This final list is what constitutes your negotiating limits:  the maximum consideration you are prepared to introduce into the negotiations.  At no point, and especially not during a specific negotiating session, should you go beyond your negotiating limits, no matter how tempting it may be.  Yes, you may miss an opportunity once in a great while.  The advantage to you is this: making an unexpected offer you cannot refuse is a game run by truly skilled negotiators.  Assume that he/she is at least as skilled as you are and is not about to “give away the store.”  What seems like an unexpected prize will usually turn out to be something for which you will pay dearly and without the benefit of prior thought or analysis.  As good negotiators say, “Never come to the bait!”

9. Importantly, following all of the above steps gets you to what you think will be the final outcome of the negotiations.  You think you will get what you want, the full consideration I have to offer.  You have also determined your negotiating limits: the maximum consideration you will offer.  If you want, simply make your best offer on a take it or leave it basis.  This is, of course, not negotiating.  It is rather simply making a nonnegotiable offer.  What should you do if you want to negotiate, though?  Simply list the preliminary transfer conditions: the least you are willing to accept and what you believe – hope – might be the least I would accept in return.  These then represent the minimum transfer conditions.  Negotiations now begin.


10. Always start with a consideration for consideration offer: a presentation of the minimum transfer conditions well within your negotiating limits.  Declare yourself up front.  “You have something I want and I have something you want.  I am a negotiator.  Let’s negotiate about the transfer conditions.”  For example, “I would like for you to…I understand that it would be something that would change things a little for you.  I think that I have an offer that will make it a comfortable thing for you, though.  In consideration of your…, I will…”  Simply fill in your consideration and my consideration: the minimum transfer conditions.  You have made me a consideration for consideration offer and have done so in a way that lets me know that you are a serious negotiator.

If I begin negotiating, all is well.  I might say, “I might think about what you want from me; but what you’re offering is not enough for me to give you what you want, you will need to…”  I have made a counter offer and we are “horse trading” as the negotiators say.  Suppose I say, “No.”  Are the negotiations over?  Being a good negotiator you understand my saying “No” as simply my first negotiation offer.  You say, “That really surprises me.  Under what conditions would you…?”  I will then probably make an opening offer – present an initial set of transfer conditions to you.  If not, you simply learned that what you want is – from my point of view – simply not negotiable.

11. The following tips have been found by good negotiators to increase their negotiating effectiveness and increase the extent to which they are respected as effective negotiators.

(a) Stay relaxed and friendly.

(b) Remember the 80-20 rule.  Eighty percent of the movement – progress – will be made in the last 20 percent of the time available for negotiating.  Knowing this makes it easier to stay relaxed and much easier to be patient.

(c) Keep your focus on the negotiations – the transfer conditions.  Skilled negotiators will try to distract you, will talk about things unrelated to the negotiations, and try to diffuse your focus.  Through this process, keep your internal focus, your mind’s eye on the negotiations.

(d) Ask for and suggest options.  When suggesting options, raise – only as possibilities – different mixes or combinations of consideration.  Here, it is important to take care to always stay within your negotiating limits.

(e) Always remember that you are negotiating and never simply trying to get your own way.  Your focus is on the transfer conditions and includes your giving me something in exchange for what you hope to get.

12. The following negotiating strategies appear subtle and not easily seen from the point of view of the negotiation novice.  For a skilled negotiator like the one you are becoming, though, they are easy to spot and are an important part of your negotiating repertoire.

(a) Use the first third of the available negotiating time simply to get a feel for my interest.  Importantly, you will also determine what I want; but my interest represents how I think I will be better off if we are able to successfully complete our negotiations.  “Interest” is not what I want but rather “Why” I want it.

(b) Once you have a feel for my interest, develop a priority listing of that interest as you understand it.  Put my most important interest – my most important “Why” at the top of the list and then continue listing my interest in terms of descending priority for me.

(c) Acknowledge and facilitate my interest in the priority order you have developed.

(d) Based on your understanding of my interest, take time to show me how I am going to be better off.

(e) As you talk about the transfer conditions, be very clear.  Show me who, what, when, where, why, and – most importantly – how.

(f) Within any exchange – meeting transfer conditions – there are some risks.  If there were no risks to me including no possibility of being less well off after I give you what you want, I would probably simply give it to you.  I would understand that as doing you a favor and, if nothing else, would expect that you might reciprocate at some point in the future.  When negotiating, there are always some risks.  Be up front with me and very specific about the risks.  Show me all of the risks.  This will require that you think about the situation from my point of view, from my perspective.  Good negotiators are superbly skilled with this aspect of the process.  From my point of view, what are the risks?  It is always better if you bring them up and define them clearly for me than if I bring them up in the process.

(g) As you interact with me, limit the amount of detail you bring into the process, be very accurate, and always have more detail available to expand on or back up anything you say.  Wait for me to request the additional detail, though.  If I do not request it, it is appropriate for you to indicate that more detail is available if I would like to have it.  Let it go at this, though.  (From a strategic point of view, this puts you in the position of being the expert who is teaching me.)

(h) Show me how we will share the risks and responsibilities.  Remember that the person with whom you are negotiating will be more comfortable if the risks and responsibilities are shared as opposed to either you accepting all of the risk or responsibility or the other person accepting all of the risk or responsibility.  From this perspective, the key is to maintain each of us as equal participants in the process.

(i) Always let me be the one to make the final decision.  Even if I may have made the last offer and you are prepared to accept it say, “I think you have made an offer I can accept.  I think we are about to a point where we can agree to agree.  What do you think?”  Whenever possible, let me make the final decision.  Why?  Because I will feel better, feel more in control, and feel more comfortable with the position into which you have gotten me.

(j) Always credit me with having made a good decision.  Say, “I feel like you have made a really good decision.  I appreciate the time you have spent talking with me about this.”  What if my decision was to simply stop negotiating and not do what you wanted me to do?  The response is the same.  “I appreciate the time you have taken to talk with me about this.  All things considered, I think you have made a good decision from your point of view.  It did not turn out quite the way I wanted it to turn out; but I respect the decision you have made.”  Why do this?  You never know; you may want to negotiate with me again.  You have left our relationship at a point where I feel good about you and about negotiating with you again.  Save your negative feelings or reactions for a later time when you are by yourself and can say anything you want to say.  At the point our negotiations stop, though, take care not to “burn your bridges behind you,” as they say.


13. The following tips are used by serious and expert negotiators.  Watch for them when negotiating. When they appear, know immediately that you are negotiating with an expert.  Over time, you will find them becoming more and more a part or your negotiating style.

(a) Be who you are with style, all the time, on purpose.

(b) When you have gotten most of what you wanted while remaining within your negotiating limits, stop negotiating.  Remember the 80-20 rule?  It also applies here.  You will almost always get about 80 percent of what you want; and trying to get the other 20 percent usually jeopardizes the 80 percent you have already gotten.  This point backs off a little from an earlier point that said that what you want is not negotiable.  For the beginner, this “what I want is not negotiable” point applies.  For the expert, though, getting 80 percent of what you want 80 percent of the time you negotiate means that, over time, you will consistently get almost two-thirds of everything you want, which is probably at least 80 percent more than you have to have.  It may not be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but it is more than adequate for the good life.

(c) Never argue.  Remember, you are a negotiator and arguing only lets the other person know that you are not a first-class negotiator. Let me argue if I wish.  You negotiate with style, all the time, on purpose and understand that arguing is not negotiating.

(d) If you can avoid it, never let the negotiations reduce to a single issue.  Never let negotiations reduce to a single condition either on your list or mine.  If necessary, reintroduce a condition that seems to have already been resolved.  Why?  If there is only one issue, then it quickly becomes a simple yes or no decision.  In this case, there is no further room for negotiating; and a box has been created.  One of us has to decide yes or no.  It becomes a “take it or leave it” proposition.  As discussed earlier, if things get to this point, we are no longer negotiating.  Keep enough issues “on the table” to assure that there is always negotiating content or “grist for the mill,” as they say.

(e) Remember that people do not want the same things.  You know someone is running a game on you if he/she says, “After all, we want the same thing.”  This is virtually never true.  You want to actualize your interest and I want to actualize mine.  We may have some shared or common interest; but we will also have some interest that are not shared.  As a skilled negotiator, you will recognize and acknowledge both our shared interest and those interest we hold as individuals.

(f) Understand and mention my needs, problems, and interest.  When you do this, though, do not state them as facts.  Say instead, “If I understand, you have a problem (need – interest) that I understand in this way…”  Once you have mentioned the problem as you understand it, ask me, “Does it seem to you like I understand or do we need to talk about this some more so I better understand?”  Always convey a sense to me that I, my problems, my needs, and my interest are important to you and are being taken seriously by you.

(g) Always keep your focus on task – on the negotiations.  Never shift focus to me or to personalities.  Even when you are talking with me about your perceptions of my problems, needs, and interest, do so in ways that are related to our negotiations – to the transfer conditions.

(h) Focus on task with flexibility.  If my style is to let the conversation drift, socialize, talk about other things, or to move away form task, “go with the flow.”  Always be personable, friendly, and interested.  At the same time, though, look for opportunities to return to task gently, tactfully, and without becoming forceful or pushy.


14. Some final tips will help you polish your negotiating skills.  The list below are seen frequently when negotiators are running a game. Watch for those times when the game is being run with you; and as your skill increases, you may want to carefully and cautiously run the game on the person with whom you are negotiating, although do this sparingly.

(a) Nibbling – you think that the negotiations are over.  Just as we are about to commit to the agreement, I come back for a little more – a little nibble.  The idea is to make you think that I might simply back out of the agreement if you do not go along with this little nibble, give me a little extra.  Not responding to the nibble seems hardly worth jeopardizing the agreement.  Just remember that a game is being run on you.

(b) Set aside – especially during the first 80 percent of the negotiating process, one or two issues tend to come up that seem insurmountable.  This game suggests that you simply get me to agree to set that issue aside for a while, giving us time to work on other issues.   The idea is that, once we have agreed on all the other issues, the one that was set aside will not seem that important or unmanageable.  Also, we will have spent a lot of time and energy almost coming to agreement.  The issue that was set aside then looms as a relatively small issue in relationship to everything that has already been accomplished.  At that point, the self-perceived pressure is to agree on the issue that was set aside.  It may, in fact, be the most important issue in the whole negotiation.  Nonetheless, it usually gets resolved very quickly toward the end of the negotiating process.  If the issue that is being set aside is really important to you, refuse to set it aside saying, “I think we need to deal with this now.  We could agree about everything else; but if this is still in the way, we still have a problem.  Let’s talk about this now.”

(c) Good guy/Bad guy – this comes up when you are negotiating with more than one person, keeping in mind that you include everyone in the negotiations who has any control or influence over the consideration sought.  You are talking with one of the people and he/she says, “I would like to do this, would like to go along with you.  The real problem is (put in the name of the other person involved.)  He/she is really hard to deal with about this.  If you will go along with me on a couple of points, I will see if I can get him/her to go along with what you want.”  It is the old cartoon situation of the harried mother trying to get the youngster to cooperate.  She says, “Either you deal with me now – cooperate with me – or you can ‘wait till your father gets home.’ ”

(d) Reject the first offer – this is exactly what it sounds like, although sometimes it is not understood as simply a game someone is running.  The person simply assumes that you have not made your best offer and rejects your first offer to induce you to improve on it.  Instead of automatically improving on your first offer, then, you might say, “Wow! That really surprised me. That is about as good as I can do.  Just out of curiosity, what kind of offer would you consider?”  The other person then makes an offer.  Running the same game, you say, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard you correctly.  You did not suggest…, did you?”  The other person then indicates that this is what was said.  You then say, “That is way beyond anything I can handle right now.”  He/she then says, “What could you handle?”  You then say, “What I originally suggested is about all I can handle right now.”

(e) Play dumb – at some point in the process we will get to a point where we are getting fairly close to agreement.  If you were to give a little more or request a little less or if I were to give a little more or request a little less, we would be in agreement.  Think about this in terms of money.  Suppose you are at twelve dollars and I am at sixteen dollars.  The temptation is to say, “Let’s split the difference – let’s compromise at fourteen dollars.”  Never do this.  See if you can get me to do it.  Say, “I can see that we are only four dollars apart.  That’s fairly close.  I don’t know what to do.  Do you have any suggestions?”  I will probably then suggest that we split the difference at fourteen dollars.  You then say, “Well, that is surely better.  I can see you’re really trying to make this work.  We are just about there.  Being two dollars apart is not much.  If we were just a little closer, I think I would be okay with the agreement.  What do you suggest?”  Just be sure not to push the game to far.  Probably getting me someplace more toward you than simply splitting the difference is the point at which you should say, “You have definitely worked out something we can both be comfortable with.  I think we should agree on the thirteen dollars you are suggesting.  What do you think?”  Never go for the “last ounce of flesh,” as they say.

(f) The ice cream cone – you know you are dealing with an expert negotiator when this game is being run.  I have an ice cream cone and you would like to have it.  I am asking for a little more consideration than you are willing to offer.  I say to you, “Why don’t you go ahead and have a bite.  If it is not just what you want, I’ll keep what’s left and you do not have to give me anything.”  My hope is that once you have tried it you will develop an immediate desire for the rest of the ice cream cone and will give me a little more than you had intended to offer so that you can have it now.  Salesmen who offer a free home trial – with no obligation – are running this game.  Youngsters who are skilled negotiators are also running the game when their offer is to do the dishes if you will reduce control over their activities enough to enable them to go to a movie.  The youngster says, “I would like permission to go to the movie and thought that, since you are going to do this nice thing for me, I would do the dishes even though it is not my turn.”  The youngster has made a good consideration for consideration offer.  You say, “No, I do not think that your going to the movie tonight is a good idea.”  The expert negotiator does not see this as a final decision.  Rather, he/she runs the ice cream cone game.  You go into the kitchen forty-five minutes later to find out the dishes have been done.  If for some reason you did not go in, he/she will find some reason why you should come into the kitchen.  You then see that the dishes are done and say, “Well, you went ahead and did the dishes.  I told you that you could not go to the movie.”  Our junior negotiator then says, “I know, I just thought that doing the dishes would be a nice thing to do anyway.”  Will you simply say “thank you” or reconsider your “no movie” decision?  As with other games, it was worth a try, from the young person’s point of view.

(g) Willing to walk – never get into a position where you are not willing to walk, terminate the negotiations.  If I ever get the impression that you will hang in there no matter what, you are totally at my mercy.  At a minimum, I will probably be able to get you to give me more than you really wanted to give.  Also, I will simply “dig in” and give no more than I have already offered.  In fact, if I really believe that you will not walk, you may find me actually reducing my offer.  Simply remember that, if you ever reach a point where you are unwilling to walk, the negotiations are over.  The outcome is totally under my control.

(h) Horse trading – remember that 80 percent of the movement will occur during the final 20 percent of the process.  Here we are talking about an old horse trading principle.  Always save a little of your consideration for the final moments of the negotiating process.  Do not run out of negotiating room until you get to the end of the negotiating process.  Always have a couple of options left for horse trading.  Another benefit is that I will leave the negotiation feeling that I got the last concession.  That will make me feel a little smug and feel as if I am the superior negotiator.  Among other things, this will probably lead to my underestimating you the next time we negotiate.

(i) Out waiting – the person with whom you are negotiating will gradually get a little frustrated and will want to move the process along.  He/she will probably be impatient with only 20 percent of the progress being made during the first 80 percent of the available time.  Here, the key is to relax, be patient, and simply out wait the other person.  There is a strong likelihood that he/she will make an additional offer, increase his/her consideration, or do something else to move the process along.  Just by being more patient and waiting, you have gotten more of what you wanted.

(j) Withdraw your offer – this is an easy game to run but must be managed very sparingly and very cautiously.  Suppose you have offered to spend a half-hour with someone and he/she wants you to spend an hour.  The negotiations seem to be reaching an impasse.  You say, “Well, maybe it is just as well that we aren’t coming to agreement about this.  As I think about it, I’m not sure that I even have half-an-hour.  Probably fifteen minutes or so is really all I can spare right now.”  The idea is that the other person will feel like the deal is getting away from him/her.  Instead of holding out for the hour, he/she will grasp at the thirty minutes that seem to be slipping away.  The other person says, “Wait a minute.  You offered to spend a half-an-hour.  I’m going to hold you to that.”  You say, “Well, I really do not have the time to spare; but since I did agree to a half-an-hour, I will be as good as my word.  You have a half-an-hour.”

(k) The reluctant dealer – this is a little bit like withdrawing the offer.  Instead, you take the position that we can talk about this but that you are really reluctant to even consider it.  “I have a lot of reservations about this.  It is just something that I am not very comfortable with.  We can talk about it; but I really don’t think it is something I can handle at this point.”  The game is to get me to convince you not only why you should give up your consideration but why you should want and accept the consideration I am offering.  This puts me in the position of needing to manage both sides of the negotiations, with your reluctant participation.

(l) The decoy – this game is run by true experts.  It works like this.  You make what you think is a simple, straightforward consideration for consideration offer.  My goal is to complicate the negotiations.  I do this by either making things seem like they are a lot more complicated than they really are or by introducing elements or issues into the negotiations that are not really relevant or at issue.  I simply introduce them as if they were relevant or at issue, assuming that you will treat anything I say as relevant and important.  For example, a teenager wants to use the care.  He/she offers to buy the gas, be in by midnight, and wash the car before using it.  A nice consideration for consideration offer.  The parent, running the decoy game, says, “I don’t know.  You know that there was a really bad wreck last night and three youngsters were injured.  I just don’t know about your using the car.”  This is a pure decoy or what is sometimes referred to as a red herring.  The problem for the youngster is to decide whether this is a negotiating game that is being run or if the parent is someone who just brings up irrelevant issues.  The youngster says – being a good negotiator – “That was really a bad accident.  You are like me.  We are both still shocked about it.  Is being in at twelve o’clock okay?”  Good for our junior negotiator.  Not only was the decoy parried, the comeback was one that simply assumed use of the car and moved the negotiations to the time to come home.  With that kind of skill already shown, we can simply assume that twelve o’clock was well within the negotiating limit and that a somewhat earlier time would be acceptable.”  How did the negotiation end?  As the youngster walked out the door to get into the car, the parent said, “Be careful and be sure to be in by eleven-thirty.”

(m) A last trick in the game runner’s bag – we have written what we hope has been a professional book that maintained the proper level of objectivity and style.  Since we have come to the end, we thought that you might like to know about one additional game that may not quite maintain the professional demeanor that has been present to this point.  This has been designated as “The Call Girl Principle.”  The principle says that the value of a service declines in direct proportion to the amount of time it has been since you have received the service.  Of course, this is why the call girl always wants to be paid in advance.  Good negotiators always make sure that there are definite arrangements made for how much they are going to receive and when they are going to receive it.  Whenever possible, they receive it in advance.  “You do what you are going to do for me and then I will do what I am going to do for you.”  By this point, though, you will undoubtedly be able to go the call girl principle one better.  Try it when you and your spouse are in the lover’s dimension of your marriage.  What is this advanced principle called?  You guess it – simultaneous sex.  As with many many things within family life, it is usually better to do it together than to take turns.

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