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The Big Mistake People Make When They Negotiate

We were selling our house. The buyers wanted to play hardball negotiation.House Word Icon Showing House For Sale

We had agreed on a price, but they wanted us to throw in lots of extras, furniture, the clay pots on our front porch, rugs. We were OK with all of it, until it came to the fish tank.

Our then three-year-old daughter had a giant fish tank that she and her father had spent a year stocking and caring for.

It was the centerpiece item in our basement playroom, and the buyers wanted it.

It was probably worth about $500. They insisted that we leave it. We caved, they got the tank, and we had to break the news to a three-year-old that she was going to have to leave her fish behind.

Did they win?

Not exactly. They got the tank, but they created ill will amongst our neighbors before they even moved in.fishes

Because here’s the part they failed to consider: While they were playing hardball, we were updating our neighbors about the entire process.

The night of the big fish tank fiasco, we were at a neighborhood party.  The entire neighborhood weighed in on whether or not we should let them have it. The general consensus was to let it go.

One neighbor summed up the sentiment of the evening saying, “I know it would be a pain to move, but what kind of people try to take away a little girl’s fish?”

Which is how they’re known as, “The couple who stole Elizabeth’s fish.”  The neighbors were predisposed to dislike them before they had even met them.

They made a classic mistake; they thought they were conducting an impersonal negotiation. But for the buyers (us), and our team (our neighbors) it was completely personal.

There are two types of negotiation. The kind where you don’t care what kind of reputation you’re creating, like a hostage negotiation.  Once you get your hostages out, the tough guys storm in and throw the evil perp to the floor. You don’t care what the person on the other side of the negotiating table thinks about you or what they tell others.

The other kind of negotiation is when you’re negotiating prices and terms with people that you’re eventually going to have to work with.

Or in the case of our homebuyers, with people that are going to talk about how you behaved, and your reputation will precede you.

This happens in business all the time. A tough buyer pushes a salesperson to lower the price to the point where the vendor isn’t even sure they want the deal. Because the salesperson is invested, they start making concessions, promising their boss that they won’t have to provide extra services, cutting corners, etc.Time For A Rethink Means Change Strategy

The deal closes, but the customer who pushed too hard winds up getting the B player service team. No one is excited about having the account, there’s no innovation, no going the extra mile. Every time the customer calls they try to pass him off.

I’ve coached executive teams through negotiations of deals in the millions. Here are three techniques we use to increase success:

1.            Start by telling the other side, “I want this to be a win for you too,” and mean it.

2.            Leave something on the table the other side can brag about to their team.

3.            Don’t be a jerk. You are creating a reputation for yourself. Your life and your career are longer than this one deal.

  • Melody Rady

    As the sales agent, do your homework first. I had the unfortunate situation of purchasing my first house directly from a seller who did not do his homework, and under valued the sale price of his house. I quickly acted to present an offer and since it was my first house just requested that the window treatments stay, as they were building a new house and I was pretty sure they didn’t need them. At the closing, when the seller figured out that he undersold the house, he walked out and latter came back to close the deal. He then told the whole neighborhood that I was un unscrupulous realtor who stole the house from him. So I was the new neighbor with the bad reputation. I was shocked when we were snubbed one night at an outing and when I found out why I nicely corrected their understanding of who we were.

    The bad part for the seller was he was a predominant business man in the area. When the neighbors found out I knew absolutely nothing about the real estate industry, it made them wonder how good a business man he was.

    Keep it generous and go in informed.
    Melody

  • Julee

    Did you tell them NO on the fish tank? Was the deal not going to close on whether they got the fish tank or not? If so, then it was not a good deal to begin with. Some people negotiate by asking for everything expecting that the seller will say NO to some of their demands. What was your part in this negotiation?

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  • Red Cabbage

    You sound like a horrible person. I’m glad they got the fish tank. Fuck your “old” bourgeoisie neighbors too. They are everything that is wrong with this country. The housing market should be nationalized so that people like you can’t exploit others. The fish tank was obviously a metaphor for the buyer–they took your precious world view and torched it. Good on ’em.