When to Negotiate, and When to Play Nice

“You don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate.”

It was the marketing tagline for a popular 1980s negotiating skills program.  Personally, I find this concept absolutely exhausting. Do you really want to game every aspect of daily life?

I teach negotiation skills, and coach clients in negotiations. After 20 years of doing so, I’ve learned, there is a time to negotiate. But if you approach every situation with an eye to what you can get, you don’t emerge the winner.

Research from thought leaders like Adam Grant, the author of the groundbreaking Give and Take, reveals that hardball tactics often do more harm than good, to your reputation and your pocketbook. A negotiating mentality can have a chilling effect on your happiness as well.

Here are six counter intuitive tips to be a happier, more joyful and successful negotiator:

1. Pay the asking price, often
If it’s a low value dollar item, don’t haggle. Place a value on your own time; arguing over $2 isn’t worth the mental effort. When you haggle over everything, defensiveness and aggressiveness become habits that spill over into the rest of your life.

2. Don’t start with money
One of our clients was a hard-charging CFO. Her high school son came to her to talk about why he might prefer a small private college, instead of the big state (i.e., cheaper) school. Her first response was, “I’m going to need to see an ROI on that.” A better first response would have been, “Tell me more.” It would have prompted a deeper parent child conversation. When you make money your first go-to, it’s unlikely that people will open their hearts to you.

3. Ensure the other party makes a healthy profit
A large client of ours consistently played hardball with their vendors. They thought they were getting good deals. What they really got was begrudging poor service from vendors whose razor thin margins ensured they put their lowest level, cheapest people on the project. The consequence was costly missed deadlines, rework, and poor performance.

We trained their team to start asking, Are you making enough money to put your best people on our project?”  The result was better partnerships with vendors who created major cost savings over an 18-month period. Not to mention fewer headaches for all parties involved.

4. Ask for additional service instead of a lower price
When the other party has decent margins, it’s OK to ask for additional services. My husband and I recently bought a boat from a dealer. Instead of trying to get a lower price, we asked them to detail the boat, and include a storage package. We walked away happier, and they have a long-term customer. It’s now a relationship instead of a single transaction.

5. If there’s a comma in the price, think about your end game
When you’re paying a lot of money, it pays to take your time. Think about what you really want. Is it a great price, or something bigger? When we sold our house, the buyers asked for last minute  concessions.  It’s a common tactic; you know the seller is counting on closing the deal, so at the 11th hour, you ask for more.

The buyers got our furniture and fish tank at no financial cost to them. But they also got new neighbors (our friend whom we had confided) who distrusted their motives before they even said hello they knew the buyers pressured us into leaving our daughter’s fish, and favorite sofa behind.

Lesson:  People who try to negotiate everything really do get what they deserve.