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THERE’S AN OLD-SCHOOL negotiating tactic known as “the bathroom” that goes something like this: Feed your adversary a lot of water and high-fiber food, limit his access to the bathroom and then just keep talking, making demands, maintaining the pressure. In the end, he buckles, acquiescing to a deal that is hugely advantageous to your side.

Such negotiating lore sounds apocryphal — the kind of stories traveling sales reps might swap at the bar in the departure lounge — but they point to something at the heart of traditional negotiating: It’s a power game. Leverage is key. One side must lose — preferably in a humiliating way — for the other to win. Zero-sum.

William Ury and Roger Fisher’s GETTING TO YES, first published 32 years ago, is credited with helping revolutionize thinking about negotiating. Not only did they advocate a more amicable approach to discussing disagreements but argued that the whole way we think about the subject is wrong. According to the two Harvard professors, our instinct is to engage in “positional bargaining”: adopting a position, arguing for it, then making concessions until compromise is reached. As egos become involved and people identify themselves with their stand, the whole thing gets antagonistic and messy. A better approach, Ury and Fisher said, was to “change the game” to one where opponents “see themselves working side by side, attacking the problem, not each other.”

TYPES OF NEGOTIATORS according to Chris Voss, in his book Never Split The Difference.
Analyst: Acquiring facts and info > making a deal

  • Time = Preparation· Silence = Opportunity to think
  • Methodical and diligent. Hates surprises.
  • Self-image tied to minimizing mistakes
  • Prefers to work on their own
  • Reserved problem solver
  • Information aggregator
  • Skeptical by nature
  • May appear to agree when just agreeing to think about it
  • Doesn’t like calibrated questions
  • Apologies have little value
  • Hypersensitive to reciprocity
  • Get gift first = it must be a trap
  • Give first = you must reciprocate‍
  • Tools: labels, specifically to compare analysis
  • Uses data to drive my reason, no ad-libbing
  • Uses data comparisons to disagree‍
  • Worst-type match: Assertive

Accommodator: Building relationship > making a deal

  • Time = Relationship
  • Silence = Anger
  • Communicating leads to happy
  • Sociable, peace-seeking, optimistic, distractible, poor time management
  • Watch tone and body language; hesitancy won’t come in words‍
  • Risk: may overpromise, agree to give you something they can’t actually deliver‍
  • Tools: “What…” and “How…” calibrated questions focused on implementation‍
  • Worst-type match: Accommodator

Assertive: Being heard > making a deal

  • Time = Money
  • Silence = Opportunity to speak more
  • Getting the solution perfect is less important than getting it done
  • Loves winning above all else
  • Most likely to get tunnel-vision. Focus on goal means missed opportunities to explore
  • Emotions = bad
  • Negotiation = intellectual sparring
  • Tools: calibrated questions, labels, and summaries. Get a “That’s right‍.”
  • Be careful with reciprocity (give an inch and they will take a mile)‍
  • Worst-type match: Analyst

Most people today agree that an approach focused on getting to win-win is good. At the same time, most people still find the thought of negotiating stressful and unpleasant and will try to avoid it because of the conflict and disagreement that make negotiating necessary in the first place. This is especially so for women; studies indicate women negotiate only about 25% as often as men do, and about 20% of women never negotiate at all.

The cost of poor negotiating skills is huge. According to some estimates, U.S. businesses lose well over $100 million per HOUR due to a lack of proficiency in the area. It’s not just the money left on the table. Badly negotiated deals result in unexplored opportunities, inefficiency, lower quality work, increased staff turnover, wasted time, lingering disputes and resentments, legal conflicts … the list goes on.

Many of our readers fall into this category, In fact, 58% of our Brain Squad said they felt their negotiating skills were average to poor.

But are negotiators really “born, not made”? While it is true some people do seem to have an affinity for reading a room and the poise and temperament to successfully engage with even aggressive people, most of the skills related to negotiation can be learned. And the payoffs are significant, especially for small-business owners. Negotiation skills can help secure better deals with suppliers, customers, partners, and employees. They can help resolve conflicts, create value, and build trust. Moreover, they can boost business prospects by increasing credibility, reputation, and influence.

The key to any successful negotiation starts with identifying the situation correctly: Is it a one-off commercial transaction that involves little more than bargaining over price? Is it an internal negotiation with employees, family members or partners where the relationship is paramount (these are by far the toughest)? Or is it a more complex engagement that involves building a potentially long-term partnership? Only in the first example is the size of the pie more or less fixed — one party’s gain in terms of a lower price paid is the other’s loss. In the others, it’s about finding a solution that will ideally create additional value and then distribute that value among the two sides.

“My experience is you do best when you figure out how the other side wins,” says Joel Peterson, a former JetBlue chairman and author of THE 10 LAWS OF TRUST. “The goal in negotiations should be to create value for all parties. That doesn’t mean being a doormat or capitulating; it means there is no point in beating the other parties into submission or making them feel like losers. If the other side benefits and you walk away satisfied, you’ve created two winners. Strengthening your relationship with the other party can also lead to more business, referrals, a stronger brand and more lasting agreements,” he says.

Andrea Riso, owner of Talisman Collection in El Dorado Hills, CA, agrees that this principle applies in jewelry retail. “Successful negotiations are when someone is happy and I’ve made the appropriate margin. I try to do it repeatedly, daily.”

Ury, noting most negotiations take place in the context of long-term relationships, compares it to a marriage. “If you are always asking: ‘Who’s winning this marriage?’… the marriage is in serious trouble.” It may be instructive, he says to “remember the Chinese billionaire who made his fortune by always giving his business partners a little more than he took for himself; everyone wanted to be his partner and they made him rich.”

Christina Baribault-Ortiz of Baribault Jewelers in Glastonbury, CT, experienced this approach firsthand. “There was a $60,000 ring that one of my clients had wanted for a long time, but her husband is never happy spending large amounts of money (but has plenty). I gave her a watch to give him as a surprise because ‘he never wants gifts.’ This lifted his spirits and spoke to his love language as planned, and he purchased the ring.”

41 Tips to Become a Master Negotiator


Such a collaborative approach entails building trust, creativity, and sharing interests. It also means being assertive, fair, patient and aware of the strategies and techniques employed by other negotiators.

Every negotiation is a little different, and the art of deal-making is one that seems riven with contradictions: Be likeable/Don’t make offers to be likeable; Make the first offer/Never make the first offer; Reveal something important to build trust/Never give away useful information for free … It requires a flexible mind, and perhaps most of all, an almost superhuman control of emotion.

As a founder of the Harvard Negotiation Project, Ury came up with four principles to guide all negotiations. The very first is “Separate the people from the problem.” In other words, it’s your proposal that is being scrutinized, not you. (The other three are 1. Focus on interests, not positions. 2. Generate options for mutual gain. 3. Insist on using objective criteria. 4. Be soft on the person, hard on the problem. Get that wrong — by being abrasive or overly accommodating — and the result is no deal done or a strained relationship.

In the following pages, we present insights from fellow jewelry store owners, business authors, psychology, neuroscience, and recent research, that will hopefully provide you with practical strategies and a few tactics to help you feel more comfortable when engaging in difficult negotiations. Hopefully, you’ll take note when someone fills up your glass of water for the fifth time, and you’ll see a glass that’s more than half full, confidently smile, label the tactic (“Ah, the old bathroom ploy”) and declare, “OK, how about we try to find some shared value here?”


“Fail to prepare and prepare to fail.” Any serious negotiation requires far more preparation than actual face-to face talking. Harvard business professor Michael Wheeler, author of ART OF NEGOTIATION, urges you to think strategically with “strong ideas weakly held” as opposed to just winging it with the tactics you’ve always used. “So we have best- and worst-case scenarios, we have an exit strategy, but we’re ready to throw things out the window.” Treat your plans as “assumptions that you will test,” he says.

41 Tips to Become a Master Negotiator



Among the items to have worked out ahead of time:

  • Research of industry benchmarks for the key numbers (prices, rents, salaries, minimum orders, etc.). “This removes (price) from the subjective and places it firmly in the realm of the objective, and then everyone can agree that the outcome is fair,” says skills trainer Simon Horton, author of NEGOTIATION MASTERY. People will be swayed by the “authority” of the market.
  • Your opening offer. The key word here is “defensible.” If you start too aggressively, you lose credibility and trust. So think big, yes. But be sure that you can make a substantive case for your first offer — you want to be taken seriously on every offer that follows.
  • Your bargaining agenda. Perhaps, as the buyer, you’ll offer 65% at first, then 85%, then 95% and 100% of their asking price, but under what terms and conditions? Consider also what your final offer will be — preferably a non-monetary item to show you are at your limit.
  • Your response to their opening offer. Get ready to deflect the punch. Rehearse what you’ll say: “I’m afraid that won’t work for us but …” / “Let’s put price off to the side for a moment and talk about what would make this a good deal.” / “What else would you be able to offer to make that a good price for me?”
  • Concessions. You need at least one — no seasoned negotiator will accept your first offer. What can you offer them? What can you extract for everything you give away? Try to ascertain what non-monetary things are likely to be important to them — speed of delivery, price or an endorsement?
  • Answers to their curve balls. What will be your response if they say something like: “Tell me the absolute maximum you’d be willing to pay, and I’ll see if I can shave off a bit.” (The correct answer in this case would be to laugh and say, “Tell me the absolute minimum you’d be willing to accept, and I’ll see if I can add a bit.”) Get with your team and brainstorm answers to the questions you don’t want to answer.


“Researching the people you’re negotiating with is crucial, whether it’s a company or your next-door neighbor,” says Clive Rich, a corporate negotiator and author of THE YES BOOK. “Then moderate your behavior accordingly. There are observable types we all recognize — for example, the big picture thinker, the detail fiend. Try tuning into their wavelength.”


Behind every great plan stands a not-so-great but still acceptable Plan B. It’s the point that tells you when it’s time to walk away because you can get a better deal elsewhere. In negotiating circles, it’s known as a “best alternative to a negotiated agreement,” or Batna. It gives you clarity, confidence, leverage, and a benchmark. Moreover, it protects the downside. (Possible Batnas include going with another supplier or customer, dropping the project altogether or going to court.) “The definition of a successful negotiation is satisfying your interests better than your Batna could,” says William Ury, co-author of the classic GETTING TO YES.

Atalie Finer of Finer Jewelry in Chicago reaped the dividends of the Batna approach when negotiating rent on her location. “I was negotiating rent and buildout in 5 S. Wabash. It was going nowhere, so I found a space on North Michigan Ave. that had been a jewelry store previously. They wanted half the amount of rent. I was ready to sign, then out of the blue the owner of 5 S. Wabash called me and wanted to know if I wanted the space. I told him I had found another one and was going to go to sign. He said he would match the price. So, I asked the guy from the other space what he would advise. He said, ‘If you want to do wholesale, go to 5 S. Wabash.’ The rest is history.”


Alternatives give negotiators the confidence to push hard for better outcomes and to walk away from the table when needed. So what do you do when you have no alternative? Imagine one. A paper in the JOURNAL OF PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY found that negotiators with a strong Batna did much better than those with no options. But interestingly, those told to imagine they had an alternative when they did not have one did almost as well. Thinking positively matters.

41 Tips to Become a Master Negotiator



Give hard thought to what the other side’s Batna might be. Not only does it allow you to consider strategic responses, but perhaps more importantly, it “really helps you assess the whole thing and you’re not just thinking my agenda, my agenda, my agenda,” says Joel Peterson, that former JetBlue chairman and author of THE 10 LAWS OF TRUST. Such an approach hints at one of the secrets of negotiating: You can often extract more value by focusing on the other side’s needs. “Understanding the other party’s needs and wants enables you to propose a solution and a story which justifies your solution so well that makes it nearly impossible for the other party to disagree with,” says Peterson.


“It’s important to visualize all the different ways the negotiating process can unfold and prepare appropriate emotional responses that keep the negotiation moving,” notes a primer on negotiation from UC Berkeley. How will you respond if they come on strong? Give you a gift? How would you react if they offer you mints, implying your breath is bad? “Being poised and stable makes asking for what you want and saying ‘no’ much easier,” says the Berkeley paper. If you’re prone to jitters, reframe the anxiety as excitement, focus on the upside — what you could win, not lose — with a successful deal, see yourself in the third person… whatever psychological tricks have worked for you in the past.


Negotiating lore is full of stories of people who tried cutting a deal with the powerless underling or conversely didn’t realize the “clerk” setting up the projector was actually the CEO. Make sure the person you’re asking has the authority to approve a deal or give you a discount. In larger deals, say a negotiation with a family-run business, it may not be clear who is the real power holder. Notes Dan Pink in his MasterClass on selling and persuasion: “The person speaking the most is not always the person with the most power. You have to keenly observe the number of people to whom people look towards or address when they talk. The person with the most power to influence a decision is the one who most people address.”


While your goal should be respect, not affection, being likeable — even an affable rogue — is a great asset at the negotiation table. “Other people may hate what you’re offering them or know that they’re not getting the best negotiated deal, but if they cannot find a reason to hate you, they will like you, and you will get more out of your negotiations more frequently,” says Peterson. Connecting on a human level creates positive emotions that allow you and your counterpart to trust, be creative and take risks with ideas. Being likeable doesn’t mean you give away value at the negotiating table. It does mean that you invest time in building relationships, use rapport, find affiliations (shared interests), and reveal your humanity (sharing professional mistakes is always a surefire way to show you’re human). A few minutes of chitchat before getting down to business also allows you to observe people in less guarded moments, and maybe even their readiness to close.

As Sherrie Schilling-Devaney of Sherrie’s Jewelry Box in Tigard, OR, says, “Always be NICE with banks and vendors — never take advantage — and when you NEED them, they’ll be there for you.”


Rookie mistake: negotiating against yourself. It’s natural to get last-minute nerves, but steel yourself and hold to your opening offer, especially in the face of a belligerent opponent. Notes Rich: “A lot of people think, ‘OK, I was going to ask for 100, but the other side will be really cross with me, so I’ll ask for 60 and see how I get on.’ You’ve already given away 40% without the other side doing anything. You’ve become your worst enemy.” The same goes for important information. “We’ve got 120 days inventory of that model. My manager’s giving us a bonus if we can move one of them,” is not harmless banter (although, yes, it will ingratiate you with the other side). “The rule to remember is the less the other side knows about our company’s business, the better off you are. And before telling them anything, make sure you know why you’re telling them what you’re telling them,” say Bill Sanders and Frank Mobus in their book, CREATIVE CONFLICT: A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR BUSINESS NEGOTIATORS.

41 Tips to Become a Master Negotiator



One of the principal exhortations in Donald Trump’s book THE ART OF THE DEAL was “Have fun!” While Trump’s view of fun seems to veer more toward the thrill of the hunt (“The real excitement is playing the game,” he said), this is one bit of Trump advice nearly all negotiators agree on. Reframing potentially stressful situations as exciting is not only a smart way to deal with personal emotions and bring anxiety under control, but adding a lighter tone leads to better outcomes. Great negotiators know that no matter how serious the interaction, laughter is often one of the quickest paths to trust; it can relieve tension, create a bond, improve everyone’s moods, and foster the creativity you want for mutually beneficial agreements to emerge. “I’ve got a couple of examples of when I was just playful and I’m joking with people almost at my expense, and it’s astonishing what you can get people to do if you if you hit them the right way,” says Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator and co-author of the book NEVER SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE. Of course, it’s best not to overdo it. Stories or attempts at humor should be modest short and topical. Be real. Leverage your own style and personality. If a story has worked once, keep it and use it again.

Joe Kirk of Kirk & Co. Jewelers in Milford, OH, says humor has helped him to close sales. “When someone asks, ‘Is that the best price you can do?’, we sometimes respond with ‘No, it would be better for us if it was a lot higher!’ A little bit of humor often seals the deal.”


If you’ve worked in sales any length of time, you’ve likely encountered the almost embarrassed customer, who, while avoiding eye contact, mumbles something like, “I don’t suppose there’s any chance of a discount, don’t worry if you can’t …” Such negotiators are all too easy to deal with. The counterpart who oozes confidence, charm and authority is another story. “Thinking like a negotiator begins as soon as you walk through the door. It’s an air of confidence and control that’s apparent in your face, your voice, your posture. Since they’re well prepared going in, they rarely get caught flat-footed or rocked back on their heels. Rather than conceding too quickly, they keep asserting their interests,” says Mobus. Splash water on your face. Slip into character!


“I’ve always found the most successful negotiations are those that are treated like conversations, or exercises in which both sides are solving a problem, with the eventual answer being one word: fair,” says Peterson. “It’s a conversation looking for creative ideas to expand value and lead to sustainable agreements. These conversations benefit from empathy, intuition, cooperation, listening, giving due credit for ideas, and not interrupting each other.”

Mobus concurs: Collaborating to reach a solution can be energizing, socially gratifying, and filled with surprises. If you approach the agreement with the spirit of cooperation and collaboration (rather than conflict), not only will you enjoy it more, but you will get a better result — for both sides, he says.

Janne Etz of Contemporary Concepts in Cocoa, FL, uses this approach and feels that it hardly even qualifies as negotiating. “I don’t really negotiate. I talk, they talk. We inevitably find common interests. They love handcrafted jewelry (or not), they buy (or not). We’ve ‘interacted’ either way. It’s all good!”



Conventional wisdom says let the other side make the first offer in the hope they show their hand, or even better, in the case of an inexperienced negotiator, make a very generous offer out of fear of upsetting the other party or being seen as greedy or uncooperative. Research, however, shows that whoever speaks first can seize control of the bargaining table and influence the ultimate price agreed, thanks to what’s known as the “anchoring effect.” Anchoring does two things: a high initial quote or offer will positively influence the final price as people have a tendency to rely heavily on the first piece of information they receive when making decisions — a well-studied bias in humans that is commonly exploited by retailers, and secondly an extreme anchor will make the “real number” seem reasonable. How to deal with a shark who throws out an extreme anchor? Smile and counter with your own extreme anchor.


In the words of Lee Iacocca, the former CEO of Chrysler, negotiation is all about building trust. “Being honest is the best technique I can use,” he said. “Right up front, tell people what you’re trying to accomplish and what you’re willing to sacrifice to accomplish it.” Peterson agrees, saying adding that “leading by example is the best way to encourage transparency, and, at a minimum, it certainly saves time.” Such advice runs counter to the traditional view that power in negotiations can derive from indifference. But the result is a negative engagement marked by defensiveness. “If you’re too scared to admit what you want, you’ve taken yourself hostage,” says Voss. “Instead of thinking, ‘Oh, no, if they find out what I want, that gives them the power to say no’, think, ‘Telling them what I need gives them a reason to give me what I want. If they can’t give me it, then we can’t make a deal.’”

Stew Brandt of H. Brandt Jewelers in Natick, MA, says this approach can work for independent jewelers. “I explain I’m a small two-person firm with very low overhead, and my prices reflect that. If you’re looking for something less expensive, we can explore our 40% off and previously loved cases.”


So you enter big and are immediately slapped down with a big “no.” It’s easy to get defensive and assume the deal is over. But a more productive way to view this as the sign that negotiations have just begun. Indeed, Voss encourages negotiators to seek out a “no,” so that they can get more clarity on what parts of the deal the other side isn’t comfortable with, wants to change, or simply doesn’t understand. When you get a “no,” he suggests following up with questions that help both parties come to a solution. For example: “What about this doesn’t work for you?” or “What would you need to make this work?”

Beth Greene of Conti Jewelers in Binghamton, NY, uses a smart variation of this question: She asks, “Why wouldn’t you?” “Instead of me word-vomiting reasons the other person should, the burden is shifted to them to come up with reasons why they shouldn’t, which can be challenging when you’re put on the spot. But it also gives me direct insight into their doubts and what I must overcome to convince them,” Greene says.


Being a generous person is an unarguably good way to live your life. But in negotiations? The traditional view is to never give away anything without 1. knowing its value to the other party, and 2. extracting something in return. Voss disagrees. “This correlates real strongly with people I want to do business with. If they figured out something that they know is valuable for me and they’ve just done it and they’ve just offered it like right off the bat, no strings attached … that’s the kind of person I want to do business with.”

That said, choose your gifts carefully. The idea is to build rapport, not undermine your bargaining position. Giving away a 10% discount on price without a reason will only encourage your counterpart to expect a similar discount every time you meet.


Pride of place in any negotiator’s toolkit is the probe. Simply put, a probe is a succinct open-ended question designed to elicit helpful information and move the negotiation forward. Probe to understand your counterpart’s interest. Probe to turn their no into a yes. Probe when they are using a hardball tactic. The more you understand what they want, the more you can see how you can deliver value to them. And the more value you can deliver, the more value they may be willing to exchange. At a minimum, the odds of a transaction increase as you understand more. The key is to probe with sincere curiosity and to test assumptions. For instance, if you’re interested in a product line but don’t like the initial terms offered, don’t ask a binary question like: “Is this your final offer?” Instead, try something open-ended like: “What would it take to get …?”


The most useful questions start with what, how and sometimes (but rarely) why, says Voss. “Don’t use can, is, are, do, does,” he says. The goal is to avoid questions that can be answered with Yes or tiny pieces of information.

Here are some useful ones to keep in your quiver:

  • Implementation questions: “And how do you think we could do that?” (Good for shifting perspective and forcing empathy from the other side)
  • Exploratory questions: “Under what circumstance …?” (To close the gap when positions are far apart)
  • Option questions: “How about?” “What if …?” “Might another way work?”
  • Persuasive questions: Research — and recent political history — shows you can’t persuade anyone to see your point of view with “facts.” Ask them subtly to question their beliefs (“What do you think would happen if …?”) and you may inspire the other person to come up with their own reasons.
  • Comeback questions: When they say no, your only response is “Why?”


Before people can move forward, they need to feel they were heard, and one of the best ways to do that is by summarizing and paraphrasing back to them what they say. “Summarize early and often, their reservations, their concerns, what they are up against: Ask, ‘Do I have that right?’ You’ve got to get to ‘That’s right’,” says Voss. Although a “No, it’s not” is almost as helpful. “You’re going to be much more candid with me if you’re correcting me than if I’m asking you. It’s ridiculous how much faster things are going to go, and then it becomes both an information-gathering and a rapport-building process simultaneously,” he explained recently on the popular Huberman Lab podcast.


“If you don’t ask, the answer is always no” is a central tenet of negotiating. Indeed, “just asking” — even with no justification — can often work in a surprising array of situations (a survey in Britain found customers could regularly obtain discounts of up to 20% from popular retailers just by asking for a better price on the company’s online chat function). With humans, the key is a friendly tone, “I was hoping you could help me out.” And if the sales rep pushes back, you can always respond in good humor, “Well, I had to ask!”


There’s a saying that if you’re playing chicken with another car on the highway, the only way to make absolutely sure you’ll win is to make a show of throwing your steering wheel out the window. So it is with your Batna. The opposing party has to know you have one and are willing to execute it — although it’s best to do it early before you get to the hard bargaining stage. And do it in an advisory, even conversational tone, rather than a threatening way — people don’t respond well to threats. Keep it vague, don’t disclose details … and if it’s a particularly weak Batna, keep it super vague. If your counterpart knows the details, he or she is likely to offer you something just a bit better — what is known as your Least Acceptable Agreement (LAA) — and you are likely to have to take it.


Always keep an open mind. Negotiators have a saying, Voss says: “Never be so sure of what you want that you wouldn’t take something better.” This is why listening is vital. Pay attention and there’s a good chance, if the other side trusts you, that they’ll reveal something that will make you better off than you expected to be.


When there is a lot at stake, you feel like your position is being attacked or your side is not being respected, or conversely, when an unbelievably good offer is tabled, it can be hard to control your emotions. It’s how con artists work their craft; they get their targets into a heightened emotional state they refer to as “ether.” Because, simply put, emotions make us dumb. And as much as we may remind ourselves of that fact, it makes no difference — psychological research shows we are terrible at predicting how we will behave when our emotions are stirred.

41 Tips to Become a Master Negotiator


Still, there are things you can do regain sanity: See emotions as a sign something important is possibly at stake — be it simply your ego or a point relevant to your business. Do something to change your physiology of the encounter. If you know you are about to get defensive, smile. Adopt what negotiators call their “late-night DJ voice.” The lower sound range can literally lower tension. Breathe deep. Label your emotions (“Ah, it’s Freddy Fear again.”) Most important is to slow down, create distance and give yourself time to think things over. Ury refers to this as “going to the balcony” (although the bathroom will work just fine). “You can’t control whether you’re going to have emotions, but you can control whether you are going to act out on them. There’s that little moment, you can train yourself, it’s like a muscle, you can then go to the ‘balcony’ and see the overall picture,” he says. “You then will likely realize, OK, this is just business, it’s not life-threatening, we need to get back to the big picture. Maybe their aggression is coming from a place of fear …” Poise can be the difference between a successful deal and one that falls through. “When you get emotional, you give the other person the advantage. Every time,” says Voss.


“Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you will ever regret,” Ury states in THE POWER OF A POSITIVE NO. Although he notes there are times when it is appropriate to get vexed (of the controlled variety) — perhaps they lied or showed up hours late — but use anger sparingly. People don’t trust histrionics and don’t want to deal with angry people. Negotiators who rant and rave attain little respect. Comparing it to a college football coach, Stanford business professor Robert Sutton, author of THE A**HOLE SURVIVAL GUIDE, says “If they’re always screaming, eventually their players will think, ‘Well it’s not me, it’s him, he is just an a**hole.’ But when a typically calm and collected coach loses it, everybody pays attention.” It’s not the anger, it’s the diversion from your baseline that people will notice.


Many aggressive types have simply watched too many movies. They are quick with deadlines and threats, but they don’t have a strong grasp on the underlying fundamentals of the negotiation. Overwhelming you is their entire strategy. Stay calm, and you can take advantage of the situation.

Faced with an old-school uber-competitive negotiator or just an outright bully, choose to be the adult in the room. Compliment him on his tough negotiating style. Then suggest you are likely to give better concessions if you can get a commitment to collaborate. Once people make such a commitment, most feel bound by it. Model collaborative behavior by asking questions to discover your counterpart’s interests. (“OK, I’m listening. I’m not sure we can go along with that but let me understand your position a little better. Tell me the thinking that went into that.”) Sometimes you may even find out that the other side has a point; perhaps they are just explaining themselves badly. Force them to be empathetic by asking for their view on your situation and offer and how to improve it in a way that would work for both sides. If all else fails, respond in kind. For example, when the other side opens with an outrageous offer (high or low), reply with an equally outrageous counteroffer, and a smile. “This works well if they are simply testing your resolve or if they are bluffing … But be warned, people have a tendency to reciprocate negative behaviors more than positive behaviors,” says Mobus.

If they throw your efforts to be collaborative back in your face, then your best option is to walk away. “The worst thing in life is to get in business with people that don’t have the same values you have, that you don’t respect. I mean, it is misery,” Peterson says, adding he always keeps the advice “Don’t wrestle with pigs, you get dirty and they enjoy it” close at hand.


It’s not just hotel booking sites: Every seller will try to rush you to close the deal. But there is usually little to be gained from racing to the end of negotiation. Not only does it eliminate the potential to develop a mutually beneficial solutions by testing assumptions with your counterpart, but there are also strategic reasons to take your time.

A push to close a deal right from the start will usually prompt the other party to get defensive, and rightly so, says corporate negotiator Alan McCarthy. “Every negotiation that you’re going to be involved in has a time scale and tempo of its own that you’ll recognize. The thing to be aware of is when the other party starts changing the tempo, usually speeding it up. What it means is one of two things: They have either recognized a mistake you’ve made and they want your name on the paper so that they can enforce it, or they’ve seen an advantage for themselves that you haven’t yet valued and what they want again is to have your name on the paper.”

Mobus sees it similarly: “Your only option is to slow it down. What’s your hurry? Summarize, take a break, and make sure your counteroffer is on the mark.” And if YOU are the party looking to close the deal, drag it out a little. Suddenly concede, for example, while offering no justification, and the other party will get suspicious.

41 Tips to Become a Master Negotiator



As Barry Fixler of Barry’s Estate Jewelry in Bardonia, NY, says, “I let the other side do most of the talking. The winner does most of the listening.”

The FBI follows this principle as well in high-stakes situations. The agency has a five-step trust-building approach to manage hostage-takers that ideally ends with the perp coming out with his hands up. It starts with “active listening.” This is not just being quiet — it’s showing sincere curiosity, leaning forward, obvious contemplation, summarizing, and asking relevant follow-up questions.

“Focus first on what they have to say,” says Voss. “Once they are convinced you understand them, only then will they listen‍.” And there are other benefits from listening: you get goodwill and information. (There’s also the chance you’ll give less away if you’re not talking all the time). It will also help you avoid what Roger Fisher, Ury’s co-author, called the mistake of “Deducing their intentions from your fears.”

Listen carefully for the intent behind the words. It’s not unusual the counterparty will seek to obscure what is most important to them, but you can usually infer it. It’s often a practical aspect of the deal — price, time frames, support, extended payment terms — but other times, they will reveal it’s something else, like an introduction you can facilitate or some form of recognition. All this can often be gleaned by listening intently. “We think that the essence of negotiation is talking, but if you observe successful negotiators, you’ll see they listen far more than they talk,” says Ury. If you’ve brought your team, use a backup listener whose only job is to listen between the lines, advises Voss.


Once you have the other side’s attention so they will listen to your ideas, how do you find mutual-gain concessions? The most important way is not making — or asking for — unilateral concessions, says Mobus. If you make a concession, you should say: “Yes, I can do that for you, but here’s what I need you to do in return for me;” Or: “No, I can’t live with what you’re asking for, but here’s what I can offer you instead.” For example, in dealing with a software vendor, to get the ball rolling, the buyer might say: “If you can bring that price down 5%, I could serve as a demo site for you.” And the vendor could come back with: “I can’t come down 5%, but if you would be willing to be a demo site, I’d raise our service levels and give you a guaranteed 2-hour response time 24/7 if you run into problems.” So now the buyer could say: “I like the idea of you giving me a quicker response time, but if we’re going be a demo site, I’d also like a 3-year warranty.”

What’s driving this process is value-mapping: finding changes useful to the other side that don’t cost you as much. Both buyer and seller are thinking about what they could trade, not what to demand. That is the heart of mutual-gain concessions. The process is invariably incremental. Big demands just result in big hurdles to get over.


Silence is powerful, whether you are deliberating a piece at a trade show or are engaged in a negotiation with your landlord. Humans are conditioned to fill the gaps in conversations. Silence can throw people off their game and affect their decision-making. State your price, make an observation, ask a challenging question, and then switch to a respectful silence (count thousands in your head). If you maintain eye contact but don’t speak, your counterpart might start rambling, reveal an important detail or make concessions that they wouldn’t otherwise. Maintaining silence provides an excellent window into the other party’s point of view.

Kyle Bullock of Bullock’s Jewelry in Roswell, NM, says why silence can be good for both sides: “When being sold to, silence allows you to listen to what the seller really has to offer and gives you time to sort out your emotions in the process so you don’t make a snap decision. When doing the selling, silence can offer customers a chance to think, sort out their own emotions, or know that you truly stand by your word. As hard as it can be to practice and develop, when used properly, silence is golden!”


When the pressure is on, it helps to be able to conjure just the right words for the moment, as well as expressions that will support your position and won’t offend anyone. Ury recommends memorizing “anchor phrases” such as “That doesn’t work for me,” “Is there any flexibility on that?”, “Would you be able to move on your price by 20% if …”, or “If this were a take-it-or- leave-it offer, I’d be uncomfortable with either choice.”


Anyone can learn to negotiate better, although some people do seem to have a natural gift for it. Call it emotional intelligence or just common sense, they understand:

  • People want to be heard. (Only then do their ears open.)
  • People want their autonomy. (Don’t back people into a corner — they will disagree even when it’s not in their interest to disagree. Answering open-ended questions gives people the feeling they are in control of the conversation.)
  • Fight or flight reactions. (When people’s interests feel threatened, they instinctively go on the defensive, bringing down the shutters, while tunnel vision sets in.)
  • Insult someone and they won’t forget.


Avoid making counteroffers in round numbers, which can seem arbitrary. “When you say 120 hours instead of 5 days, or 7.8 instead of 8, people tend to view it as more credible even though it’s just a different way of stating the same thing. When you use granular numbers, it tends to be viewed as you have done more work on the subject and looked at it in more detail,” says Mobus.

Similarly, use concrete numbers instead of a range. Quoting a product in a range of $500 to $750 only alerts the other party to how low you are willing to go. Of course, that might be your goal: A range can seem less aggressive while still focusing the conversation on a particular figure (your lower end).


Sometimes you have no choice but to bluff, but understand it’s a high-risk strategy. One bad bluff, and your reputation — and whatever trust you have built up — is burned. Business is also not like poker, where you can be fairly confident the other side has no idea what cards you hold. In business, you can’t know how much the other party knows, whether they have talked to other people in the market, or whether a vendor has mentioned something about your competitive position. “If you play mind games, be prepared for a negotiation where misdirection and deception are the primary tools, and one where your odds of success go down,” says Peterson.


In the interests of building trust, it’s best to avoid lying as much as possible, but it’s a natural part of the game. (To admit you have no other options when asked “Are you looking at any other properties/candidates?”, “Do you have total authority to make this deal?”, or “What are your must-have issues here?” would mortally wound your bargaining position.) Expect your negotiating counterpart to lie quite a bit too. Attune your radar to notice clues, but don’t get mad or let fly accusations — that just makes the situation ugly, and besides, humans are bad judges of when another person is lying. Instead, ask lots of questions seeking details — a lie is hard to maintain under such pressure and results in cognitive overload. The same approach works for someone you suspect is bluffing. Ask lots of questions: The deadline is today? Oh, what time exactly?



The tilt of a head, a mismatch between tone of voice and the words used, smells, even according to recent studies, a change in the magnetic field around someone’s body, can give off tells that we know as our intuition or gut sense. It’s a powerful skill used by all negotiators. “Your gut is ridiculously accurate,” says Voss. “But the key is to learn the difference between your gut and your amygdala (your fear center, for lack of a better term), and know which one is which and listen to your gut.”

Voss says when he gets a feeling something is out of alignment, he will try to pause and go back with his tools — the open-ended questions, the mirroring — to review the situation and ensure he’s getting the right message.


A big problem for many negotiators is sticking to the plan when you should walk away. As Tim Harford describes in the FINANCIAL TIMES, “The goal appears within touching distance; it’s now or never. Tunnel vision sets in. The idea of a pause or a change of approach … becomes literally unthinkable.” This problem lies behind many plane and ship crashes. Accident investigators call it “plan continuation bias.” It is very hard to acknowledge that a plan that once was a good idea no longer makes sense. Investors will sometimes use this knowledge when looking to buy a business. At the very last minute, they will claim to have found something during due diligence that lowers the value of the business by 20-30%. “The champagne is on ice, and the owner is not emotionally capable of walking away from the closing table. To fight this, the seller needs to remain ready to walk. Walking away is the only power the seller has,” Stephen Semple of Business Growth Guys says.


In the modern world, much negotiation takes place via email. In such cases, try to insert some human contact — even if you can’t build much rapport over the phone or a Zoom call, it’s a paradigm-changer when people know they are dealing with a real human. Even better, if possible, is to start with a face-to-face meeting. “Emails are tricky because they have very little tone,” says Stuart Diamond, a Wharton Business School professor and author of GETTING MORE. “They’re like tofu; they take on the flavor of whatever the recipient is feeling.” The answer? To add the tone back in. “Start with something like ‘Please hear this email as friendly’,” he suggests. “It will help soften the mood.” And if it’s a disappointing verdict you have to deliver, try by phone, if not face-to-face. “Brusque emails have poisoned many a relationship,” notes Mobus.


In many ways, women are better equipped to be negotiators than men: They tend to be innate problem solvers, are more cooperative, listen better, are more empathetic, and even more ethical, according to a 2017 UC Berkeley study. But gender bias, in particular the way assertive women are considered less likeable (by both men and other women), means outcomes are often less optimal. In her book ASK FOR IT, Carnegie Mellon University’s Linda Babcock urges women to use a cooperative style to avoid the backlash. “Don’t be timid but use the right inflection and wording choices,” she says, recommending inclusive language. Instead of saying “I” and “me,” which can create distance, say “we” and “us” to show you are working together to solve a problem. Also, beware of acting differently to be perceived as more likable. Changing the tone or pitch of your voice, giggling, or laughing may be common physical responses to interactions that may involve conflict, but these behaviors can reinforce gender biases and weaken your negotiating power, she says.


Classical economics tells us that satisfaction comes from getting as good a price as possible. But that is not what modern research shows. In fact, satisfaction comes from the FEELING that you got a good deal. Buying a house for a below-market price for $500,000 feels good. Finding out later they would have sold for $450,000 sours the joy. To ensure any deal is implemented properly and fully, and to improve your chance of working with this counterpart again, it’s thus important to drag out the ending. Don’t acquiesce too quickly, even if they are getting a good price (go doodle in the back room for 15 minutes if necessary), says Adam Galinsky of Columbia’s Business School. Finally, hide your glee. Overt displays of satisfaction may lead the other party to assume you took advantage of them.


It is not enough to know the tactics, strategies and “anchor phrases” that make a good negotiator. You need to be able to reflexively call on them when needed and feel comfortable verbalizing them, often in pressurized situations. Roleplay is a good way to practice, as are the micro-negotiations you’re confronted with every day. “Take a negotiating risk today,” says Mobus, be it at work, at home, or in the mall. Build rapport, probe with curiosity, shift perspective, model transparency, trade value, go silent … ask, ‘What is your flexibility on that?” You may be surprised at how effective it all is.




When the Kids Have Their Own Careers, Wilkerson Can Help You to Retire

Alex and Gladys Rysman are the third generation to run Romm Jewelers in Brockton, Mass. And after many decades of service to the industry and their community, it was time to close the store and take advantage of some downtime. With three grown children who each had their own careers outside of the industry, they decided to call Wilkerson. Then, the Rysmans did what every jeweler should do: They called other retailers and asked about their own Wilkerson experience. “They all told us what a great experience it was and that’s what made us go with Wilkerson.” says Gladys Rysman. The results? Alex Rysman says he was impressed. “We exceeded whatever I expected to do by a large margin.”

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