If you’re trying to decide what to have for dinner with the rest of your family, you’re negotiating.
When you want to play one golf course and your buddies are holding out for another, you’re negotiating.
Dickering over the price of a car or a home’s closing costs are rather obvious examples of negotiation. But we all negotiate far more often than we may recognize. As Herb Cohen, author of the best-seller You Can Negotiate Anything, notes: “Most people don’t realize that any situation is negotiable.”
Learning a few negotiation basics can make your life more enjoyable and less stressful. So, it’s quiz time. Here are five scenarios that most of us routinely encounter. We’ll offer several negotiation strategies, then identify the best one, along with expert commentary on why it’s the optimal choice.
Make it into a game by reading the scenario and options aloud to friends and family and then debating — er, negotiating — an answer. Don’t be afraid to dicker. Keep the conversation positive and focused, and great things can happen.
Priscilla is staying at a hotel. With a meeting slated for late afternoon, she knows she’s going to have to check out several hours after the hotel’s stipulated “checkout time.” She wants to do everything she can to avoid paying a fee for the late departure, even though the hotel seems militant that the policy is strictly enforced. Should she:
A. Call the front desk in advance, explain that she can’t avoid the late meeting and politely ask them to waive the fee. If they balk, she should ask to talk face to face with a manager.
B. Threaten to dispute the charge when it appears on her credit card.
C. Don’t even bring the issue up and hope they won’t notice.
The Best Strategy: A. “It’s always wise to begin any negotiation with ‘I have this problem and I hope you can help me,’” says Cohen. “That’s known as differentiation — asking for help because your situation is the exception to the rule. Also, dumb is better than smart. If they say no, don’t get angry but explain that you simply don’t understand and you’d like to talk with someone in person.”
MaryAnn is weary of the daily arguments with her two teenagers. She finds herself constantly haranguing her kids to put their used dinner dishes in the dishwasher and clean their bedrooms. But her dictatorial approach is stressing her out and making her children all the more defiant. Should she:
A. Dangle cash incentives. Set up a structure in which the kids are paid for doing designated chores.
B. Tell them she wants them to enjoy the things they value, such as cellphones, computers and iPods. But, she expects them to pull their weight to keep those privileges.
C. Tell the kids about self-reliance and how they need to develop it before going away to college and living on their own.
The Best Strategy: B. Here, negotiation focuses on the potential consequences for the kids’ failure to live up to their end of the bargain. “She should be very specific about which jobs she expects,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, author of The Self-Aware Parent. “If they fail to do their chores that day, they lose all electronic privileges on the next day. Return the electronics the following day and begin again. The best way for kids to learn is to experience a consequence that stings harshly for a short period of time in order to motivate them to keep trying.”
Ben has been working at a company for two years and wants to approach his boss about a raise. Should he:
A. Tell his boss how much he loves his job but that he needs more money to make ends meet.
B. Find out how much other companies pay for his job and present that data to his boss.
C. Prepare a presentation that outlines his value to the company.
The Best Strategy: C. In this situation, preparation is the best form of negotiation. “Everyone wants more money. Just asking for more won’t get you a raise,” says Laura Browne, author of Raise Rules for Women: How to Make More Money At Work. “If your company has a human resources department, they’ve probably already compared internal salaries with external salaries. In order to get a raise, you need to show that what you do brings value to the bottom line of the organization. How do you make money or save money for the company? Have you increased profits, customer satisfaction or numbers of orders? That’s the kind of information that will help get you a raise.”
Harry and Bess are trying to decide what to do for fun on the weekend. They’ve discussed everything from seeing a movie to trying out a new restaurant but can’t seem to reach any sort of agreement. Should they:
A. Harry should switch to a “why” question. Why does that movie interest you? Why does this particular restaurant appeal to you?
B. Based on what she has heard Harry say, Bess should suggest other movies or restaurants that she would like but would also be in line with Harry’s interests.
C. Harry should broaden the discussion by suggesting other kinds of activities that would also be enjoyable but don’t involve a movie or eating out.
The Best Strategy: All. The first option allows Harry and Bess to examine just what they want from their outing. Is it entertainment or the adventure of trying a new sort of food? The second furthers that tangent by bringing similar alternatives into the discussion. The third option broadens the discussion by considering other choices that both might enjoy. And, adds Achim Nowak, author of How To Connect Deeply and Unleash the Energetic Leader Within, Harry or Bess can gain the upper hand by being the first one to ask what other one wants to do: “Making the first move allows you to shape the conversation.”
The Carlisle family is trying to decide where to go on their summer vacation. The parents — Herb and Patty — want a relaxing two weeks in Paris while teenagers Michael and Amy yearn for the excitement and adventure of the Grand Canyon. Should they:
A. Let the purse strings decide. Whatever’s more affordable is the destination of choice.
B. Bring in a third party — maybe a relative or a friend who has spent time in Paris or the Grand Canyon. Their perspective may swing family members’ opinions.
C. Look for a destination that has features of both places of choice (somewhere in the world there has to be a spot where there’s a gigantic hole and someone munching on a croissant.)
The Best Strategy: B. The third choice may seem logical, but chances are someone’s going to be disappointed (the hole isn’t nearly big enough or the croissants are soggy). Calling on a third party’s input can be helpful — their first-hand recollections may provide insight that sways opinions (great restaurants near the Grand Canyon or Disneyland Paris, for instance). “The parents — ever mindful of what’s doable economically — might bring to the table Great Uncle Joe or Grandma Jane who can talk about the fun they had after World War II in Paris or the Grand Canyon,” says negotiation authority Oliver McGee.
How'd You Score?
Five right answers: You can negotiate the price of a hot dog at an airport, just like Herb Cohen did (much to his wife's consternation).
One right answer: Better sign up for “Dickering 101” at your nearby college.
Jeff Wuorio, author of How to Buy and Sell Just About Anything is still trying to negotiate with his two children about emptying the drainboard. His negotiations with his two dogs to stop shedding are equally unproductive.