Negotiating (Ultimate Communication)

Negotiation isn’t just something union leaders do.
We all negotiate, all the time.
Your entire day is a series of negotiations.
If you have young children, you don’t need me to tell you, eh?

Yet-another-reason to bookmark This page! Here’s where I’ll be posting negotiating tips, techniques, and downright dirty tricks, from some of the world’s best negotiators. So c’mon back, often.

Case Study: Complaint Technique
How I shamed the CEO of a major airline into showering me with apology freebies.

“How I shamed the CEO of a major airline into showering me with apology freebies?”
Read my actual letter to him, and how generously the airline responded.

Case Study: The Other Party’s Deadline
One lesson I learned from “The World’s Best Negotiator” (whom you’ll meet in a minute, down below): The most important piece of information in any negotiation is the other party’s deadline. This spells certain opportunity when you’re negotiating with someone whose inventory is perishable. The industry lingo for inventory like airline seats, movie tickets, hotel rooms, and radio or TV commercials or print advertising is “sell it or smell it;” because you can’t sell an empty one yesterday. As Simon & Garfunkel sang, “When she goes, she’s gone.”

Thus the Email I sent, which began:
“Why let Priceline keep a third? YOU can have all $50, and all of my business!”

That’s the proposition I offered the Providence airport-area hotel which I prefer among the three hotels Priceline has put me into when I bid $50. Sometimes I scored for $40, other times $60, so $50 was the watermark.

In one year, I had 36 such nights. Hey, I travel 60% of the time. I AM the George Clooney character in “Up In The Air.” And because I live on an island 12 miles out in the ocean, weather is always a wild card. So I will often overnight on-the-mainland, to make an early-morning flight-out, or because my flight-home gets in too late for last ferry or flight back to the island that night. These stopovers aren’t entirely inconvenient, because we islanders need to “get off” every so often, to go shopping and run other errands.

I offered the hotel $50 per night, just-under-half the published room rate, and the hotel accepted. So they keep all-of the $50 (not the 2/3 Priceline would give ‘em); and they get 3-times-as-much business from me. I get a hush-hush rate, at the hotel I prefer.

You probably don’t need as many hotel nights per year as I do (who would?), but if you want to try this, one tip: Negotiate with the hotel’s LOCAL manager, who is compensated on yield management. As a former innkeeper myself, I can tell you that the hotel’s hard cost for that room night is slightly under $20…so the manager has plenty of wiggle room. But don’t try this with a desk clerk or the hotel chain’s national reservations number.

Entirely aside from hotel reservations, this transaction demonstrates two things:
1. What business ISN’T looking for creative solutions in today’s challenged economy? How can you pitch a win-win deal to companies you do business with?
2. Middlemen are screwed. Look what the Internet has done to record labels, stock brokers, bookstores, insurance agents…and, in this case travel agents, whom Priceline has disrupted. I simply re-positioned Priceline itself as the middleman.

Tip for talking turkey: Ask “How did you come up with that number?”
Doing so “opens a window into the other side’s thoughts,” according to Fortune magazine.

You can negotiate anything!
Herb CohenWitty Herb Cohen is, truly, “The World’s Best Negotiator.”
I’ve seen him speak several times, and he always had me howling.
Fundamentally, Herb regards negotiating as “a game.”
Among his recommendations:

”See every negotiation as the chance to solve a problem.”
“Start out thinking that the other party doesn’t see the situation the way you do.”
“DON’T start with a pitch. Ask questions,” to gather information. “I spend zero time debating that the other side is misinformed. When they’re saying no, it might not be a decision based on logic. Listen and seem to understand.”

Herb figures that adult negotiators can learn a lot from children, whom he considers extremely effective negotiators:
“They aim high;” he theorizes, urging that negotiators similarly “expect more, get more.”
“They understand [the process of] decision making within the organization.” When one parent says no, they’ll ask the other parent. And when both parents say no, they’ll turn to doting grandparents.
“They persist and persevere.” Like smart negotiators of all ages, children know that “’no” is an opening bargaining position. They understand the principle of [allowing the other side] ‘acceptance time.’”

Nobody loves a know-it-all, so Cohen suggests that seeming “dumb is better than smart,” and feigned “inarticulate is better than articulate.” Seeming-not-to-understand can draw-out the other party, causing them to explain their position, to your advantage. Herb quips: “Two magic words in negotiation are ‘Huh???’ and ‘Wha???’”