How To Negotiate Like Your Life Depends On it


It was a rainy Sunday afternoon in October. I had done my research. I had waited patiently for a day like this for a couple of weeks.

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“Thank you,” I said to myself.

I got in my car and I started driving. The rain kept coming down. I was smiling.

I got to my destination a few minutes later. I got of my car and I started walking.

Finally, an older gentleman approached me and asked, “What are you looking for?”

You need to do your research if you're going to be a successful negotiator.

I was ready to unleash my plan.

“I am interested in test driving an Acura Legend two door coupe, in white,” I answered. I was the only customer on the car lot.

“I don’t know if we have one,” the salesman responded.

“Look, over there,” I said and pointed towards several white Acura Legends. “There seem to be quite a few.”

The salesman looked at me, and then he walked over to where the cars were.  He drove the car over. I got in and he moved to the passenger seat. I started driving the car and we made small talk.

We finished the test drive, and I said to him, “I’d like to buy the car.”


Let the fun begin!


We walked into the dealership. The salesman made a big presentation out of how the sticker price was $34,150.

“Since it’s the end of the model year, I’m prepared to give you car for $33,000. What do you think?”

“I’m willing to pay you $28,450,” I calmly replied.

“$28,450! I can’t do that!”

“Sure you can,” I replied obnoxiously. “Talk to your manager.”

The salesman looked at me and said, “I’ll talk to the manager.”

A few minutes later the salesman came back. He said, “You do think we should make a profit on the car, don’t you? How much profit do you think we should make?   Does 5% seem right?”

“I think a $500 profit should be fine. That’s what I think you will make with my offer.”

“You think!” The salesman was getting pissed.

“I did my research”, I said. “I know the dealer paid $27,950 for the car. So a $500 profit will be fine.

“Talk to your manager.”

The salesman left the room again.

A few minutes later the salesman returned. “Okay, I talked with the manager, and he’s willing to sell you the car for $28,450.”


I got the car at the price I wanted.


I gleefully drove my new car home an hour or so later.

So, I did pretty well negotiating with the car salesman. But the deck was really stacked in my favor:


  • It was the end of the model year. I knew the dealer had to unload their inventory. And…
  • I waited for a rainy day. No one likes to buy a new car on a rainy day except for a crazy person like me. I thought the dealer would be more psychologically inclined to sell a car at any price on a rainy day. And…
  • I had done my research. I knew exactly what the car cost the dealer, and I also knew that most dealers would accept a $500 profit.

Driving home that Sunday a long time ago, I thought I really knew what I doing as a hardball negotiator.

I’ve had my successes as a negotiator since I bought that car. I’ve won some negotiations and I’ve lost some negotiations. I still thought I knew what I was doing as a negotiator.

Then, I read Chris Voss’ fantastic book, Never Split the Difference.: Negotiating as if your life depended on it. I was blown away.

Voss was the FBI’s (Federal Bureau of Investigation) lead hostage negotiator. Voss has successfully negotiated with terrorists, kidnappers, and bank robbers.

You name it, and he’s probably negotiated it. Oh yeah, he even has a great story about negotiating to buy a new car too.


You're Always Negotiating As A Startup CEO.


Most startup CEOs have never been in sales, so customer interaction, and how to manage the sales process is a bit of a mystery.  But you quickly learn that it's hard work.  And, you quickly learn that selling, especially high ticket items, is a high-stakes negotiation.

So, the skills you learn by reading Never Split The Difference might come in handy.  Well, even though I had plenty of sales experience before I became a CEO, the lessons in Never Split The Difference are invaluable.


I re-read Never Split the Difference every year.   And now I’m reading Never Split the Difference again.


It’s that good.

I thought I was a pretty good negotiator before I read Voss’ book. Voss schooled me.


For example, you’ll learn to why getting to “No” is a much better goal then getting to “Yes.” In fact, most negotiations don’t really start until you hear some form of “No.”

You’ll learn there are three types of negotiating styles. Do you know yours? And do you know the style of the person you are negotiating with. You should.

And, you’ll learn why listening is probably one of the most important, if not the most important, and active things you can do in a negotiation. Plus, you’ll learn why the FBI actually has people assigned to just listen during a negotiation.

Are you the type of negotiator that likes to put down an “anchor” that forces the person you are negotiating with you to move their offer towards your number.

It’s the wrong strategy. Voss explains why you always want the other person to lead first.

And, you’ll be on the lookout for the “Black Swans” (those three or four bits of key information that can change the negotiation) that exist in most negotiations.  For example, the Black Swans in my car negotiation were the rain, the end of the model year, and the amount of profit a dealer would accept.

That little bit of research saved my $5,000.  Not bad.

The only thing that I don’t like about Never Split the Difference is that this book wasn’t available sooner. Then maybe some of my negotiations would have turned out better…

Oh well.

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Picture: Pixabay