Give Something For Something

Give Something For Something

If you don’t call demands demands, then it’s easier to realize that meeting them can give you leverage in the negotiations. Call them needs. Meeting another person’s needs is a good thing: I meet your needs, you meet mine, we have a relationship going here, and it’s mutually beneficial.

Fulfilling the other side’s needs is the basis for fulfilling your own. It’s what the process is really all about.

But it’s give-and-take, tit-for-tat, one hand washing the other—take your favorite cliché and sticker it at the top of your notepad.

In hostage negotiations, we always give something for something. You want food, okay, good, I got food on the way—pizza, heroes, some of the best doughnuts this side of Krispy Kreme. I’ll meet your need, now you meet mine: Give me six of your hostages. Something for something.

Don’t get too hung up on the balance: one thing for one thing, two-for-two, etc. I think it’s better to keep it looser, like you’re not really keeping track.

But of course you are. If the other side starts balking or even runs out of needs, that’s not a problem: Remind them how much you’ve already given.

  • “I’ll take less of a raise than we both agree I’m worth, but in exchange for that, I really need . . .”

  • “I’m going to work my butt off to meet your deadline, but it’s going to cost me with my wife. To keep her happy, I have to build that into the price. . . .”

And on and on. Something for something. Successful negotiations are two-sided, mutual benefit operations. Demands are just a chance to make that happen.

Going First

There’s a game negotiators often play called “You go first.” You see it a lot in negotiations involving money, where it’s generally believed that the first person to actually mention a price loses. If a salesman says Auto X goes for $40,000, the prospective customer is not going to offer to pay more.

Now I realize that as a practical matter, the first person to mention a figure does set out the general parameters of the deal. And as a hostage negotiator, I’m used to being in the reactive mode. The words, “What exactly is it you want?” are not stapled to my lip only because they’re tattooed to my tongue.

But here’s the deal: It’s okay to go first. It’s okay to put a number out in the air. Realize that’s what you’re doing. Know that you’re setting the parameters of the discussion. And take it from there. A few times you may shock the other side because your offer is far higher (or far lower) than they were hoping for. But if you did your research properly, you know how much the thing is actually worth anyway. The odds are that they’ll eventually find out; you’re better off in the long run being fair.

And really, what is the downside? You’re our car salesman, you offered first to go $500 over invoice. The other side was prepared to pay more but now comes in a little lower, and the deal is still done.

You didn’t just sell him a car and make $400 plus the hold back and yadda-yadda-yadda. You also got him blabbing about what a great deal he got from the local Ford place. The $100 you supposedly lost will come back several times over in the form of his friends walking through the door.