Chapter 11: Don’t Get Taken
Tips to avoid becoming a sucker—or a hostage.
Someone recently asked me how to avoid becoming a sucker. I came right back with the only answer I know: Don’t get married.
Besides some yuks at the expense of my ex-wife, there’s a serious point there. Sometimes you do get taken, at least a little. Life is life; you can’t be so afraid of losing a game here or there that you don’t play it. Better to have loved and lost than never loved at all, right?
All right, I’m not sure about that either. But I do think it’s better to be in the game than the alternative.
Early in my career I was part of a special unit that did foot patrols in bad neighborhoods. One night we’d go into Harlem, the next the South Bronx. This was back in the 1970s, and there was no such thing as gentrification at the time. The parts of the city that we went through were war zones, especially at night.
One of the things we would preach to law-abiding people in the areas was to avoid trouble. Very obvious stuff—don’t go out very late at night
if you don’t have to, buddy up, don’t walk alone in a darkened ally, things like that. Most of the people who lived there already knew those things; it was part of their common sense. Where they got into trouble was not looking far enough ahead to see that the choices they were making would put them into situations they knew they should avoid. Staying out late at a bar because So-and-so’s brother may drop by to give you a ride home . . . formula for disaster.
It seems obvious when you put it like that. But how many people find themselves in a situation where they have to have a car because the old one just died? Or they have to take whatever apartment at whatever price they can get because the lease on the other one runs out next week?
I know, I know: Life is what happens while you’re making plans for something else. If you find yourself up against it—negotiating at the point of a gun—not a problem; this book is for you. But as much as you can, plan ahead. Try to build time into your business and personal situations so that the deadlines are always the other guy’s, not yours. Let him walk down the dark alleys, not you.
Whether you’re talking about business or a car sale or a date with your girlfriend, if the deal looks too good, best to be suspicious. You can’t get something for nothing. If you’re buying land cheaper than swampland . . . it’s probably swampland with toxic waste. You can be a hell of a great negotiator and still not be able to talk yourself out of a ditch when you’re up to your neck in radioactive alligators.
Or to put it another way: When I walked the beat, I carried a gun.
How Not to Be a Hostage
Probably because of what I do, people often ask me for advice on how not to become a hostage. They mean that literally; these are not the most secure of times.
My usual response is along the lines of, “Do what you usually do.” Truth is, there are very few real hostage situations on any given day; most of us will never be taken hostage. And most of those who are, will eventually be released.
That applies to everyday negotiations as well, whether in business or daily life. The fact of the matter is, most negotiations are going to result in a favorable outcome. Most people you deal with are not going to try to score big off you, let alone cheat you big-time. That’s not to say they won’t try and cut a deal that’s advantageous to them. That’s only fair—so are you.
I’m not saying you ought to just take what the other side offers the first time around. On the contrary—take only a deal that fulfills your goal. My point is that there are many more honest people in the world than most of us think. And even the people who are only vaguely honest generally cut deals that are in the ballpark.