In fields which we are not experts, we tend to be heavily influenced by perceptions given to us through television. For example, when the television show CSI first made it big, a lot of prosecutors lamented that juries wanted a full DNA report, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars, in order to convict an accused for charges as simple as shop-lifting.
In a similar vein, when we think about negotiations we think about actors screaming at one another across a table, banging their fist, crying to the heavens in anguish over the other party’s position and generally making a scene. But, more often than not, professional negotiations tend to advocate their positions without overly dramatic displays or scorched earth phrases (negotiations with unions tending to be a notable exception lately).
The point of effective negotiations is to arrive at an ideal position and not to inflict emotional harm on the other side (unless this is a bitterly contested divorce). Unfortunately, for many who do not negotiate often, poisonous or ineffective phrases and terminology are often thrown around, as seen on tv, which can move a person negotiating further away from their intended position. A few notable examples includes:
“You L-I-E.” You say to hurt. Not to advance a position. Go home tonight and the first time a topic comes up that needs to be discussed with your spouse, tell her she’s a lair. See how the rest of your night goes. Hope your couch is not lumpy. The problem with telling someone that they lie is that you are assuming you know what’s in their head and I have met few mind-readers in my time. Alternatively, even if you have the incriminating piece of evidence, what exactly is the point of calling them a lair as opposed to using that evidence to your advantage without resorting to name calling?
For example, assume you are buying a new car. If the dealer insists that they have the best price in town but you have a better quote from a dealer downtown in hand, even if the dealer said it was impossible, you are better off showing the quote than telling the dealer he is lying. It may not get you a better deal but at least the dealer is less inclined to stick it to you if you told him he was a liar.
“Trust me” or “I am giving you a good deal” Why are you tell me to trust you? Are you attempting to cover something up or you trying to counter-act a reputation you have? Why do you need to tell me its a good deal? If I am a prepared negotiator, I know its a good deal without you telling me.
“Trust me” and “I am giving you a good deal” are subtle or not so subtle, depending on the negotiator, ways to brow-beat you into a deal. I often equate good negotiators to good con-men; both are so good at their job that you don’t realize you are giving away the farm because they have framed the conversation so well (read anything on Bernie Madoff’s manner of attracting money and he’s never telling his investors to trust him or it is a good investment). But rarely have I heard a good negotiator say “trust me.”
“This is my final offer…” Please don’t say this unless you absolutely mean it. If you don’t, a good negotiator will run roughshod over you since you have no defined walk-away point or you have one but do not have the willpower or discipline to enforce it.
Your alternative to “this is my final offer” is to use the element of time rather than money. Indicate you have a hard stop at whatever time and stick to it. People, especially salespeople, hate spending time and having nothing to show for it; very few people can spend a lot of time in a mall without buying something for this same reason. Real estate agents do this all the time. They give a very small time frame to submit an offer or to counter-offer. By creating a time scarcity, they sometimes successfully drive up the price.
The other alternative is basically show indifference if they turned down your last offer. Call this the “playing hard to get rule” of negotiating. You really wanted to date that cute guy in high school because he just didn’t care if he went out with you or not. If you are indifferent to your last and final offer being turned down, the other side may compromise simply because they can see they are losing the deal or move on which really means they value the subject of negotiations more than you ever would.
“I have someone else interested…” This is negotiating strategy 101 employed by used car salesmen. Anyone who is savvy will see through this. Think about it. If I have an offer in hand which I am happy to take, why have I not taken it already? Either the offer is not that good or I am very greedy and want more. In other words, the other offer is not a serious offer or you are negotiating with someone very greedy.
On the other hand, this is a great phrase to use on inexperienced, or emotional, negotiators which is why real estate agents use it to such great effect; real estate is an emotional investment and people do not buy a lot of real estate in their life times. Conversely, no one really uses this phrase for a product devoid of emotional value. The photocopier sales person at your office is not using this line to sell his last copier.
I once negotiated for a client with someone who used this line 3 times in a 15 minute conversion. This is the first tip off that he really did not have another offer (works in a similar negative manner as saying “trust me”). When I told him that I was happy for him to get such a great offer over market and he should buy me a drink once he accepts and closes, he paused for a second and changed the topic. He never brought up the phrase again. He called the client the next week and lowered his price.