Has anyone enjoyed the experience of negotiating with a car dealer? Or enjoyed any form of negotiation at all? What if you wanted to become an effective negotiator, adept at using the appropriate negotiating language? Where do you start?
I took a first step by researching the topic and identifying negotiating frames. I usually gain insight from people who explore the boundaries of existing dogma. So, I identified two successful negotiators who questioned the prevailing “win-win” paradigm. One of them conducted negotiations in life and death situations. The other was a negotiation coach in business. Both authors question compromise.
This essay is about three key concepts from their approaches. The first is to be wary of a negotiator in the guise of win-win who wants to compromise too soon. The second is the value of hearing “no.” And the last is a caution about hearing “yes.”
But first, a story.
Buying a Car
In January 1985, my pregnant wife, Claire, and I went to shop for a car as our first major purchase as a married couple. Not having much money, we needed a foolproof plan to get the best deal. For that we bought a book, something like, How to Buy a Car from Slippery Sam. Then, using NLP techniques and Claire’s logic skills, we formed a plan. We were the perfect team. I am good at planning, and she is good at finding the flaws in my plans.
Learning that dealers need to sell cars near the end of the month to meet quotas, we went on January 30. Claire was to say everything she didn’t like about the car, so she looked for every potential flaw. Thinking if we fell in love with a car, they would jack up the price, we appeared to not need the car. In truth, we were desperate since Claire’s car had rust holes in its floor that let in fumes which was dangerous for her and the baby.
My job was to use my new NLP skills to get into rapport with the sales agent when discussing the car’s features, then mismatch him when discussing the price. At one point, our offer and his counter offer were within $300. So we split the difference. This was “win-win,” right?
Never Split the Difference
Earlier this year, my son Daniel suggested our family read and discuss a book on negotiating. It’s called, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if your life depended on it. He thought this book offered valuable life skills. The authors, Chris Voss and Tahl Raz, wrote about what Voss learned when he was an FBI hostage negotiator.
In this essay, I will describe frames from Voss’s book and the book Start with No by Jim Camp. Camp (deceased) was a negotiation coach in the business world. But first, you might wonder what “hostages” have to do with car dealers.
The dealer in 1985 kept us hostage at the dealership way beyond closing time. One ploy mentioned in the car-buying book was for the sales agent to discuss our offer with his manager. He left us and did that. We waited. And waited. After a long while, we overheard:
SAM: They’re a pleasant couple. She’s pregnant. Let’s give them in this car.
HARD-NOSE HARRY (the Manager): No, no, we can’t do that. You know, we have to sell it at the right price. We have to add all those extra costs since we got the car from Alaska.
They went on and on, loud enough to make sure we heard.
What does it mean to “never split the difference?” My son Peter, who works in the construction industry, hears “let’s split the difference” all the time. Is it that bad? To Voss, it reflects “compromise”, which he says is “often a bad deal.” Compromise reflects a “win-win” approach. Voss believes in a “cooperative, rapport-building, empathetic” approach. Yet, he thinks win-win can lead to “ineffectual and often disastrous consequences.” Win-win is especially bad when negotiating with someone with a hidden win-lose agenda.
Camp says the win-win approach “implicitly urges you to get with yes as quickly as possible, by almost any means necessary.” He challenges this mindset because it often leads to win-lose. It could even lead to lose-lose where no one ends up happy. The problem with win-win is it can suggest compromise too early. During such a negotiation you might hear: “We are all friends here. Let’s make a few compromises and come to a win-win agreement quickly. So we can play a round of golf.”
According to Voss and Camp, you can get a better deal if you take more time to understand the other side’s position. Then, you may uncover a hidden leverage point, which Voss calls a “black swan.” This does not differ from a Meta-Coach who also searches for leverage points.
Start with No
“A negotiation is an agreement between two or more parties, with all parties having the right to veto.” Jim Camp, quoting a Hong Kong dictionary.
It is difficult to hear “no.” Yet, it is not necessarily the end of the discussion. According to Camp, giving permission for people to say no offers them the right to veto. It can calm emotions. Voss says it leads to a more constructive and collaborative-negotiating environment. People need to feel in control. Voss said the fastest way to “get a hostage-taker out [of his barricade] was to take the time to talk them out” rather than demand they surrender.
What does “no” mean? It may mean your counterpart is not ready to agree. Or they may feel uncomfortable. Eliciting what they mean by “no” gives you the chance to learn more about your counterpart’s position and interests.
Beware of Yes
According to Voss, there are three types of yes: counterfeit, confirmation, and commitment.
People may use the counterfeit yes because they want to say no, but it is easier to say yes. Or, they want to keep the conversation going to gain more information. That type of “yes” can be an easy escape route. Hearing “you’re right” when you are negotiating is consistent with a counterfeit yes and is a red flag. Here is an example of a counterfeit yes.
In 2011, Claire and I were buying another car. We reached a deal with the sales agent. Next, he introduced us to a woman whose outfit was better suited to a nightclub or a dating bar. She said we needed to have rust proofing painted on the bottom of the car to protect it from weather effects. She had lots of reasons and I kept saying no. And she never asked me why I wasn’t interested. So she never took my “no” as a gift to gain more information.
Whether from her attire or her persistence, I felt she was trying to manipulate me. At one point she became frustrated with the conversation and said, “Do you want the bottom of the car to rust.” I said YES. She stared at me in disbelief at my irrationality, and then the conversation ended.
Getting a “confirmation yes” means your counterpart feels heard and understood. To get this type of yes, Voss suggests the same active listening skills we use in meta-coaching: effective pauses, minimal encouragers, mirroring, paraphrasing, and summarizing. Hearing “that’s right” is a signal you have established trust and connection. It is consistent with a confirmation yes and opens a pathway to a commitment yes.
A “commitment yes” implies an agreement and leads to action. Voss says “… the two sweetest words to hear in any negotiation are actually That’s Right.”
In this essay, I touched on Voss and Camp negotiating language and frames. They also discuss techniques for building trust and rapport. Voss shows how to bargain without splitting the difference. I recommend you read the books and wait for my next essay on negotiating. When Claire and I bought that car in 1985, we used all the negotiating skills we knew. Through the years since then, I realized there was much more to learn.
After I completed this essay, I learned about another place to learn about negotiation. It’s a chapter on negotiation in Michael Hall’s book Inside-Out Persuasion. In his book, he brings persuasion frame to bear on a win-win negotiation approach. He says, “Persuasion brings us to a place where we then negotiate an agreement.” Read this chapter for an informative discussion of the win-win approach. Hall discusses Camp’s book and concludes Camp’s “decision-based and fact-based negotiating” is actually a description of the win-win philosophy.
I want to thank my sons Peter and Daniel Gambardella, and my wife Claire Kurs for their discussion about this topic. Thanks to Michael Hall and Claire Kurs for editorial feedback, and to Daniel for suggesting the title.
References and Resources
Camp, Jim. Start with No: The Negotiating Tools that the Pros Don’t Want You to Know. 2002. United States: Crown Business.
Fisher, Roger, William Ury and Bruce Patton, Roger Fisher. Getting to Yes. 1991. United Kingdom, Houghton Mifflin.
Gambardella, Pascal. A Storyteller’s Tale. Feb 21, 2021. This post includes a seven-minute audio clip of me telling the 1985 car story.
Hall, L. Michael. 2017. Inside-Out Persuasion: Unleashing Your Authentic Powers of Influence. Chapter 22. Persuasive Negotiation.
Harvard Negotiation Project. https://www.pon.harvard.edu/blog/. Free resources on the win-win approach.
Voss, Chris, and Tahl Raz. 2017. Never Split the Difference. London, England: Random House Business Books. Black Swan Group: https://www.blackswanltd.com/home