What got you here, won’t get you there

Why you can not be a 1 trick pony in negotiations

People often ask me why I am a better negotiator than them.  Fair question. I boast that I have 15 years experience in negotiation, trained 1000’s of people and have read everything I can get my hand on. I always answer the same. I tell them confidently that I have a broader range of tools than them or the average Jane.

Let me explain. Let’s take a real estate agent called Emily. If I negotiate a real estate deal against Emily, my chances to outsmart her when buying a house negotiation are very slim.  Emily negotiates 100’s of deals per year, whereas I buy once in a blue moon.  I still would not be taken to the cleaners as my negotiations skills would still be useful. I just would not have the upper hand. Now if Emily and I were to negotiate over a car, I most likely would have the advantage because Emily would probably try to apply the negotiation approach she knows best, the one to buy/sell houses, whereas I could adapt to the situation.  So while every expert is likely to get a good (not great) deal out of me in their respective area of expertise, over 10 different negotiations, I am confident to win.

Why does it matter? Because people that once they have excelled in one area it gives them the right to keep progressing. And they are wrong. They hit a glass ceiling and do not even realize it.  I understood this concept when I read the book by Marshall Goldsmith “what got you here, won’t get you there“. It explains how some flaws that did not matter until now, suddenly are indispensable to keep progressing.  This is why so many managers, never become enterprise leaders. Why great basketball players do not become superstars.  They do not develop the range that is necessary to reach new pinnacles.

How to solve for it?

  1. Understand your situation. If you want to buy a house and you need help get the best deal, get the best realtor on your side. They will do a better job than I would do.  However, build on your general understanding of negotiation to ask your realtor the right questions, and even push him/her to overachieve for you.  That I can help with.
  2. Stretch yourself. Try new things either in the area where you are already an expert or put yourself in different situations to learn something new.  This is a reason why I am so passionate about cultural differences and how it impacts negotiations.  I am convinced that if you want to disarm an American negotiator, negotiating like a Chinese or a Japanese would do the trick.
  3. Get a mentor. I touched on it in last week’s post, but it is worth repeating it again. You do not know, what you do not know.  So ask someone who has already done it. Get as much information as possible and then tailor your approach to your style and preferences.

I am not sure if there is a people of color angle on this topic.  But if there is one, I can not articulate it clearly. Add your thoughts in the comments section, if you believe there is a people of color angle.

How to bargain like a CIA hostage negotiator

Set your target price as a nonround number, then offer 65, 85, 95, 100 percent

This is my first “how to” post. I dislike the “7 way to [insert trendy term here]” type of post. They do not seem authentic. You see them everywhere and most feel like a trick to get clicks.

What makes this post authentic? After 16 years in negotiation, this is one of the rare moment I thought to myself:  “This detailed cookie cutting approach makes sense to me”.  The Ackerman Group came up with this approach and I heard through Chris Voss.  So here it is:


  1. Set your target price as a nonround number.
  2. Anchor your counterpart at 65% of your target price. Still, use a nonround number.
  3. Follow with another offer of 85% of your target price. Again, use the nonround number.
  4. Offer 95% of your target price. Remember, nonround number.
  5. Best and final offer of your target price.  This is the most important time to use a nonround number.
  6. Never go above your target price. But, throw some nonmonetary value at the end.

It may sound simple but there is a lot of science behind. Even better it forces you to prepare and gives you a script for it.  Let’s unpack it:

  • Nonround numbers.  A price of $4,659 tells your counterpart that you have detailed calculations to support this offer.
  • It starts low but yet is reasonable.  It means you won’t get shut down with your initial ask
  • The closer you get to the target price, the smaller the concession.  It sends a subconscious message.  I am offering less and less because I have less and less to give. We are getting close to by best offer.
  • Stick to your best offer.  Do not deviate. Offer things that have little value to you and may or not have value for your counterpart.  The point is to show you are still in the discussion. Keep the discussion going.  It can only create more opportunities
  • No need for “tit-for-tat”.  In that scenario, you do not have to wait for a counteroffer before making another offer.  You are in control, you lead the negotiation.
  • Use empathy in between offers.  You most likely have to send some tough messages. Soften them.  Avoid irritating him or her.  Use phrases like “I know I am asking for a lot”, “Sorry I do not know how I could do that”.

Try it and share your experience in the comments section.