Was Pablo Escobar the best negotiator?

“Plata o Plomo” (money or bullet) is probably the one negotiation concept that made Pablo

“Plata o Plomo” (money or bullet) is probably the one negotiation concept that made Pablo the most famous narco trafficker. In case you didn’t know, Pablo Escabor used to tell people he wanted to influence/coerce that they had a choice: Plata o plomo. I’ll explain why, but first I need to make a few things clear:  Yes, I am very interested in organized crime. No, I do not condone violence in any way.  I do, however, believe there is something to learn from almost any situation, and difficult situations are one of the fastest ways to learn.

So why is “plata o plomo” such a powerful phrase? Let’s explore it:

  • Plomo (bullet): Threatening to put a bullet in someone is definitely a powerful way to coerce, but not powerful enough for people who already put their life on the line for what they believe in e.g. some people in the army, and some police officers.
  • Plato (money): Offering money to force people to act, works for people who value money.  A lot of people fall into this category, but not everybody. Some people, especially in powerful positions may not value money enough to commit crimes – e.g. high-ranking politicians, businessmen or celebrities.

Then, the cherry on the cake: Pablo Escobar was giving people a choice.  This, in a strange way, puts them in control. Once you’re in control and you make your decision, you are more likely to own it and be committed to it.  Even if the choice was not really a choice.

I call this negotiation tactic “contrasting”.  It is a simple yet impactful method. You compare 2 opposing things. One terrible and one great. The bad one triggers the most powerful emotional hot button in people: The fear of losing something they already have.  The great one gives them a way out. And because they can decide the way out, it enables people to save face and own their decision.

This tactic is not only for people with a lot of power. Contrast anything in the right way and it will allow people to review a situation they thought they knew from a different perspective. Use it, abuse it and get what you deserve.


Why roll deep to your next negotiation?

There is power in numbers. This is not about brute force, rather using diversity to influence.


When people want to buy, say a fridge, they believe they negotiate with the store.  They believe the salesperson has his hands tied by the company and the sticker price is the price you have to pay.

Sure you are negotiating with the store, but you should think about the store as merely giving guardrails for what the salesperson can or can not do. Of course the store as something in place for the salesperson not to give away their product for free or at too much of a discount.  But that does not mean they can not do anything for you.  Recently I bought some expensive coffee in Kona, Hawaii. I really love my coffee.  After befriending the salesperson during the tour, she spontaneously offered me a 10% discount.  I would love to say that my good looks did the job, but I believe that showing up with my 2 cute kids, my charming wife, and showing my passion for coffee did the trick.   When she applied the discount, I noticed there were 2 options: a 5% and a 10%. What was interesting to me was that the potential to give a discount was already built in. This is what the salesperson can do, without asking anyone.


Build a rapport with the salesperson. That should be easy because they are trying to build a rapport with you to make a sell.  While they gather information from you, you have to do the same. Get a better understanding of who they are, what they can do and what they can not.  It is much easier than you would expect. People don’t usually do that so they won’t expect it. And also, in many cases, they have nothing to lose personally. Just like in my coffee example, tapping the 10% discount when they check me out is simple.  Moreover, average people usually do not ask for a discount. Probably they think it would be embarrassing, or that it says something about them like they are cheap or the can not afford it.  For me, and probably for most of you, I was proud (and still am in some situations) to pay the full price. For a long time, I could not afford much, and people would look down on me.  Being a person of color and living in the “banlieue”, the French equivalent of US projects – nowhere as bad though – would make matter only worse.  I realized how dumb that was when I realized that many of my new wealthy friends ask to pay less with no shame!  There I was, thinking that paying the full price would make me look rich, while all along rich people are asking for a discount for anything: AAA batteries, restaurants, credit card fees, parking tickets, extra coupons.  it is not so much about the money for small buys but more the principle and the habit. It feels like it is wired in them.  So that when they ask for a discount on a fancy car or a new villa in Southern California, it comes automatically. Even better they ask for a lot. I mean 50% off and yup, they do not have an ounce of shame.  So if rich people do it, why not everybody.  


  • There is power in numbers.  Show up with friends, partners, kids, pets anything that can give you an edge. You need to capture every single detail, bring people to observe, you need to build rapport with a mother or a father, bring your kid or nephews, you need to appeal to someone’s emotions, bring your cute pet.
  • Check your ego at the door. Ask for more without thinking about what people may think of you. Salespeople do not care what you think of them as long as your check does not bounce.

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.