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How to Haggle Like Your Old Man
by A Manly Guest Contributor on May 11, 2011 · 31 comments in Money & Career

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Tyler Tervooren of Advanced Riskology. “It’s learning how to negotiate to keep both sides happy – whether it’s for a multi-million dollar contract or just which show to watch on TV, that determines the quality and enjoyment of our lives.” – Leigh Steinberg My old man was a master haggler; he could strike a deal with darn near anyone for darn near anything. To say I learned a lot about making deals while growing up would be an understatement. From buying a TV at the department store to haggling over a used car in the local classifieds, my dad always ended up with a great deal, and he usually took me along to witness it first hand. Today, haggling is one of my favorite hobbies, and it has nothing to do with being cheap or trying to “win.” I simply enjoy the exchange between two sharp men that turns a mediocre deal into a great one for both parties.

I don’t have the aggressive personality it takes to haggle. Good haggling actually builds respect between two people rather than diminishes it. Good haggling is simply an exchange between two people trying to find a win/win deal. Yes.Depending on where you are in the world. Things like: • Haggling is too argumentative. Ask any wealthy person if they got where they are by taking every deal that came their way at face value. you can become much better at it. especially those of us living in the Western World. Only if you’re doing it wrong! Effective haggling doesn’t look or feel anything like an argument. but it’s almost always worth the outcome. In fact. negotiation is either a part of everyday life or an uncomfortable practice that’s consciously avoided whenever possible. if you’re the domineering type. and there’s little or no friction involved. Some of my most successful haggles have resulted in as much as 50% savings on big-ticket items. done just right. not when you work hard to get a great deal on something that’s important to you. subsequently. You do not need to be aggressive to do it effectively. To become a better haggler and. From picking a romantic date with your wife to finding an agreeable price for some tchotchke gift with the local thingamajig salesman. If you accept and embrace that. don’t always consider: whether or not you realize it. arguing over the price of a Coke at a 7-11 is probably inappropriate and it definitely makes you look like a cheapskate. but sincerely asking for consideration when you’re pursuing something valuable to you is never inappropriate and no one thinks less of you for doing it. Billionaire CEOs haggle with each other every day over multi-million dollar deals. Haggling is for poor people and cheapskates. But here’s a truth that many of us. You only look like a cheapskate when you become petty. I don’t usually even bother to negotiate unless I think I can save $100/hour or more for the work. your other choice is to take what’s given you and hope that it matches what you want. In fact. it feels like an everyday conversation that you’d have with a friend. we’re navigating a world of back and forth deal-making. every interaction you have with another person is a negotiation. I learned from Dad long ago that the first option comes with better odds. the first hurdle to get over is breaking down all the myths we’ve come to believe about haggling. Haggling is inappropriate. • • • • . Haggling isn’t worth the time or savings. Of course they didn’t! They knew exactly what they wanted and decided how much they were willing to give up to get it. getting what you want from your life and feeling more fulfilled. that’ll often work against you more than it will work for you. A good negotiation definitely takes time to complete. create a better life for you and your family. If you reject it.

that you know nothing but the truth and that is final. not adversary) get to know each other’s goals. you will get nothing. Setting your sights on only one scenario ruins any chance that your haggle will develop a natural flow that fits both parties. One of them is fun to think about but always ends in frustration. “It is a bad bargain. where both are losers. one of the most fatal negotiation mistakes I’ve learned to avoid the hard way is to get yourself wrapped up in just one possible outcome. Always look for multiple outcomes. You’ll never find the perfect match. there’s nowhere else to go. but doesn’t fit the exact mold you’ve created in your mind.Find Many Paths to Success “If you come to a negotiation table saying you have the final truth. If you don’t get it. .” – Harri Holkeri No matter whom you’re crafting a deal with.” – Ancient proverb I was just a kid in 1994 when the World Series was canceled because the players and owners couldn’t play together nicely. woman or otherwise. if you limit yourself to just one set of circumstances. The other is the key to happiness. Why limit yourself to such a narrow definition of success? A great negotiation should be fluid and evolve as you and your partner (notice how I said partner. This is sort of like creating your imaginary perfect girlfriend long before you ever meet someone and comparing any woman you meet to this illusion.

this is no problem.Owners wanted to institute salary caps to spare themselves from ridiculous bidding wars and players wanted contracts that weren’t subject to renegotiation every season. I was getting rid of a bad memory and Paul was getting a great deal. . some really pissed off little leaguers. as I recall. Never Speak First “Let us never negotiate out of fear. but Paul must have thought it was a pretty good offer because he practically had the money out of his wallet before I could finish the sentence. When the two sides finally came together. I was excited at the prospect of getting paid to get rid of something that reminded me of a failed hobby. For months. We started talking about it and all the great projects I should have known at the time I would never use it on (I spent a few years trying to convince myself I was into woodworking to no avail). if you’ve got $20. Now.” I don’t even remember how much I paid for it. But.” – John F. it’s all yours. neither side would consider the other’s argument and the result was hundreds of canceled games and. When you come to the table with as many different options for success as possible. but it’s a good example of a big negotiation faux pas—never say the first number. when he mentioned that he had just the project he needed it for and offered to buy it. they did so begrudgingly and the deal they reached suffered tremendously because of it. let us never fear to negotiate. “Hey. I was hanging out with a friend when he remembered the garage sale drill press in the basement I’d bought a few years ago and never used. The owners ended up losing hundreds of millions of dollars and the players saw an average salary decrease of 5%. A lose/lose deal if I ever saw one. Kennedy Just a few days ago. so I immediately blurted out. good deals come faster and easier. between two pals.

It’s like having the home team advantage at a baseball game (this’ll be my last baseball reference. . I ended up negotiating a number much higher than I’d originally expected. you’ll end up with one that’s closer to what you want. If the first number isn’t close to what you’re looking for. the more you draw your negotiation away from numbers. you can immediately decide to either not waste anymore time negotiating or come up with a strategy that draws the deal away from the dollar amount and towards something else valuable to the other party. In fact. it seems. and just about everyone will assume you’re talking about money. always defer to the other party when finding the starting number because it gives you a lot of information to work with in determining the best strategy going forward.000 a year during my first salary negotiation.Never say the first number. but by insisting I couldn’t make the first offer. or negotiating in a conversation. I probably left a fair bit of money on the table by making the first move. No sweat for a friend. It was obvious he was ready to pay more if I’d asked for it. In my example with Paul. I’d undervalued myself. Going into it. bargaining. but certainly a disappointment otherwise. It Ain’t All About Money “Flattery is the infantry of negotiation. If possible. the more likely. I promise). For a great haggler this certainly doesn’t have to be the case.” – Lord Chandos Use the words haggling. This trick I learned from my old man earned me $10.

If we wanted to go out. Was that a little hard to follow? Let me give an example from my own life of what I’m taking about.Draw the negotiation away from money and you'll get closer and closer to the dollar figure you want. but once I did. giving it more room to budge. She owns a bakery in Portland and always brings home delicious leftovers. Numbers are very linear. It took me awhile to realize this (What can I say? You won’t see me writing a guest article about romance any time soon). In the past. For the longest time. they’re usually influenced by some type of emotional attachment you have to whatever you’re bargaining over. . Since she has a passion for food and spends most of her days preparing it for other people. Price meant nothing to her. A lot. I could cook her a meal at home and she’d love it. I thought the only way to satisfy her was to go out for lots of expensive meals when really all she wanted was someone to pay attention to her (ahem…that’d be me) and make her feel like she was being treated to something special. What matters is knowing why someone picked the one they did and then finding ways to meet that person’s needs in ways that make the number less important. the regular $50 and $100 dinners weren’t important any more. A number itself is irrelevant. finding the perfect alternative to a wallet-busting dinner out has been easy. I could pack a picnic and head to a park for lunch and she’d be over the moon. the experience is what she cared about. I have a lovely girlfriend. this was a friction point between us because I hated spending so much money dining. But numbers don’t stand alone. she likes to go out and be waited on. so we’re hardwired to pick one and stick to it as much as possible. Once I realized that.

I was strolling through one of my projects across town. so I was paying particularly close attention to them.Price is rarely the final deciding factor in a negotiation. get new ones. Door Guy: Sure thing. I want the right frames. Sure enough. Luce I used to manage projects for a large construction firm. The doorframes were all supposed to be installed. they were all there—just what I expected from the top-rate installer we’d hired. but if you take the time to find the intangibles that your counterpart really values. Every one of them! $100.000 worth of custom metalwork—totally wrong. How would you like to pay? PM: Umm. the project would have been just right. You’re going to fix it at no cost.000. prove unprofitable to you. checking out the progress for the day and making sure we were still on schedule. If Someone Loses. and I’d probably still be dealing with papers from the court case that would have ensued afterwards. You $*%&$# this up. and we’ll bill you for any delays to the project. and you can pay the owner and all the other trades for the time they lose thanks to your #$&% up. I learned a valuable lesson from my old man about being a hard ass dealmaker: . and I could have said just that to the supplier. I wandered around for 10 minutes and then I realized it—every single doorframe was the wrong color. no. See you tomorrow. and reinstall them. You Did it Wrong “Any business arrangement that is not profitable to the other person will. in the end. Late one afternoon. boss. here’s how the conversation would go between the project manager and the doorframe supplier (expletives removed for common decency): PM: All your frames are the wrong color. In the end. I was mad as hell. and we’ll never finish in time! This could bankrupt us! PM: Not my problem. That’ll be $100. Luckily. The bargain that yields mutual satisfaction is the only one that is apt to be repeated. You need to take them down.” – Henry R. your haggling job gets a whole lot easier. Door Guy: But that’s going to cost us a fortune. and it’s what they’d have had to do. In lots of situations like this. It gets a lot of attention because it’s the easiest metric to focus on. but literally everyone involved would have been upset about it. I was about to leave when I got the strange feeling that something just wasn’t quite right.

That is not the way to conduct negotiations. If you negotiate like that. sat down with the door supplier and the owner. and none of them care. They liked how we handled their project. This quality came in handy when it was time to do business because one of the most powerful ways to negotiate is to simply say nothing. it’s probably important. Three months after that fiasco. gave a reasonable discount to the owner. Whether you’re making an offer or receiving one. Avoid zero-sum games. Why? Because we hate awkward . getting your point across and keeping quiet is one of the strongest ways to sway a bargain in your favor. the color of the doorframes isn’t exactly right. but there are only a few people who know it. when you walk into that office building. And guess who supplied the doors? Less is More—Know When to Shut Up “We don’t point a pistol at our own forehead. Today. we had another multi-million dollar contract with the same client. but when he does. silent type. and worked out a deal that allowed them to repaint the frames rather than toss them out. Try to find a way for everyone to win. find a way for everyone to win. but you’ll lose just as many and kill a lot of good relationships along the way. So.Don’t try to be the victor. and saved the project schedule so that we all looked good.” – Benjamin Netanyahu My old man is the strong. Instead. what did we end up doing about all those doorframes? We stopped the project for a day. you’ll probably win a few. Avoid zero-sum games where someone else has to lose in order for you to win. I learned early on that Dad doesn’t talk a lot.

” and furrowing your brow like you’re contemplating it. Then just sit quietly until they feel compelled to speak again. like negotiate against ourselves because we’re afraid we’re losing the deal. It’s okay to invite competition because that’s always better than negotiating against yourself. Know when to shut up. *** . and never negotiate against yourself. ask if they understood your offer and restate it again just in case. Never change your offer until it’s been met by a counteroffer. don’t just concede because you want to feel comfortable. If you’re sitting in awkward silence. That’s why it’s so important to remember not to negotiate against yourself. Just got the salesman to quote you a price on that new thingamajig? Try acknowledging it by saying nothing but. If I’m bargaining for something and my offer is met by silence. This sometimes works on me even when I know it’s being used as a tactic. There are really only two likely responses you’ll get to that reaction: 1. make them ask for it rather than just handing it over. 2. If you’re going to give up some ground. I know because I’m a sucker for it. you can actually invite a counteroffer—literally ask them to counter you. They’ll fumble over themselves a little bit before sweetening the deal. Instead. This tactic works brilliantly. “Hmmm. They’ll repeat themselves and prompt you again to tell them what you think. I’m always afraid I’ve caused some sort of offense and rush to fix it by adjusting the offer. it’s that powerful.silence and will do anything to avoid it if we can. If you’re being met by nothing but stalling and you’re willing to negotiate more.

most people will go a long way to meet you in the middle. shape. or form—a negotiation. remember that every exchange with another human being is—in some way. but there was one important thing I had to learn on my own: In life. Happy haggling. a sort of dance from separate corners of a room to an agreeable spot in the middle. .Whether you’re trying to save some scratch on a new refrigerator or you just want to find an agreeable way to get your parents to watch your kids for the night. If you want something. I learned a lot from my old man about the art of the haggle. and you ask fairly. you rarely get anything you don’t ask for. you’d better do your part to get it. If you ask nicely.

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