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Things to Never Say While Negotiating (inc.com)
214 points by mjh8136 on Feb 5, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 72 comments

I am guilty of the "Fuck you" one. The offered terms insulted me so much I no longer wanted to do business with the person. Had I taken this article's advice, I would have stayed calm and moved toward some highly unsatisfying "middle ground" purely to "close the deal". We are faced with innumerable opportunities in our lives, and we need to filter out the best ones; for most negotiations, a successful outcome is not making a deal.

   The hardest thing in life to learn is which bridge to cross and which to burn.
   - David Russell

Bah.. never burn a bridge, simply don't cross it and find another way across.

  Sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge.
  - Don Henley

Man! You're like the MacGyver of bridge-related quotes. It's amazing.

  Kind words bridge hearts, but also diamonds, clubs and spades
  - Jack Handey

What deep thoughts by Mr. Handey...

But what happens when the Magog come pouring across it?

(Just wondering.)

Edit: I don't know if people don't get the reference or think I am merely being flippant. I'm not. I don't like burning bridges either. But sometimes I find it is the only way to put an end to a problem situation where the more I try to be polite and all that, the more neurotic and demanding and blood-sucking they become. If someone here knows how to handle that effectively without "burning the bridge", I would love to hear their take on it.

I don't get the reference. The search engines don't turn up anything relevant either.

Andromeda, the TV show. On some episode, on some planet, they build a bridge to the moon and I think somehow also to the future. When they open it, the Magog from the future come pouring out. The Magog are a race that eat humans and also lay their eggs in them and the eggs feed on the (still living) humans until they hatch out. Not exactly pleasant stuff.

Or at least that's what my mangled brain recalls from watching it a zillion years ago.

It was the first thing that came to mind in response to "never burn a bridge". I am disinclined to burn bridges myself. But I find sometimes that trying like hell to avoid burning the bridge just gets me into huge messes that have me wondering if so much politeness, manners, respectfulness and what not is really a good thing. It has helped me make my peace with incidents in my life where other people torched the bridge. At least it's been put to rest.

Edit: Link: http://andromeda.wikia.com/wiki/Abridging_the_Devils_Divide

Actually, a lot of recent horror and sci-fi stuff is lifted from Islamic mythology (which itself is rebranded Jewish, Kanaanite and Babylonian lore.)


The TV show "Supernatural" heavily features themes of spirituality and daemons that are lifted from Islamic culture. The recent remake of Clash of the Titans also feature similar themes; the Jin, desert scorpions, Jin riding camels, etc.

I have no idea if that is where the makers of Andromeda got the name. Sometimes there are bizarre coincidences in life. But thank you for sharing.

I can almost guarantee you it is. The Wikipedia page is not as fleshed as it's supposed to be, but I was raised on the fear of Yagog & Magog and we're told the only thing stopping them from coming out and massacring us all, is the great wall of China (well, not exactly, the myth was developed under a flat-world, so they're "at the edge" of Earth. Nowadays the apologists just say it's the GWoC to keep intellectual consistency, but we all know it's not. By their description, they sound like "unlearned savages" outside the Caliphate, Siberia, South East Asia, and Scandinavia; since the rest of the old world was by then very well explored.)

Just because two things sound alike does not mean they have related origins. I am reminded of this incident: http://www.adversity.net/special/niggardly.htm

I am not saying you are wrong. I am only saying that I have no idea if the writers of the TV series had any knowledge of such myths and drew upon them -- even unintentionally -- or if someone sat down and played around with sounds until they found something "alien" sounding. I had never heard of what you are talking about until you brought it up and I am fairly well read and have had middle-eastern friends. If I had any awareness of such myths prior to making my earlier post, I am sure I would have made some effort to clearly indicate it was a sci-fi reference in order to avoid confusion. As far as I knew, there was only way to interpret the word "magog".

I imagine quite a lot of Americans have no knowledge of these mythologies, which would be good reason to borrow from them as inspiration for sci-fi: It's adequately foreign and unknown that it is "alien" to the general public here and there is rich material to draw upon if you get stuck, material that is sufficiently unknown that most people won't realize you drew on anything and will think you are just really, really creative. I have heard that Japanese fiction often draws on Christian mythology in a similar manner, which makes for some misunderstanding if it later gets translated to English and marketed to the "western" world.

The Bible is widely read in the US.

Yes, I realize that. Presumably there is some disconnect: I said Christian mythology gets used in Japanese fiction, which causes problems when it comes back here where the bible is widely read. Not because Americans don't read the bible but because they do. If non-Christians in a foreign land, speaking a foreign language borrow on Christian imagery for "fluffy" fictional pieces, and it comes back to a culture where Christianity is widespread, it tends to not go over well. I assume the same is true in any comparable situation.

Really baffled by your reply.

Here is the disambiguation page showing the Bible reference along with Andromeda. Compare them:


I think we're just having an academic discussion and citing "prior" sources for the sake of disclosure and intellectual honesty. Hopefully no one is offended by the discovery that their idea of 1st rate sci-fi is rehashed religion, or that their one-true-faith is just pagan lore ;-)

I'm not religious. I'm more familiar with Christian imagery/themes/whatever-you-want-to-call-it in part because I grew up in "The Bible Belt". But it doesn't have the same meaning for me as it would for someone who is actually Christian. I just don't understand why the downvote or the above reply to me informing me the bible is widely read in the US. Total mental disconnect for me. Still scratching my head.

Because it comes off like you're arguing for the unique originality of Andromeda while dismissing any possible "inspirations" for it as unlikely.

It's like arguing that Aslan, the lion from Narnia, is based on Mufasa, the character from Lion King, because they're both lions and both have luxuriously animated manes.

I have no idea where you get that interpretation. I don't know how more clearly I can state that I simply do not know where the name in the series came from. And no one has posted a link to information or given anecdotal evidence that "I saw them say in some interview that it came from...." The disambiguation page you linked to lists a name in the Christian bible and the name of a Canadian city (plus a few other things) in addition to a race on the TV series Andromeda and a name from the Quran. So far, you are suggesting that the series was influenced by the Quran and providing no real evidence of a link. All I am asserting is that I have no idea what influenced the writers of the show. That is the only assertion I have made. I remain baffled as to how that can be misinterpreted and remain baffled by the remark about the bible being widely read in the US, as if I didn't know that.

The comment about the bible was by cema, not mahmud. My impression was that cema interpreted your above comment as saying that people in the US would not respond well to plots based on Christian mythology because it was unfamiliar; when I think you meant that Americans wouldn't respond well to it because they didn't like seeing their sacred stories bastardized by giant stompy robots.

Yes, I realize a different person said it. Yes, I did mean it creates problems when people feel their sacred stories are bastardized -- also that the bastardized stories may use a cool sounding name for a character that has a specific meaning to Christians and this can be confusing to the audience when they don't view it as simply a cool sounding name but, instead, read all kinds of deeper meanings into the character that simply were never intended.

It is ridiculous to think the writers of Andromeda didn't know about Gog & Magog. Repurposing old myths is sci-fi writing 101.

It's ridiculous that I have to defend my statement that I simply do not know what influenced the show while others are not being required to backup their assumption the show was influenced by something specific without providing any actual evidence of it, such as a quote from an interview.

It's also ridiculous that this tangent about Andromeda has grown so long while there has been zero response to my actual on-topic inquiry regarding negotiating with difficult people.

Andromeda could have been the best SciFi show of all time and the ruined it.

The Magog, the Nietzscheans, the hot chicks. That show could have had it all.

There's benefit in saying 'thanks, but no thanks' rather than Fuck You, and I don't think the OP claims otherwise.

In fact, the 'take-away' can sometimes be a great think to say in negotiations - it forces the other party into realising that they need this more than you. Of course, this only really works when they do actually need this more than you. Otherwise you come back later, looking desperate, and ready to get out-negotiated.

This is true, but much better to laugh than get angry. If you get crazy-bad terms, just laugh. "Hah, whoa, that's not what I was expecting..."

If their offer is absurd, treat it like it's absurd. The key is to not take it personally. Laugh. They'll either get more reasonable, or you can walk away without burning bridges.

Thanks lionhearted.

--Mike Hofman

If the deal isn't worth it for you, and you don't have any contractual obligations already, negotiating doesn't mean you have to make a deal. But there are several reasons why someone might make an insultingly low offer, and it may still be possible to come to a mutually beneficial arrangement.

They may simply be trying a hard-ball negotiation strategy, while being able to afford to go a lot higher.

The best thing you can do is to explain that their offer is worse than nothing for you and there is no way you can go ahead with it (but don't tell them your break-even point), and collect more information about their situation - understand why they want to do business with you, try to understand it from their point of view: how much revenue can they make from what you have, and what their costs and revenues for substitute options. If they won't get as much revenue from the deal as what your costs will be, then it is not possible for you both to make a profit and you can part amicably without doing a deal.

If they would bring in a lot of revenue because of the deal compared to their next best option, you can offer them a price which splits the profit for mutual benefit.

Collecting the information needed to see it from their point of view is hard and takes tact, but it is the most important part of negotiating.

I think saying something along the lines of "we're wasting our time here" and getting up and walking out would be even more effective.

Scott, I tend to agree. I also think it makes sense to actually mean it -- in other words, to have a certain percentage of negotiations that actually don't result in a deal.

--Mike Hofman

In game theory terms, it might be a viable strategy to burn deals at random in order to reinforce the signal that you can, and do, have the willpower to turn down deals.

The trick with douchebags is to 2x the price (or 1/2 if buying) or some other multiplier and make it clear it's non-negotiable. You don't loose your cool, the idiot will feel bad, and they'll think about it twice next time. Sometimes they get desperate and crawl back and close for 2x/3x the price and with a much more profesional attitude. YMMV

It depends on the actual negotiating position. Sometimes you are negotiating with a second stringer who isn't empowered to do what needs to be done.

If the other party needs you and knows it, the "fuck you" or "walk away" tactic brings things to a head quickly.

It takes a bit of experience (and some balls) to know which people to tell off - but! Never underestimate the incredible morale boost a properly crafted "fuck you" can bring to an overworked team in the heat of battle. When followed by a company happy hour, I've seen miraculous things happen.

The world is filled with quacks and assholes - as soon as your radar is tuned, you'll be able to filter the people worth keeping good relations with.

Sometimes, a situation is in (desperate) need of some honest feedback.

Perfectly optimal financial value doesn't always equal perfectly optimal social value.

For my current job my employer's first offer was exactly the amount I'd been looking for. So I said 'yes' and didn't negotiate at all.

Maybe I could've talked them up, but I got what I was looking for and we closed the meeting in under 15 minutes with everyone happy.

If someone offers you what you want, why waste time negotiating for more?

> If someone offers you what you want, why waste time negotiating for more?

Because you can use the extra amount to provide additional security for your family, or runway for your next startup?

Possibly, but not necessarily. My target salary wasn't especially low given my skill set and salary levels where I am, and was a substantial increase over my previous salary.

There wouldn't've realistically been room to haggle much up, my new employer being aware of current market conditions. The figure I'm talking about is the one you give to recruiters when they ask how much you want - it's my starting/'ideal' figure.

For a job that matched my desired career path almost perfectly, as a greenfield project at a very early stage start-up, using exactly the technologies that I'm interested in, offering me the number I've been giving to slave-traders, I didn't feel like negotiating.

If it'd been a suit-and-tie deal with one of the many local banks and insurance companies, that might be a different story. Their paperclip budget will be orders of magnitude more than my current employer's staffing budget. If I ask for too much money it might simply cut the runway down until it's no longer viable, and then I've wasted everyone's time.

Ultimately, I think this was an ideal 'negotiation' - they offered me exactly what I wanted, and I said 'yes'. Sometimes all the negotiation tactics and stupid head games can distract that whole point is for everyone to get what they want. I don't have space in my head to deal with second-guessing myself and my (then potential) employer over it all.

I've done the same thing before, and only recently have regretted it. It's much easier and less uncomfortable to accept what they're offering, especially if it's the amount you were anticipating, but if no negotiating was required, you definitely could have gotten more. Yes, you got what you were looking for, but could you find something to do with $5000/year more? Definitely.

I find most people (at least in the US) are uncomfortable negotiating, since the only times you do it seriously are when getting a job and buying a car. So long as you don't resort to the "Fuck You", negotiating is a professional thing to do and all will be forgotten once you come to an agreement and start the job.

> If someone offers you what you want, why waste time negotiating for more?

I have and will continue to waste swathes of time on far less beneficial pursuits so I can find plenty time for that!

How did you determine what you wanted?

Current salary, what I wanted to make more than that, what I felt was reasonable given other roles advertised at the level I'm at, the normal things.

If I'm the seller I would prefer to throw out a number. That way you can simply pad the starting point, coming down in price is much easier than going up.

That's great until the person you're selling to immediately jumps on that. At this point, you are left wondering, "Gee, was my offer that good? Was it too low? I wonder what he was expecting to pay. Damn, I could have made 20% more had he made the first offer." Same goes the other way around. The trick is to have both people negotiating to leave feeling as if they won. In your case, you will leave feeling as if you lost.

I'm not convinced that that's a good enough reason not to do it.

If you are that much more concerned about getting the best possible price (or whatever) vs. getting a set number you actually want, then you should go into the negotiation with enough information to already know what the best possible price should be.

If you feel like you lost, your initial offer wasn't high enough.

I once suggested a salary range from [thrilling for me] to [unbelievable] and was offered the high number. I never felt like I "lost" -- until of course a year later when we were all laid off in early 2001. Ah, the "dot-com era."

I suppose some people will always be haunted by suspicions their deal could have been better. But for me, people instantly accepting my high offer is not going to be a lifelong regret.

I understand what you're saying, but I don't think I'd feel like I lost. Getting the other person to agree to your terms is winning.

I definitely think there are certain people who are born with negotiation skills, and those that are not. You can always get better of course, but some people have a natural ability (a specific form of empathy) to know what exactly the other party is thinking, feeling, and expecting, and can exploit it as much as possible. Its just as much a skill as a talent, and can be used for both good and evil.

According to what I've seen and read, there is no special talent to knowing what another side is thinking. It's just good listening, not assuming anything, and asking lots of questions. People who don't do these things will rely on guessing to understand the other side and will often be wrong.

Someone who is a good listener, doesn't assume anything, and asks lots of questions has a special talent.

>1. The word "between.

I largely agree with this article and even this point in particular, but I think you will often end up in a situation where stating a range can move things along quickly. If you qualify it properly, it can be a useful way to turn the tables. For example, if you are discussing rate you could say well, from the other people I've been talking to it looks like positions like this one pay between $45 and $65 an hour, depending on various factors, but of course more detail is required to pin the number down exactly and it varies for each individual, so what kind of budgetary, time and code quality constraints are on this project?

I think this is a nice way of turning the tables, it would be socially weird for them to just ignore the question and be like, "so what EXACTLY were you looking for?"

Of course, they may end up offering you at 45 to start, but you can just kind of scoff at that (if you want) and be like well this seems more complex/difficult because... there's nothing wrong with continually edging away from the question until they get frustrated.

Problem is that once you've said "between $45 and $65", you've indicated that $45 is acceptable. Otherwise, why did you say it?

I've made this mistake before, and find that people always zoom in on the lower number and think that's your actual offer. And then it's quite awkward to say "Well, I didn't really mean $45, I won't do it for that little."

I've found that offering a range works much better when I make the lower number of the range quite a bit higher than what I actually want. That gives me room to come down, so that even once they've talked you down from that lower range, it's still higher than what you wanted.

it depends on how you frame it. Saying that this type of position typically pays X doesn't mean you're willing to take it.

In my experience that sort of thing has rarely turned out well for me. There really is something to the concept of anchoring. When you throw out $45-$65 their going to anchor on the $45 and now you have to move them off of that.

Although I suppose if you threw out a really high range that might have the same effect. "I'm thinking $60-$85" and get them anchored on the $60 number you're really after. You might scare them off with the top number in the range tho...

I've always done a lot better by coming in at slightly above the number I really want. If I'm looking for $60, I'll come in at $70. I'll justify why I'm charging that, and then let them move me off of it down to what I wanted in the first place. After all, if I said "$45-$65" and they paid $60 then they feel like their paying too much (their coming in at $15/hour over what you anchored them on). By starting at $70 and coming down to $60 they feel like they got a steal.

"you could say well, from the other people I've been talking to it looks like positions like this one pay between $45 and $65 an hour"

Or you could just say "well, from the other people I've been talking to it looks like positions like this one pay about $75 an hour."

But what if they know that the range is $45 to $65? In that case you've just made yourself not look very credible.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with saying "between X and Y" in my opinion. You just always make sure X is what you actually want, and Y is at least 30% higher. Give them the opportunity to grind you down, it'll make them happy; give you the ability to say "look, I've already let you take X% off what this should cost" which will come in invaluable later, because it's an instant ego-booster for the other guy. Always let the other guy think he's won, simple rule.

I think it's fine to say and let the counter party realize that various factors and details may affect the actual rate, but another to do this is to still state a single rate and qualifying it with a statement that lets the counterparty know that it is still negotiable. Because sometimes giving a range I feel is almost giving off as a sign that I'm not confident in negotiation process and I don't exactly know where to place the counterparty.

If someone said "fuck you" to me, I would no longer want to negotiate with them, plain and simple.

well, that is the whole point of saying it

Is there any way to gain practice on negotiation? As an entrepreneur, are there any resources on the internet where you can "practice"?

The only thing I can think of is playing poker or something at the casino...

Have kids or babysit? Kids are awesome negotiators, because they don't care about the other party at all, they just want to get the best deal for themselves possible. They also start from a position of weakness in most negotiations, which means they need to try some wonderfully creative strategies to get what they want.

Actually, I wonder why most adults lose that ability as they get older. My guess is that sometime in the teen years, people start caring about what others think of them, and that is poison to negotiations.

This. Having a toddler has given me a lot of practice in how to negotiate. Also, a negotiation book (The Secrets of Power Negotiation) helped me with the toddler.

A lot of your day to day activities can involve negotiating. For example, taking your car in for service/repair? Negotiate the price. Buying tires? Negotiate the price. Booking a hotel room? Negotiate. Doctor visit? Negotiate the fee. Heck, even a department store will often negotiate if you're nice.


  Negotiation/Conflict Management 
  InSt 435 (5) or 
  Mgmt 430 (5)
It's online, so when I took it, there were no in-state/out-of-state fee differences. When I took it (a long time ago), the two main texts for the class were "Getting to Yes" and "The mind and heart of the negotiator". http://www.amazon.com/Mind-Heart-Negotiator-Leigh-Thompson/d...

I highly recommend the second book especially. Towards the end of class, there is a group negotiation exercise. I thought it was quite good.

Negotiations is a required class at my b-school. The material is soft. The lecture itself only lasts a short amount of the time. For the rest of the class, you just practice. Negotiate with another party (using a case study to determine your role.) The class ended after the results were tallied and the class discussed different approaches to the problem. It wasn't a tough class, but it was useful and enjoyable.

>It wasn't a tough class, but it was useful and enjoyable.

Did you negotiate your grade at the end of the class?

I was just thinking along this line as well. The best I could come out with is going to recruiters for a job interview.

I reckon that these guys are good negotiators and see how I can fare against them.

Edit : Oh, just thought of another one. Tele marketers. I would probably welcome them with open arms now

Interesting exercise. Most recruiters will talk your wage / salary down. The difference in commission for the recruiter negotiating UP from an initial offer from a company (like $75,000 vs $80,000 (what you want)) or $95,000 - $105,000 is a very neglibile difference in their percentage of the recruiters fee. This, opposed to NO recruiters fee for losing the placement because the company decides that the extra $5,000 is not worth it (AH FRUSTRATING!) Its lovely when a candidate wants $120,000 plus relocation, and, the company goes "sold." Not typical in my own experience as a tech recruiter.

Doing some negotiating that is low-stakes but has a value attached. For example, talk to a friend / sibling / whatever and offer to babysit / trade services (e.g. web design for massage) in exchange for $WHATEVER.

wondering the same thing...

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