Effective Negotiation Techniques: One Word to Avoid, One to Seek, and the Importance of Specifics

Let’s bypass negotiation techniques for a second and start with this: When was the last time you negotiated for something you wanted?

A house? A raise? That cool item online?

When I ask women this question, I often get responses like this, “I don’t negotiate a lot. It’s not something I enjoy and I’m not that good at it. I usually avoid it.”

So many women I’ve met dislike confrontation and they view negotiating as a mild-to-severe form of confrontation, depending on the situation.

Here’s the kicker: We all negotiate every day of our lives.

Every time you want someone to say “yes” to you for whatever reason, you have entered into a negotiation.

Want your teenager to take out the garbage and clean their room?

Negotiation on.

Want some help from a co-worker with a project?

More negotiating.

Want the phone company to give you a better cell plan?

Definitely negotiating.

Looking for a life partner?

Welcome to the negotiation deep end!

Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator and author of the brilliant book Never Split the Difference, points out how important learning the skill of negotiation is:

In this world, you get what you ask for. You just have to ask correctly.

There’s just one problem, as Chris points out on his website:






Since knowing how to negotiate is key to personal and professional success, here are three of Chris’s negotiation techniques to help you get what you ask for, as well as some of my personal experiences putting them into practice.


Negotiation Technique #1: Avoid “Why”

Imagine for a second that you’re back in class. You’ve just submitted your work to the teacher.

You think you’ve done it right.

She looks are your submission, then looks up and says, “Why did you solve the problem that way?” or “Why did you use that approach?”

Tell me something – in that instant, are you still thinking you’ve done it right?

I’m betting that suddenly, you’re doubting yourself. “Crap, did I make a mistake?” you say to yourself? You start wondering if you missed something obvious.

What if the teacher is just curious? What if she hasn’t seen that kind of approach before and genuinely wants to know more about your thought process?

It could be a simple, harmless question, but because it starts with “why”, you’re on edge.

As Chris Voss says in Never Split the Difference, “”Why” is always an accusation, in any language.”

Instead, he suggests you use questions that start with “What” and “How” to tone down the negative emotions, even when you’re turning down an offer.

“How can I accept that” when faced with an offer or a counter that doesn’t meet your goals.

“What about this is important to you?”

“How would you like me to proceed?

There’s an endless array of “what” and “how” questions you can use learn more about your counterpart’s position and motivations, diffuse tension, and keep the conversation moving toward the outcome you seek.

Whatever you do, avoid “why”.


Negotiation Technique #2: Go for “No” first

No one likes to be told “no”. It’s one of the small but powerful words in our language that gets a bad rap because of its emotional impact.

Hearing it can feel like a rejection of our self, as though we’ve been unreasonable in our request or we don’t measure up.

If I ask you, “Which word would you rather hear in a negotiation – “yes” or “no”?” My bet is that you’d probably go for “yes”.

“Yes” means success, right?

Not in the domain of negotiation.

If you aim for a “yes” as quickly as possible, you may well harm your progress by getting a fake “yes” to get you to move on or put people on edge.

Just think about those scammy sales calls we all get:

CALLER – Hi Ms (uses my husband’s last name because his name is on the account and they don’t know me from a hole in the ground). I just want to ask you a quick question: Do you care about your children’s future?

ME – (Rolls eyes and curses silently for not letting the call go to voicemail. Ends call in seconds or toys with caller, depending on mood that day)….

We’ve all had *those* kinds of conversations. They are neither fun nor productive.

The more obvious “yes” questions people ask, the more our defenses go up and we start to wonder what they’re up to.

We get ready to protect ourselves instead of remaining open to what they’re talking about.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, it’s critical to aim for “no” when you start out a negotiation.

[“No”] is the word that gives the speaker the feeling of safety and control. You use a question that prompts a “No” answer, and your counterpart feels that by turning you down he has proved that he’s in the driver’s seat.

“No” often opens the discussion up. The sooner you say “No,” the sooner you’re willing to see options and opportunities that you were blind to previously.

Saying “No” often spurs people to action because they feel they’ve protected themselves and now see an opportunity slipping away.

That’s why I tell my students that if you’re trying to sell something, don’t start with “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” – Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference

This negotiation technique alone has the power to significantly improve your results.

A simple way to practice is is as follows: If you want to speak with someone, start by saying something like, “Is this a bad time?” instead of “Do you have a few minutes?”

If you’re interested in buying something from a seller on Kijiji or a similar site, ask “Have you sold this yet” instead of “Is this still available?”

Give your counterpart the feeling of control as quickly as you can.

As Chris points out, “”No” is the start of the negotiation, not the end of it. We’ve been conditioned to fear the word “No.” But it is a statement of perception far more often than of fact.”

So, let me ask you again: Should you start with “yes”?

(See what I did there? 🙂 )


Negotiation Technique #3: Get specific with numbers

Have you noticed that the vast majority of people who enter into negotiations when money is involved use round numbers?

We ask for a $10,000 raise.

We offer $345,000 for a house.

When putting our kid’s Lego collection up for sale, we list the price at $30.

Fifteen years ago, when I first started buying rental properties, I got a great piece of advice from a seasoned pro: Use specific numbers. Never end your offer with a zero.

That piece of advice has served me very well and helped me buy dozens of properties at a great price, including my personal residence (more on that below).

Here’s what Chris Voss has to say about that:

Every number has a psychological significance that goes beyond its value.

Anything you throw out that sounds less rounded – say, $37,263 – feels like a figure that you came to as a result of thoughtful calculation.

In other words, if you use a very specific number, your counter will get the feeling that you have put a lot of thought into the minutiae of your offer and calculated what’s doable for you down to the last dollar.

It makes it easier to avoid the usual dance of “I’ll come down $5,000 dollars, then you go up $5,000 and we’ll meet in the middle.”

With specific numbers, you get to redefine the game. It’s amazing to me how often this works as a negotiation technique.

You can also use this approach in salary negotiations. Instead of asking for a $10,000 raise or for a starting salary of, say, $85,000, you might consider using a number that ends in $255, for example.

See how your boss responds. At the very least, it will keep the conversation going about the specificity of your number!

For those of you who want to deepen your skills and your understanding of negotiation techniques, on Tuesday, September 29th, I’m putting on a workshop for my Women’s Money Group called Negotiate Like a Pro: A Research-Based Approach to Save Money and Ask for More.

I’ll share many more strategies and techniques to help you get what you want when you head into a negotiation, including a powerful strategy to use when you’re looking to land a promotion, score a better job, or land a key client.

You won’t want to miss this!

It’s an exclusive offering for my Women’s Money Group, so head over here and grab a membership by the 29th to gain access to the live online workshop. You can try out a monthly membership to start to see if it’s a fit for you. You can cancel at any time.


A Real Estate Double Win

Ten years ago, my husband and I were on the market for a new house in a different neighborhood. We wanted better schools for our girls and had identified our target neighborhood.

There was just one problem: Houses in that area didn’t come up for sale very often and they were more expensive than what we wanted to pay.

At the time, we owned a modest house in a neighborhood that had become trendy. Thanks to a boom in development, our house was now worth around $495,000.

The houses in the new neighborhood? They started at $530,000 and went up sharply from there.

The countdown was on. It was June and school started in September. I needed to get an address in the new school catchment area so that my girls could attend our school of choice.

Despite the fact that we had been looking for two years, we still hadn’t found anything. Now, I had just under three months to sell our existing house and find another house in the desired neighborhood for the price I wanted.

I had set a goal: Buy a house in the new ‘hood for the same price as the existing house. As impossible as it seemed, I was determined not to add a dime of debt to our books (we had paid off our mortgage), so I steadfastly maintained my goal.

On June 17th, following knee surgery, I was propped up on our sofa doing my usual routine – scoping out all the listings, including the For Sale By Owner sites.

Lo and behold, a fabulous house popped up on a desirable street.

And the list price wasn’t crazy – $510,000!! It wasn’t the price I wanted, but it was close enough; we had a shot.

Then it hit me. “Wait a minute. Why is it listed so low? What’s wrong with it?”

I set up an appointment to view it the next day, despite having my leg in a Zimmer brace and getting around on crutches.

Be clear on what you want

As soon as we stepped into the foyer, my husband and I knew – this is our home.

It was in impeccable condition. We could only attribute the low selling price to vendor inexperience as they were not using a Realtor.

We spoke with the owners, who were lovely and gracious.

“What makes you want to leave such a beautiful home?” I asked.

We learned about their children, what they had enjoyed in the house, why it was time to move to a condo, what sorts of activities they enjoyed, how they had fared in their respective careers.

In short, we understood where they were coming from and that while they wanted the money from the sale, they did not need the money. They no longer wanted to maintain a large property. They had already purchased a condo and just wanted to get on with the move.

We put together a cover letter on the offer, hitting all the key points. We offered them a three-week turnaround from sale to close (they chose six). Finally, we used a specific number below $500,000 and we included requests for two other key items: the beautiful artwork in the foyer and an antique desk in the living room.

We wanted to give them something to refuse other than our price. We expected them to refuse the artwork and the desk.

After some back and forth, we had our house for less than $500,000 and we had new artwork. They said no to the desk.

In the end, we only went up a little bit from our initial offer.

Our lawyer had one question for us: “Why such a strange purchase price?”

It works.


What about the existing house?

Shortly after we sold our house, our province, Ontario, introduced a new tax, the Harmonized Sales Tax. One of the changes is that real estate transactions are now subject to that tax.

Overnight, as people reacted to the changes, the real estate market ground to a halt.

That was three weeks before we listed our house.

Still, I kept moving forward with the goal of getting exactly the price that we had paid for our new house.

We polished our existing house from top to bottom, staged it and listed it ourselves for slightly less than the market value.

We also gave buyers seven days to place an offer, stating in the listing that offers would be viewed on Day X at Time Y. My strategy was to set up a multiple offer situation.

In the end, we had six couples come through and we received only a single offer.

Preparation is key

The Realtor for the buyers tried to work me. He was an older guy with decades of experience. I must have looked like an easy mark to him.

He tried to put crap past me that was flat out untrue. What he didn’t know is that I’m a real estate investor. This wasn’t my first rodeo.

I politely called him on his bluffs and, when he asked me how many people had been through, I answered, “Oh, we’ve had strong interest in the house as expected for this neighborhood.”

I never revealed any numbers.

“How many offers are you expecting?” he persisted.

“I’m not sure at this time. Several Realtors are talking to us about the house.”

That was technically true. Six Realtors had called to make appointments to view. They had not followed up afterward. He didn’t need to know that.

“How soon do you need to move?” he asked.

“We’re flexible. What is your clients’ situation?” I countered.

Finally, he relented. “My clients would like to put in an offer. I’d like to set up an appointment to present it to you. I think you’ll like it.”

He tried to pull more uncool crap while presenting the offer, all of which I deflected by demonstrating that I knew what I was talking about. After a few minutes of nonsense, he showed me the offer.

In the end? I did not make my goal; I exceeded it. We got more than $500,000 for our small house.

Three weeks later, we had moved to the house we wanted, in a neighborhood we love. Our girls started at their new school that September.

Knowing how to negotiate is a powerful skill that can help you save thousands of dollars, earn thousands of dollars, and get through challenging situations with difficult people.

In my books, it’s an essential skill. The sooner you learn to do it well, the faster you’ll reach your goals.

Don’t enjoy negotiating? Here’s what Chris Voss has to say about that:

Get over your aversion to negotiating. You don’t need to like it; you just need to do it.

Want these kind of results for yourself, too? Then join me at my Negotiate Like a Pro live online Workshop on September 29th, from 6:45 pm to 9:00 pm EDT.

Shoot me an email to get registration details.

Imagine what it will feel like when you successfully use these skills in your life!

Imagine what you’ll miss out on if you don’t.

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8 Responses

  1. Allô
    Vraiment une bonne lecture
    J’ai hâte de voir la suite la semaine
    Très bon sujet bien développé

  2. Here is a great book on the psychology of influence and persuasion. Read it many years ago. Worth a read if the topic interests you:

    Loved the personal story about your house (and last week’s about overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges).

    “Want to fast-forward your learning and get results sooner?”

    “Do you want to miss out on learning how to achieve similar results for yourself? *No?* Then join me…”

    ; ) sorry, couldn’t resist. I’ll show myself out.

    1. LOL – you’re a quick learner! Love the changes. I might just have to rewrite the ending. 😀

      Thanks for the reminder about Cialdini’s excellent book. It holds pride of place on my bookshelf.

      Thanks for popping by, Brian. Always a pleasure to hear from you.

  3. Doris I really enjoyed this post! I do go into negotiations dreading them. Maybe I need a script for that? Regardless, I loved your real estate story. Inspiring. Now, just for my perfect house to come on the market so I can negotiate for it!

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