The Secret to Negotiating a Better Deal

Years ago, my boss suddenly resigned. I was pretty sure his boss would offer me his job, but it didn’t happen immediately. He told me he wanted to think it over and consider his options.

A Pen and Contracts - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #5206508

Photo courtesy of ©

Frankly, I was disappointed. From my perspective, it was a no-brainer. I was the logical choice!

I could have reacted in several ways:

  • I could have pouted.
  • I could have written a memo, detailing my qualifications.
  • I could have launched a campaign, asking people I knew he respected to recommend me.

Instead, I smiled and said, “No problem. Take your time.”

I then maintained a positive attitude and worked hard. A few days later, he made his decision and offered me the promotion. I was thrilled.

In this brief transaction, I was acting on a piece of advice I had gleaned from Dr. James Dobson’s book, Love Must Be Tough, an unlikely but powerful negotiation resource:

He who needs the other person the least is in control of the relationship.

Love it or hate it, this is the best negotiating advice I have ever received. I have put it to use in countless situations:

  • It works in buying a car, real estate, or other property.
  • It works in negotiating the salary and benefits for a new job or a promotion.
  • It even works in parenting and other interpersonal relationships.

The trick is to really put yourself in the position where you don’t need the other person as badly as they need you. How do you do that? Three suggestions:

  1. Be a “don’t-wanter.” Never fall in love with something you are trying to acquire—at least not at first. Be a little aloof. Don’t get emotionally attached. Kick the tires. (I learned this concept from Robert G. Allen, author of numerous financial books)
  2. Don’t get too eager. I have usually found in negotiations that the first person to name a number loses. Let the other person go first. Pace your responses to theirs. If they take 24 hours to respond, you should take 24 hours to respond.
  3. Give yourself options. This is the most important suggestion. The more options you have, the more you will believe you don’t need any particular offer. For example, want to sell a car at the best price? Generate multiple offers. It will change your negotiating posture and put you in a position of strength.

This may sound manipulative or even unethical, but I don’t think you can afford to ignore the very real psychology that is at work in serious negotiations. You do so to your own determent.

And if you are ultimately committed to negotiating win-win relationships (as I am), you can still do so. You can just ensure that the other party doesn’t win at your expense.

By the way, if you want to beef up your negotiating skills, I highly recommend Roger Dawson’s very helpful book, Secrets of Power Negotiating.

Question: What is your best negotiating tactic? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Jim Hardy

    Great advice. I think most people react with emotion and do not think things through. This kind of action just causes a worse reaction.


  • Keith

    A good tactic is “fear of loss”, works better than what the gain is for that person!

  • michael kilpatrick

    Interesting – we are currently hiring several people and it is interesting how the dynamics you mention are working out through the process.

  • Alan Kay

    Great advice that’s really critical and sometimes hard to remember. Not ‘needing’ the work is a good discipline. 
    I also try use this thinking when I’m developing proposals to my clients. When we try to stress how much we want the work by eagerly addressing their every need, we miss the point that they may not have expressed the need appropriately (how could they? They’re asking you for your ideas becasue they don’t know how to do it themselves). This sometimes prevents you from being creative, or downplaying the unique skill that you bring to the work. 
    By showing that you are keen to serve them, but not slavishly, you can differentiate yourself. Seems to me, Michael that’s what you did for that boss many years ago.      

  • Adam Dennis

    This is great advice. I am currently searching for a different job an this was very timely. After reading this, I could see how I had made mistakes in the past. Very much appreciated. Thanks!

  • Shane Sanchez

    This post is full of timely wisdom. Personally, it’s been really easy to have ethical negotiations feel like unethical manipulation. At times I almost have a reservation about taking the “I don’t need that” approach for weariness that I may lose the chance or that I may begin selfishly manipulating the situation. This post is a great motive and strategy plumline when engaged in thoughtful negotiation. I definitely threw this post, like many others on this blog, into my pulse favorites.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for this advice! That quote from Dobson is so powerful and your post was really encouraging as I am in the process of negotiating a job deal right now. Thanks!

  • Uma Maheswaran S

    “Don’t get too eager.” – It’s a much needed advice for me. I have failed at this in many instances. I have personally experienced failures in negotiating  due to my eagerness and over-enthusiasm. Thanks for the book suggestion and the powerful quote.

  • Tresha Thorsen

    ooooh luv it luv it. comes at a good time as well :)
    one thing that also helps me: i hold to the fact that it is our natural, inherent inclination to act with principal and stand for honesty.
    what this does is show me red flags immediately when i sense impure intention, self absorbed ego, and downright unprincipled behavior. and no problem. i’ll take my business elswhere then. it can be hard to squelch my own impatience. yet…it is vital when we refuse to allow ourselves to be manipulated, used, taken advantage of or treated wrongly. awesome post. thank you.

  • Robert Ewoldt

    Michael, this is great advice. I especially like the advice about not getting too eager.

  • Cynthia Ann Leighton

    Thank you! Need to know this. And apply!

  • Pingback: The Secret of Successful Negotiations (and the 1994 Saturn SL1 to prove it!) « John Nemo

  • Anonymous

    One of my uncles is an amazing negotiator. When he goes onto a car lot, he flat out tells them, “I will NOT go back and forth with you on the price of a car. If you want to play that game, I will go somewhere else.” It works and he keeps his word. The second they try to play the let me go ask my manager game, he walks. He negotiates and bids for a living, so he’s good at it. Dr Dobson’s advice is fantastic. I will be remembering that.

    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

  • Daren Sirbough

    I’m a musician and so I am always negotiating a price for my time. I believe my best negotiating tactic is my honesty and the open ended approach. The fact that I want them to feel like they are able to leave the negotiating table at any time without feeling pressured is my way of getting the price that I desire and keeping the relationship intact after negotiation. I charge highly but fairly for my service and it keeps them coming back to re-negotiate.

  • Duke Dillard

    Thanks for the post, Michael. I would highly recommend “Getting to Yes” as a must-read for negotiating. Also for those who prefer visual the movie “13 Days” is a great case study for negotiating. In spite of these excellent resources I am still a horrible negotiator. I have not found that books are that helpful. I need mentoring. You should do a post on negotiating and personality (in the whole sense of the word) and how to overcome weaknesses. Although from your other post regarding Andy Stanley and strengths, I wonder if I just need to hire someone to negotiate for me rather than worry about that weakness?
    (I did not read every comment so please forgive me if this was already mentioned.)

    • Robert Ewoldt

      Practice makes perfect, right? Maybe you just haven’t had enough practice negotiating. Or perhaps you’re giving in to your negative Narrator :)

  • Susan

    Playing it cool is always a good tactic. You absolutely cannot show that you’re willing to accept any deal so long as you get to close the transaction. It gives you that distinctive air of desperation, and even if you manage to close the deal, you still would have come off worse if you didn’t get it according to your terms.

  • TNeal

    Living within 45 minutes of Mexico (closer if you didn’t use the bridge), I learned the art of walking away from a deal every time we took guests in our home to the market. I needed a good price more than the particular product. I enjoyed the give-and-take of bargaining. To this day, I apply those Mexican market lessons to purchases. Thank you, Mike, for the additional insights.–Tom


    Financially speaking, always know what your bottom line is – what’s the least you will take/the most you can offer/afford

    AND – in purchasing always deal in cash.  This is one I learned from Dave Ramsey.  Having real $$$ in your had is powerful when negotiating – especially if it’s not going your way and you put those $$$ back in your pocket and walk away – that’s empowering to know you don’t have to take whatever offer is on the table, b/c there are others to be had

  • Stephen Lynch

    It’s a play off of “give yourself options” but my negotiating tip is the power of no. I’m a big fan of the win-win as well, and having the awareness and ability to say no to offers that don’t benefit both sides is a good use of the word.

    Knowing your pricing and where it has room to be flexible is also important to know, but playing the no card keeps us from over-committing our finite resources and keeps us on track with our vision, dreams, and goals.

  • Christopher Sparling

    I am a lawyer in Toronto.  Most of my cases are construction cases which involve many separate issues.    The best approach is to understand and explain each of the issues and assess each of them rationally.   Concede the weak issues – at least that they are weak and may not succeed – thereby creating trust – that you know what you are talking about and will concede rather than posture – but hang in on the good issues.   Put a likelihood of success to each issue.   If the cost of repairing a defect is $10,000 but the likelihood that the court will decide that it is a defect is 20%, admit that your case on this issue is weak, but not impossible and offer $2,000 or, if the likelihood is 90%, explain why and offer $9,000.