How to Negotiate a Better Deal


negotiation1In some parts of the world, negotiating for goods is second nature and it’s common to haggle over the price of virtually everything you buy. In the U.S., things typically cost what they cost and, with only a few exceptions, attempts at negotiation are met with a raised eyebrow and incredulous stare. Because it’s relatively rare here, many of us are intimidated by the idea of negotiating. But we shouldn’t be—we actually negotiate all the time in other contexts without even realizing it. Recognizing and building our negotiating skills can, in many cases, result in huge returns. Whether you’re negotiating a new car, a bigger paycheck, or a lower cable bill, knowing a few tricks can help.

In a recent Planet Money segment on NPR, several negotiating experts, including an FBI hostage negotiator who used his skills to buy a car, discussed three different key negotiating tactics and how you can use them to get a better deal in different situations:

The Nibble

Negotiation tactic number one is called “the nibble,” and is a strategy by which you get more stuff than you would have otherwise. The example given was an overbooked flight and a passenger who accepted a $1000 voucher in exchange for being bumped to a flight the next day. Instead of just accepting the voucher, however, he employed “the nibble.” He asked for a small extra or two, which they had no problem throwing in. In the end, he got a first class seat on the next day’s flight, hotel and meal vouchers, and a car service. It didn’t cost the airline much to throw in those extras, but if he hadn’t asked, he never would have got them.

Expanding the Pie

The next tactic has to do with giving up something additional you can afford in order to get what you want. When you are negotiating with someone and reach an impasse, sometimes “expanding the pie” by offering something else your opponent might want or giving up part of what you’re haggling for that you don’t really need can solve the problem. This is a common strategy used in Washington—one guy gets another guy to vote for his bill by throwing in something the other guy wants, too. The pie is bigger, and everyone wins.

Disarming Empathy

The third technique, and the one used by the FBI negotiator to get an amazing deal on a new car, is called “disarming empathy,” which means you neutralize the opposition with extreme kindness and then let the other party argue against himself until you get what you want. In this case, the buyer came in with a very low offer, which the salesman then countered. The buyer then apologized for offering such a low number, admitted that the car was absolutely worth every bit they were asking, but explained that he simply could not afford to buy it for that price. The salesman went back and forth to his manager four times before finally agreeing to the original lowball offer, all because the buyer got him on his side and disarmed him with kindness and empathy.

Negotiating a Raise or Salary

One of the most common things people negotiate is a job offer or raise. Experts say you should always negotiate when getting a new job instead of accepting what you’re offered—if the employer doesn’t want to pay more, you could still get additional vacation or other perks. It’s worth asking—and this goes for raises as well. Here are a few tips:

  • Quantify your worth. It goes without saying that you have done an excellent job for your company, and you should keep track of that in measurable ways. If your boss can see your worth on paper, it goes a long way toward justifying a raise.
  • Focus on the company’s needs by showing how you have and will help the company meet its goals and why what you can offer them them is worth more.
  • Research before you ask, so you know how your employment package compares to others in your field.
  • Practice your delivery. You want to be confident and smooth, not tongue-tied.

Unexpected Things You Should Haggle For

Most people expect to negotiate for houses and cars, but here are a few things you may never have thought to haggle over:

  • Phone and cable bills – Call at the end of your contract and tell them you will switch if you don’t get a better deal. The competition is tough and most will comply to retain your business.
  • Mattresses – Experts say to always at least try to negotiate on a mattress purchase. If you can’t get a lower price, you may be able to get free delivery or a box spring.
  • Gym memberships – Gyms often run specials in January that are aimed at new clients with resolutions, but many are open to negotiation any time of year. You may be able to get a lower monthly rate for signing a longer contract, for example, or get them to waive the sign-up fee. You never know unless you ask.