by Niall Doherty

Flashback to Cork, Ireland, about eighteen months ago. I was on the hunt for an apartment. The asking price for one place I viewed was €90 per week. After looking around for a few minutes and asking various questions, I had this exchange with the owner:

— You’re looking for €90 a week, right?
— Yeah, €90 all-inclusive.
— Would you take eighty?

What followed was an awkward thirty seconds or so while Owner Dude looked away from me, shook his head, exhaled loudly and walked over to the window. There he stood for several of my loudest heartbeats while I battled the urge to blurt out a “never mind.”

Finally, he looked back at me and said, “Okay, eighty it is.”

As it turned out, I found a better deal and didn’t end up taking that apartment. But the takeaway remains:

In just thirty seconds, by asking a simple question and enduring some discomfort, I’d effectively made myself €40 richer per month.

€40 in thirty seconds. I earn just a little more than that per hour for my web design services these days.

I had a similar experience finding an apartment in Kathmandu last week. Since I gave my word to the landlord that I’d keep the agreed rental price to myself, I won’t throw out exact figures here. But I can tell you that a similar negotiation approach worked very well for me.

Now I’m not going to claim to be some kind of expert when it comes to negotiation, because I’m far from that. But over the past two years I’ve learned three tips that have served me well when put to use.

I see no reason why they can’t work for you, too.

1. Ask!

When it comes to renting a property, I once read that nine out of ten people never even try to negotiate. That one chick who does? She gets a lower price ninety percent of the time.

It’s simple really: If you don’t ask for a discount, you’re almost certain not to receive one.

So you absolutely must ask, even if it feels incredibly uncomfortable to do so. And you need to resist the urge to be the one to break that discomfort. Let the other party break it. As my uncle says, “Make them an offer, then stand well back.” The worst they can say is no.

With this apartment in Kathmandu, it actually didn’t go so well when I first met with the landlord. When I tried to negotiate — using a similar offer to the one I used to rent an apartment in Amsterdam — he flat-out refused to budge on the original price. I thanked him for his time and left to view another place across town.

The next morning I emailed him and made another offer, this one more reasonable than what I proposed initially. He accepted, and I moved in three days later.

The lesson here is that asking once may not be enough. You may need to ask two or three times before you find a deal.

2. Be Willing To Walk Away

The person with the most power in any relationship is the one who cares less, the one who’s less invested.

I believe the fact that I was willing to walk away and go look at other apartments in Kathmandu worked in my favor. Had I made my second offer immediately after the first was rejected, I doubt the landlord would have accepted. But by walking away after that first (failed) negotiation, I made it clear that I had other options and was happy to explore them.

I’ve had similar experiences with taxi drivers in India. Without exception, the best deals I’ve gotten on fares have been offered to me as I’ve been walking away. Drivers who seemed impossible to negotiate with face-to-face would slash their prices generously as soon as I turned my back on them.

Of course, sometimes it’s extremely difficult to walk away. If that really is your dream apartment (or whatever it is you’re trying to get a deal on) and you simply must have it, then you have to accept that the power lies with the other party. Which leaves you three options:

  1. Accept their terms and pay whatever they want.
  2. If you really can’t afford it, lay all your cards on the table and hope for a pity deal.
  3. Bluff.

(I’m not very good at bluffing so I can’t offer much advice on that. I prefer to be honest and direct and let the chips fall where they may. Which is why I’d probably make a terrible poker player.)

3. Aim For Win-Win

Let’s revisit the negotiation I had with that Cork landlord eighteen months ago.

While I managed to haggle him down from €90 to €80 per week, I didn’t consider the outcome a win-win because he agreed only grudgingly. If I had moved into that apartment, I doubt I would have been his favorite tenant.

I believe one small change would have made all the difference. Groundhogging our interaction…

— You’re looking for €90 a week, right?
— Yeah, €90 all-inclusive.
— Would you take seventy?
— [Pause as he considers…] Eighty is as low as I could go.
— Done!

The idea here is that by making my first offer even lower — unreasonably low, even — I give the landlord room to counter.

I imagine we would have ended up agreeing on the same €80 price per week, but both of us would have walked away feeling that the negotiation had been fair, since both parties had been willing to compromise.

The above example is hypothetical of course, but this principle has worked for me in reality, too, prime example being with my landlord here in Kathmandu. Because my first offer was so unreasonable to him, the second seemed like a significant compromise on my part, and so he was more willing to accept.

Had that second offer been my first though, I’m not so sure he would have gone for it.

So it’s always important to consider how the other party will end up feeling about the deal. You want them to be happy with it, too. Even if someone accepts an unreasonable offer you make, follow up and ensure they’re really okay with it before finalizing.

It might be tempting to take advantage and save a huge chunk of money while negotiating with someone weaker than you, but by doing so you’ll either destroy the potential for a good relationship with that person, or you’ll just be a shithead who takes advantage of others to make a fast buck.

Stephen Covey advocates the “win-win or no deal” approach to negotiations. That is, if you can’t agree on a deal where both parties emerge feeling like winners, then it’s usually best not to make a deal at all. I like that, but it assumes of course that “no deal” is an option, which it sometimes isn’t.

For those occasions when you find yourself lost at 2 a.m. in the middle of Mumbai and the only taxi you find seems intent on ripping you off, you go ahead and get ripped off.

What Are Your Best Negotiation Tips?

As noted above, I’m by no means an expert at this stuff. As such, I’m sure I can learn a lot from everyone reading. What negotiation tactics have worked well for you in the past?

Share the bejaysus out of them in the comments.

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