Personal Improvement

How To Negotiate With Skill, Not Force

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Learning how to negotiate is not just a nice to have skill – it’s critical. Everything from your salary to your purchases to even your relationship requires it. Here we break it down for you and give you the knowledge you need to hit the ground running.

Perhaps the most important thing you need to understand is that most successful negotiations come with skill and practice, not force. We’re not going to show you how to strong arm your opponent or debate them into submission.

Instead we’ve created an epic resource with everything you need to know to get what you want and walk away from the table with everyone happy.

Podcast Episode

Want to learn but would rather do it during your morning drive or while you’re working? Give this episode a listen, it’s pretty awesome.

(show note links are at the very bottom of the article)

Negotiation Vs Bartering

Before we jump into it we think it’s important to discuss the difference between negotiation and bartering. There tends to be a lot of confusion around the two. It comes down to knowing your goal and having the right approach.

Negotiation: This is not about winning. It’s about achieving your goal or objective. It’s not an argument but a constructive discussion. Since success is measured by achieving your goal or objective it’s then easy to eliminate certain approaches immediately. We’ll get into them later in the article.

Bartering: This is also not about winning. It’s about exchanging your commodity or service for something of comparable value with a minimum effort or time commitment.  Right off the bat we’ve taken two big departures from negotiation. You don’t want to work too hard or spend too much time here. If you have a fruit stand at a fair you may barter with potential buyers. However, if you’re selling (or buying) a car you’re negotiating. Bartering is about value where as negotiation is about something much larger.

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The 7 Core Negotiation Tactics

There are a few key things you need to keep in mind for a successful negotiation. While some may seem immediately obvious we really encourage you to read deeper. Because negotiation is about achieving a win-win situation and not a win-lose situation it’s really important to keep these core principles in mind – and refine them over time.

If you ignore following a strong approach you’re at best opening yourself up to a less than optimal deal and at worse looking at no deal at all.

Come Prepared

You might have heard the saying “Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.” Well, the same idea applies here. You’re not going to go to a car dealership and purchase a car originally having no idea how much it costs or what its positives/negative attributes are. The same applies to all negotiations.

If you’re looking to get a raise, do you know how much other people with your skill set and background get paid? We talk about price anchors in the episode and this is a great place to use them.

Head over to sites like Glassdoor or Payscale and do your research. Site’s like will also show you a data-driven aggregate of what they’ve seen people make for the position you have (or want).

Use resources like these to ground yourself in reality, improve the chances of your success and logic for how you’ve approached your position. Remember, you’re looking for a win-win outcome.

For a negotiation that’s a bit more nuanced like a big purchase you need to understand the value you’re getting, the main features as well as the weaknesses. This is especially important if you’re dealing with a small business or any non-chain.

When you’re buying the car or even that bike you should be able to compare it to other similar products as well as the prices of other vendors. Why buy a car near your house for $25,000 when one an hour away is $20,000. Chances are you can at least start negotiations at $20,000 at the place near your home if you let them know about the prices you’ve seen elsewhere.

Start With Small Talk

It goes without saying that you should know your opponent. I’d even go a bit further and say that you should befriend them – at least for the duration of your negotiation.

Imagine how difficult it will be to come to an agreement with someone when you don’t know what drives them. Maybe the car you’re buying is the last in a quota for the seller to get a bonus so they aren’t concerned about price. Maybe that home you want to buy from that nice old couple isn’t about money but instead about setting up a nice couple with the best chance of success.

Most people are not driven by money or have core values you can incorporate into the discussion. The best way to find out is with a light, early discussion.

Listen And Ask Questions

Just think about how many times in your life you’ve tried to sell an idea or object that nobody wants. Did you ever consider that when you asked for that raise that the “no” came not because you’re doing a bad job but because your boss doesn’t need more time and effort on your existing projects. What if you offered to take on additional new responsibilities instead?

The best way for you to get what you want is to know what the other person wants. That starts with asking some solid questions that could be as blunt as “What are you looking for?“. It of course then requires active listening.


I think it’s worth mentioning that you should come up with a few questions ahead of time (re: prepare) and then try to come up with follow up questions as the conversation unfolds. Also, active listening doesn’t mean thinking of what you’re going to say next while the other person is talking.

Allow for a second or two of silence for you and the other person to think. It’s healthy and allows you to focus on what’s important.

Look For Common Ground

Perhaps you’re both very religious – or not. Maybe you’re both fighting to provide for your family. Could it be possible you both came from the same college or fraternity? This is important stuff.

When we hire people at LMM, we look for people that subscribe to our core values as people as well as people who are passionate about our core mission of educating the world on how to manage their money for free. I think it’s more than likely these are just the cornerstones on what most businesses hire on. If you can connect on this level, you’re already ahead in negotiations.

Not only is it great to find “bonding” type commonalities but it will also give you clues to their core objective. Know what they want and then you can offer it to them. Offer them what they want and they’re much more likely to agree to your conditions.

Keep Your Cool

I’d say don’t get emotional but we’re all badasses here so I’m sure you control your emotions. Did you know that yelling at someone and showing anger on your face but saying nothing is the same thing?

It turns out there is research that shows only 7% of communication is verbal. That other 93%? That comes from your face, your arms, your chest, your ass – all of it. That means you can’t just sound relaxed, you need to actually be relaxed.

There’s a pretty good chance that the person you’re negotiating with is intelligent and comes up with an excellent point you never thought of. Don’t get nervous and break out into a cold sweat – keep calm and carry on like you’re a Brit.

Use potential emotional moments as launching points for ways to further your objectives in the negotiation.

Be Flexible

Don’t you just hate stubborn people? I say the earth is round, they say it’s flat and I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. Of course, that just means we’re going nowhere fast.

Just because you want a raise at work doesn’t mean it’s possible. Maybe the business is strapped for cash and they want to pay you more but it’s just not there to give. Fine, then you can pivot and ask for few days of vacation.

Maybe you work for a small business that sells bikes and you’re a bike enthusiast yourself. If they can’t give you more money then why don’t you ask for the ability to buy things from the place you work at cost. That’s a huge perk and something you can share with your friends and family that could potentially bring you more value than the money itself.

Bruce Lee was a very smart man so I’m just going to have to quote him:

“Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.” – Bruce Lee

Don’t just agree, embody it. You may not get all you want but you’ll certainly get more than most if you’re flexible.

Don’t Negotiate Against Yourself

In the episode Thomas brought up a great point. Practice putting an offer on the table and then being quiet. Even if it gets awkward.

Remember that time that you said you could work for $25/hour and then before you knew it you had already offered to work at $15/hour. All the other side had to do was remain silent. Why can’t that be you?

The biggest pitfall in negotiation is self sabotage. Just don’t do it. Deal?

4 Negotiation Tips For The Win

Ok, you’ve got the core principles of how to negotiate successfully down. Now what? Now we jump into our “tips” or “hacks“. See, while there is no clear universal path to victory, there are some tricks you can use to get what you want without rocking the boat.

Use these concepts as a competitive advantage but never use them all or apply them too early in the negotiation. Sometimes you need something special to close a deal or tilt it back in your favor and that’s what these are for.

Know The Competition

I’m a Data Engineer by day and it just so happens that as of this writing, there are few strong ones with my skill set where I live. This is a key competitive advantage for me so I need to leverage it as much as possible.

This is more a confidence play than anything and when it comes to negotiation, you need confidence. Where do you stand out from the pack? Know it and own it.

Increase Or Decrease The Scope

Often times a negotiation includes a price, perhaps a salary, purchase price or contract value. Naturally there will be some discussion on the price but that can quickly become a challenging negotiation and at best a dicey conversation. Therefore, it’s important you remove focus from the price and place it on the scope of work.

Did you propose building someone a website for $5,000 and they countered with $2,000? While you could debate the merits of your price, one option is to add features that would support the $5,000 price tag. That should be your first option.

Money simply isn’t there and there is a hard cap at $2,000? Reduce what you’re going to do for them to make it fit with your expectations on the value of your time. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and lose a sale when you can simply refactor it.

 Acknowledge Objections Or Counter Arguments

Something I learned very early on in high school is to diffuse bullies. I was a short, awkward, nerdy guy and that made me an easy target.

Kids might say “You’re short” as an insult and if I let it land then they win. It’s not much different than a future employer saying “You’re very expensive” when you tell them your salary. The way to not let objections affect you is to acknowledge them and when possible, get ahead of them.

Perhaps in your negotiation where you’re trying to land a salary of $100,000 when they are offering $75,000 you say “I know I’m expensive when you compare me to the average but I’m not when you see how much I can accomplish in a month“. Now, they can’t use “You’re expensive” as a counter argument against you since you’ve put it on the table. You’re aware and ok with it.

This even goes for arguments with your spouse. If you were supposed to do the dishes and didn’t, when they come home just apologize up front. It takes the wind out of their anger and then you can move forward.

It’s not about winning or losing but where possible, reducing the amount of victories you give up.

When In Doubt, Leverage Emotions

I know we said don’t get emotional but there are times when it just makes sense.

What if you are trying to sell a TV at a garage sale for $500 and your potential customer offers you $100? Make a face like you’re blown away they even suggested that. Or look angry at the offer without saying anything. While you should generally avoid this, it’s an effective tactic to bring people closer to your side of the negotiation.

Discussing salary at a potential new job while you currently still have one? If they shoot too low on your salary, launch into your exit strategy. Thank them for their time, say how much you’ve appreciated the opportunity and politely decline. Your willingness to leave the table may make them counter with something much more reasonable.

Just remember, never bluff. Only do things you’re willing to follow through with. If you can’t turn down the job, then don’t.

 Show Notes

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale: A 7% ABV pumpkin beer that won’t disappoint from a favorite brewery of ours.

Jack-O Traveler Shandy: Easy going down session style beer that gives you that pumpkin fix without losing your wits.

How to Become a Skilled Negotiator: Dan gives us some tips, tricks, specific help on our problems and tells us about the negotiation resource he’s been building.

Negotiation Strategies: A Lost Art: My first article on the topic, this goes over some high level philosophical thoughts and focuses on understanding what works well.

Impress Recruiters and Get Hired: Thomas’ resources on how to find the job you want and then get it.


Featured Image Photo Credit: “handshake” by 드림포유 on Flickr

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Andrew Fiebert - Chief Nerd Andrew Fiebert is a thirty-something father of twins, data nerd, and has prior Data Engineer for Barclays Capital and iHeartRadio. He's spent the past six years growing this site into a multi-six-figure business with over 500 hours of free personal finance education that reaches over 1 million people every month. Andrew has a B.S. in Computer Science and has been featured in Quartz, Forbes, Business Insider, and The Telegraph.

Current Project: Making bloggers money with Lasso.
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