Negotiation Blog

Use the Power of "Just Asking" in your Negotiations: Robert Pattinson Does!

By Thomas Wood

Sometimes just asking can save you hundreds of dollars, or hours of negotiating. And unlike Robert Pattinson, you don't have to be acting as a quidditch team captain, a vampire, or a young billionaire to have the confidence to pull it off.

The idea made the news last week when Robert Pattinson, multimillionaire actor known for his roles in the Harry Potter series, the Twilight series and the just released Cosmopolis film, explained the way he negotiates on Jimmy Kimmel Live:

Pattinson confirmed that he is an habitual negotiator who "buys everything on Craigslist." His most recent bargain was for a 2001 Silverado listed for around $2500. He recounted bonding with the seller over gas prices, then simply asking for $300 off the price. The seller agreed, he said, and didn't really understand the concept of negotiating. "The guy's comeback was "what about $50 bucks more?"

Pattinson's "just ask" strategy was news because we don't imagine a multimillionaire celebrity haggling over $300. But it is not news for procurement professionals in big business across industries, who rely on asking for a greater discount, a changed term, extended service, faster delivery, etc. They "just keep asking," regardless of whether there is anything to justify the ask, not because they are obnoxious or uninformed, but because this tactic works. If a sharp company sales rep appropriately pushes back, an experienced procurement professional might say with light laughter, "Well, I had to ask!"

Remember that if you are "just asking" and can justify your Ask, it's strategic. But if you are "just asking" for no other reason than that it might work, you are using a tactic, which unlike strategies, are non-collaborative moves to gain short term advantage. Like any negotiating tactic, if you overuse then or use them in the wrong situations, expect to erode trust and your own credibility. 

"Just asking" in the right situations, however, does in fact work most of the time. Recently, when billed $2700 for the treatment of an infected blister, of which my insurance paid only $1800, I called the private clinic's billing department. I started with a joke ("you know I didn't have heart surgery, right?") and then simply asked: "I was hoping you could help me out." They cut my bill in half.

An easy, efficient way to practice "just asking" is when you are shopping. A client told me that they had gotten $300 off the mattress they wanted simply by walking around the desired mattress for awhile, chin in hand, saying nothing.

Thoughtful silence is a kind of probe that can work miracles, especially in flea markets and antique stores. The key is to show genuine interest. Don't point out all the problems with the merchandise (i.e., it looks damaged, it's too big, etc.) hoping the seller will see it as less valuable. Sellers, like most negotiators, would prefer a positive interaction with someone likeable who respects their business and merchandise. Complimenting the piece, and the seller's taste or selection, helps a seller invest in you as a customer and try to find a way to get you to buy that piece.

Tips when asking -- or probing -- for a quick and simple bargain:

  • As in more involved negotiations, build a little rapport with the seller first. Make small talk -- about the shop, the merchandise, the weather.
  • Treat the seller with the utmost respect -- don't badmouth the store, the the business or the merchandise. Often in antique stores the seller chose everything in the place.
  • Show genuine interest in what you're considering. If you can, know something about it. If not, ask "dumb" questions about it to show your interest and let the seller talk about it.
  • Don't try to get to the seller's "bottom" price in smaller negotiations. If you can get $300 off in a few minutes or with one question, you're getting great value for the time you've invested.
  • Keep it light. Ask "is there any flexibility on that?" Or "Can you help me out on this?" Or just look at the object quietly, with appreciation.
  • And remember, "just asking" is applicable to a lot more than price, in selling, buying and everyday negotiations that help you get what you want. Just ask!

Negotiating Tip

When negotiating over the telephone, be slower than usual to agree to new ideas or requests. You can always call back once you've considered how to say "yes" in exchange for some value.


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Negotiation Blog

All that jazz: it's negotiation too

By Marianne Eby

What do the best negotiators and jazz musicians have in common? That question is inspired by a recent article on CNN Opinion: “What the best jazz musicians and business brains have in common.” The argument made, not surprisingly, is that business leaders are more successful when they are open to possibilities rather than stuck on certainties, and when they are empowered to improvise. Good negotiators know how critical this insight is to what they do.

We teach and write about the importance of creativity as a game-changer in negotiations, and the need for improvisation as a skill at the bargaining table.  But here are three deeper parallels between great jazz and great negotiation:

Exchange: In jazz, particularly in rehearsal, the musicians exchange musical ideas, take cues from each other, and find new paths through a melody or score. The more experienced they are, and the better they know their instruments and their partners, the more possibilities there are in the music. In collaborative negotiation, similarly, preparation is essential, but then bargaining is a genuine exchange, where the unexpected can happen, and new ideas develop. Open-minded listening, asking questions, and paying attention to the other party's real interests can lead to creative concessions and counter-offers that bring new value to the bargaining table. In negotiation, as in jazz, "Improvisation grows out of a receptivity to what the situation offers."

Learning and finding new value: In jazz improvisation musicians learn more about the music -- about the melody, their instruments, their partners. Similarly, in a good collaborative negotiation both parties learn more about their own and each other's businesses. A creatively handled conflict between a buyer's terms and a seller's bottom line can bring in new elements of value: a seller might offer a new packaging or delivery method, innovative payment terms, a valuable training program. Buyers might offer sources of new business, coveted tickets to a game. A good negotiator, like a jazz musician, finishes an exchange with an expanded understanding of their own and the other party's value.

The relationship: Another facet of the parallel between jazz musicians and great negotiators is that both understand the core value of the relationship. Jazz musicians treat music as something that is only fully achieved with and in relation to another musician -- they know that "creativity is a collaborative achievement," as Barrett puts it. Similarly, good negotiators know that one of the most valuable products of a collaborative negotiation is often the collaborative relationship itself.

In jazz musicians as in great negotiators, creativity and improvisation are not just skills or tactics, but they represent a whole mindset, or philosophy of negotiating: a collaborative negotiation itself finds or creates new value, just as an interactive, collaborative jazz performance creates new music.  So let's jazz up our negotiating!

Negotiating Tip

Path to enduring agreements: build trusting relationships; share interests; create value as you address interests; distribute that value.


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