Conversation Killers: What’s Holding You Back From Negotiating?

By Kentin Waits on 7 June 2010 (Updated 6 June 2011) 4 comments
Photo: Yoshiffles

A few months ago, I wrote an article for Wise Bread entitled The 7 Laws of Negotiation. In it, I covered some tried and true methods of negotiating deals on everything from used cars to hotel rooms. Since then, I’ve come to realize that for some, just getting the conversation started can be a struggle. What good is a negotiation primer if we’re held back from even broaching the topic out of fear or embarrassment? Maybe any discussion about negotiation strategy needs to be prefaced by an exploration of what I call Conversation Killers — those little roadblocks that hold us back from channeling our inner wheeler-dealer. Here are 4 points to consider as you prepare for what can be a rewarding money management skill.

Fear

Fear is the king of conversation-killers. It’s born from lack of experience and feeds upon itself. People fear offending sellers, being overheard by other buyers, challenging convention, or asserting their legitimate power as consumers. The best way to overcome this roadblock is to first practice in lower-pressure situations. Start out over the phone — the next time you renew that cell phone contract or work to whittle down those texting overages from your trigger-finger teenager. Then, try face-to-face opportunities at yard sales or tag sales (a quarter saved here, a dollar there). Once you see that negotiation works 90% of the time, you’ll start to get your sea legs and apply your new skills on the car lot, in the furniture store, and job market. On those occasions when you get a resounding ‘no,’ be polite, but don’t let it discourage your efforts next time.

Embarrassment

Negotiation can be a lonely sport. Culturally, it’s sometimes frowned upon and those most likely to have been raised with haggling as the norm, are getting older and not passing along their skills. Once upon a time, a bit of price flexibility was expected in nearly all situations and consumers flexed their muscles more. Now, we assume prices are set in stone and shrink at the thought of being seen by our friends or co-workers trying to score a better deal. The implication of course, is that haggling suggests we can’t afford the sticker price. But since when did being smart or assertive with money suggest poverty — shouldn’t it suggest just the opposite? Like fear, embarrassment erodes with success. Look at the situation from new perspective: should it be an embarrassment to negotiate wisely? If someone overhears your haggling, is it an occasion for embarrassment or an opportunity to teach by example?

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Lack of Experience or Information

Once you’ve overcome roadblocks 1 and 2, the third will tumble easily. Experience is the ultimate educator and you’ll soon be identifying negotiation opportunities around every corner. Experience doesn’t take the place of information, however, so legwork is still important. Knowing how much that 1998 Honda is really worth can give you the confidence you need to start the discussion and haggle with less hesitation. Remember, do your research, own your past successes, and go!

Oblivious to the Option

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people pay full price for an item even in the rare circumstance where negotiating is still fully expected. I can only guess at the reason — do these folks not realize haggling is even an option? Do they have an antagonistic relationship with their money and want to dispose of it expeditiously? Remember, the list of situations where bargaining does work is far longer than the list of where it doesn’t. Granted, finding someone with the authority to make a decision on price may be more of challenge in national chain stores, but finding that person can be worth the trouble. I’ve negotiated the price of new shoes, the prices of a half-dozen used cars, new tires, and more than a few health club memberships. To employ a tired adage: you won’t know until you try.

We live in a society that implies inflexibility and standardization at nearly every turn. Neighborhood stores have given way to big box warehouses, town squares have been lost to malls, and quirky local shops have been replaced with formulaic national chains. Let’s defend at least some of our old consumer traditions and put the art of haggling back into what’s become the science of selling.

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Marla

Kentin, great post - I really enjoyed it. And, I agree that fear holds us back from doing more negotiating. My husband has a great line he uses at garage sales. He'll ask the price, and then say, "Will you take "$XX for it?" It works, a lot of the time. I still struggle with haggling, which I do mostly at farmer's markets. Being rebuffed makes me embarrassed, but I make myself keep trying, because like you said - you won't know until you try.

Kentin Waits's picture

Thanks, Marla -- your husband and I have the same 'go-to' phrase. Had a few rebuffs myself so-far this summer, but can usually just shrug them off and try again somewhere else. :)

Guest's picture

It generally doesn't hurt to ask. I suspect that some folks will probably wish they themselves had the guts to negotiate. As long as one isn't sacrificing self-respect, and it isn't in a clearly inappropriate situation, it can be worthwhile to ask. Is it that hard to hear someone say no?

Guest's picture

This post includes great points. When trying to negotiate a price, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The worst they could say is no.