Negotiation—The First Rule

When I do a workshop on negotiation skills I start off the session shuffling a deck of cards while reviewing the learning objectives.  The participants are naturally curious, so I ask how many of them play cards and which games they like.

Play a card, any card...

“Today I’m going to introduce you to a new card game.  It’s complex and requires your complete concentration,” I tell them.  “The game is called ‘War.’”  This always gets a laugh, as the game of War is a mindless and interminable game, one you often get trapped into playing with your young nephew, who can play it for hours.

So I get a learner to play a few cards with me in War and soon everyone gets the point.  War is boring, War is endless, War is pointless.  I tell the participants, “What if I change the rules a bit.  Suppose you play a card as before, but from now on I get to look at my cards and decide which one to play.  Let’s see how that works.  Ah, I see you have played a six,” I tell my opponent.  “I think I have a seven somewhere in this stack,” and so it goes.  I can’t lose at War with these rules can I?  Hold onto this thought for a minute.

If you were to ask all the top negotiators what they would consider to be the first rule of negotiation, they would likely tell you, “Get the other guy to talk first.  Don’t be the first to quote a price.  Let others tell you what they need,” and so on.

Teaching the card game of War easily demonstrates the power of having others play before you.  It’s where we get the expression “I’m putting all my cards on the table,” implying that “you are now free to see all that I have and need and you are now in an honest position to respond.”

For those of you who play poker, if I were to ask you where you would like to be seated at a poker table if the world’s best player were in the game, you would likely ask to sit on his left, so that you could make your decisions AFTER him.  It’s clearly a better place to be isn’t it?

Here is a more practical example of how this might work in real life.  You are trying to move forward on a complex business loan, sell a wealth instrument, or an insurance policy.  Your prospect at some point is going to ask, “How much will this cost?” or “What rate will I get?”  Take your time, but whatever you do, don’t quote a price.  Instead, just say, “I’m glad you brought that up. I know price (or rate, or fee) will be important, so let’s talk about it.  What are your expectations?  How important will rate be relative to the commitment fee?” or some other question that gets the prospect to turn a card over for you, in order to help you provide a better answer.  And NEVER quote a range of prices, because your prospect will remember only the lower one!

If you want to help your customer, get him or her to give you useful information.

Think Like Your Customer!

 Wow! July is almost here, and to give you a more relaxed July 4th weekend, I’ll send my newsletter on Tuesday July 12th.  Sign up for it by clicking on the ActionSystems website link to the right and then once on the site just click the “N” (top right) for newsletter.  Thank you.   Gregory

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

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