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5 Negotiating Tips You Can Use Almost Anywhere

If you grew up in the U.S., chances are that you haven’t done a lot of negotiating. My first experience with negotiating was with a street artist selling watercolor views of the city in Salzburg, Austria. I was 18, and on a foreign exchange. I stopped to look, and the man spoke to me in rapid German and gave me a price. I knew just enough German to be able to carry out such a transaction, but I had to stand there in silence, staring at the picture, translating in my head. My silence lasted long enough that he quoted a lower price.

I haltingly asked him, in German, if he would take dollars instead of shillings (yes, this was before the introduction of the euro). That question, in probably-poor German, earned me a little English conversation, and a slightly better price, since he was excited to accept dollars. Not exactly a rousing success, by any stretch, since it happened by accident, but it did teach me an important rule about negotiating (a well-placed silence can be an asset in a negotiation), and I’ve since learned more:

1. Don’t Immediately Accept the First Offer

Whether you’re looking at the price of an item in the store, or negotiating in a crowded marketplace, you should avoid immediately accepting the first offer. You might not have as much wiggle room at a department store as you would at a yard sale. However, if you think you can get a better deal, there’s no reason to just pay the first price.

In a situation where you are deciding on a price for an item (or even a salary), try to get the other person to throw a number out there first. That will give you a good place to start from, and you can negotiate from there.

2. Make Sure You are Speaking with Someone Who can Deal

You can go in circles while trying to negotiate your credit card interest rate if you are on the phone with a customer service rep with no authority to really do anything. Instead, ask for a supervisor. Whether you are trying to negotiate a deal for a display item at the department store, or speaking with the person manning the stall at the local art fair, make sure you are, in fact talking to someone who can deal.

3. Remain Calm

While gesticulating and yelling can actually be a good way to get a deal in some places, negotiating in the U.S. doesn’t usually involve such emotion. In fact, you can sometimes give away too much if you get excited. If you gush about how much you love something, the seller doesn’t have as much incentive to go lower on the price. If you say, in an even voice, with a good poker face, “I like it well enough, but…I’m not sure…” you’ll do much better.

And, of course, you want to avoid profanities, yelling, and insults. Also, try to keep things a little quiet. If you are blatantly public, especially in a retail setting, you lose points since the manager or salesperson doesn’t want to have to give everyone the deal. Keep a calm, professional demeanor, and you’ll get much further.

4. Use Silence as a Negotiating Tool

Don’t be afraid to pause before responding. Indeed, a silence of between 30 and 45 seconds can seem interminable to some sellers. Under the cover of considering the offer, you can take a breath. The silence will put the seller off guard — and maybe even make him or her worry that the sale will be lost.

If you are with someone, excuse yourself to go off a little bit to “discuss” it. This worked when my husband and I were looking to by a dryer once. We went off a little bit to discuss the price, and my husband mentioned that maybe we could go to another store. The key is to do it so that you can be eavesdropped on, but not to be loud and obvious about it. We got a good deal, just by discussing the merits of pricing with each other.

5. Be Willing to Walk

You have to be willing to walk. If you show that you are willing to head out the door, you might get a better deal. So, before you go in, you need to know your limitations, and you need to know whether you can leave the item, job, or whatever it is behind.

(Photo: davecobb [3])