The Quickest Way to Improve Your Negotiations

FYI, I'm not formally educated or licensed as a therapist, counselor, social worker, psychologist, or healthcare professional, though much of what I teach is informed by these. Curious about my background? Read my bio.

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Negotiation is a part of daily life—whether you work in business or not. Business people obviously negotiate deals with clients, work through pricing, make adjustments to terms in contracts, and more.

But spouses negotiate with each other when deciding where to eat, or which house chores each partner will take care of. Friends negotiate with each other when deciding what movie to see. Homeowners negotiate with contractors when trying to get repairs finished. And parents negotiate with their children over what they have to eat off their dinner plate before they can have dessert.

Just think back on the past 24 hours and look for moments where you were trying to get someone to help you, see your point of view, or otherwise influence someone in one form or another.

Next, think through how successful you were in those negotiations. Did you have to threaten or strong-arm the other person to get what you want? Did they threaten or strong-arm you? Did you both reach an agreement? If so, how did you feel about that? Was the conversation comfortable, or stressful?

For as often as we interact with people, it’s shocking to me that we don’t have more formal training on the best ways to do so. That’s one of the main reason I wrote my book and started this blog—to share the best practices and principles I’ve learned from over 4 years of therapy and 10 years of leadership in business.

This is Not a Negotiation “How-To”

This post isn’t going to cover all the ins and outs of how to be a shrewd negotiator. If you’re interested in diving deep into the subject, I highly recommend the book Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. That’s a worthy read.

Today, we’re going to focus in on a key principle that is often lacking in most “how to negotiate” guides, and most often forgotten when stakes are high.

That principle?


Allow me to explain.

People Like Nice People

Surprise! If you’re nice to people, people are more likely to be nice to you.

If you’re kind to someone, they’re more likely to see you as a friend instead of a foe. (Go figure.)

And—believe it or not—people are actually more likely to help you when you’re being kind to them, compared to when you’re yelling at them, threatening them, or otherwise trying to make them feel like a total idiot.

I know—this is earth-shattering stuff.

“But Michael,” you say, “I’m not about to be pushed around. What if I ask nicely, and they just say no? Or what if they agree to something, but then don’t actually do it? You’re saying I’m just supposed to make concessions or let it go?”

Not at all. In no way am I suggesting you go all soft on your negotiations, or give up what you want. What I’m saying is that you can hold your ground, make your point heard, hold people accountable, and fight for every last penny/concession/decision you need, all while showing respect for and understanding toward the other person.

And I’m suggesting that doing so will actually increase your chances of getting what you want.

For Example

My wife and I recently built a new home, and, while our overall experience with the builder has been quite positive, we have not had a great time getting a handful of warranty issues resolved.

Throughout the process of trying to get things taken care of properly, and without any additional cost on my end, I’ve had to go through several different people and escalate the issues fairly high up. As I did so, however, I was always careful to be respectful of the superintendents and contractors, because I know just about everyone they talk to is angry with them.

Whenever I’d call them up and talk with them, I’d jump on opportunities to validate how difficult their job is (having to juggle contractors who themselves aren’t very reliable), and be quick to point out when my frustration wasn’t their fault, but something they nevertheless had the responsibility to fix. The relief was always audible in their voices when they realized I wasn’t hostile, and appreciated the difficulty of their circumstance.

I then used other communication tips such as using “and” instead of “but” and validating when I don’t agree, and avoiding absolutes to help me as I held them accountable and asked for what I wanted.

A typical conversation might sound like this:

Me: “Hey Trent, can I get a firm date on when that sump pump will be put in?”

Trent: “Oh, shoot. Sorry, I don’t know when it’ll happen. But I know it’ll be soon.’

Me: “I appreciate your help with this, and I’d like to have a date, please. I’m sure you can appreciate that I’ve been asking for this for months, now, and nothing seems to move unless I call in and push.”

Trent: “Yeah, I’m sorry man, it’s just so hard with these contractors—none of them show up when they say they will, you know?”

Me: “Yeah, that’s gotta be really tough. Especially since I’m sure I’m not the only homeowner with warranty issues…”

Trent: “Yeah, man…you have no idea.”

Me: “So can I get a date? To be frank, I’m beyond frustrated with this situation. It’s been far too long and I feel like I’m being strung out. What else can I do?”

Trent: “Eh, you’re right. Let me talk to my boss. I will get back to you tomorrow at the latest with a concrete plan.”

This is more-or-less how my last conversation with this superintendent played out. And he did, in fact, get the issue resolved. Most of my conversations end positively, because I aim to stay on the other person’s “side.” It’s not “me vs. you,” it’s “me and you, working together to find a resolution.”

In fact, what led me to write this very post was the following compliment he later sent over:

“By the way, I’ve been meaning to thank you. You’ve been great to work with—especially since I know we’ve dropped the ball several times with you. You’ve always been so kind to me, and it’s made me want to do whatever I can to help you and make sure you’re taken care of. I can’t tell you how many other people outright yell and cuss at me when they’re trying to get stuff fixed, and what they don’t realize is that that makes me NOT want to help them at all! But you? I’m always thinking of ways I can help get your items done quicker. So thank you.”

Compelling, no?

Was That Situation Unique?

“Okay, Michael,” you may now say, “that’s a nice example, but there’s no way every negotiation is going to be that easy.”

You’re right.

And yet, in my 10 years of business, I’ve negotiated deals with some of the largest media companies, fitness brands, retailers, and manufacturers in the world. And I’ve not had a single negotiation not improve by taking this approach. In a few of those, I’ve come into the negotiation late—after someone else on my team had taken the “hard stance” and tried to force the other person to do what we wanted—and it wasn’t until we re-established some rapport that productive conversations continued.

In fact, just last year I was able to use validation, kindness, and sincere connection to help the other party realize we were “on the same side,” and strike a multi-million-dollar deal that we had lost the year prior.

Your mileage may vary, but—for me and my life—there’s no question that this works.

Final Thoughts

I’ll wrap up with the requisite disclaimer that every negotiation is different. I’m not saying every conversation has to be calm and collected, and play out exactly like my earlier example. There will absolutely be times when you need to play hardball and leverage your anger, frustration, etc. to make your point heard and fight for what you feel is right and fair. Yet even still, you can do so without belittling or berating the other person. Remember that they’re human, too. Keep the negotiation about the issue—not the other person—and you’ll reach a deal far quicker than those who don’t.

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