by Roger Dawson
One of the cardinal rules of Power Negotiating is that you
should ask the other side for more than you expect to get.
Henry Kissinger went so far as to say, "Effectiveness
at the conference table depends upon overstating one's demands."
Think of some reasons why you should do this:
- Why should you ask the store for a bigger discount than
you think you have a chance of getting?
- Why should you ask your boss for an executive suite although
you think you'll be lucky to get a private office?
- If you're applying for a job, why should you ask for
more money and benefits than you think they'll give you?
- If you're dissatisfied with a meal in a restaurant, why
should you ask the captain to cancel the entire bill, even
though you think they will take off only the charge for
the offending item?
If you're a salesperson:
- Why, if you are convinced that the buyer wants to spread
the business around, should you still ask for it all?
- Why should you ask for full list price even if you know
it's higher than the buyer is paying now?
- Why should you ask the other person to invest in the
top of the line even when you're convinced they're so budget
conscious that they'll never spend that much?
- Why should you assume that they'd want to buy your extended
service warranty even though you know they've never done
that in the past?
If you thought about this, you probably came up with a few
good reasons to ask for more than you expect to get. The obvious
answer is that it gives you some negotiating room. If you're
selling, you can always come down, but you can never go up
on price. If you're buying, you can always go up, but you
can never come down. What you should be asking for is your
MPP-your maximum plausible position. This is the most that
you can ask for and still have the other side see some plausibility
in your position.
The less you know about the other side, the higher your initial
position should be, for two reasons:
- You may be off in your assumptions. If you don't know
the other person or his needs well, he may be willing to
pay more than you think. If he's selling, he may be willing
to take far less than you think.
- If this is a new relationship, you will appear much more
cooperative if you're able to make larger concessions. The
better you know the other person and his needs, the more
you can modify your position. Conversely, if the other side
doesn't know you, their initial demands may be more outrageous.
If you're asking for far more than your maximum plausible
position, imply some flexibility. If your initial position
seems outrageous to the other person and your attitude is
"take it or leave it," you may not even get the
negotiations started. The other person's response may simply
be, "Then we don't have anything to talk about."
You can get away with an outrageous opening position if you
imply some flexibility.
If you're buying real estate directly from the seller, you
might say, "I realize that you're asking $200,000 for
the property and based on everything you know that may seem
like a fair price to you. So perhaps you know something that
I don't know, but based on all the research that I've done,
it seems to me that we should be talking something closer
to $160,000." At that the seller may be thinking, "That's
ridiculous. I'll never sell it for that, but he does seem
to be sincere, so what do I have to lose if I spend some time
negotiating with him, just to see how high I can get him to
If you're a salesperson you might say to the buyer, "We
may be able to modify this position once we know your needs
more precisely, but based on what we know so far about the
quantities you'd be ordering, the quality of the packaging
and not needing just-in-time inventory, our best price would
be in the region of $2.25 per widget." At that the other
person will probably be thinking, "That's outrageous,
but there does seem to be some flexibility there, so I think
I'll invest some time negotiating with her and see how low
I can get her to go."
Unless you're already an experienced negotiator, here's the
problem you will have with this. Your real MPP is probably
much higher than you think it is. We all fear being ridiculed
by the other. So, we're all reluctant to take a position that
will cause the other person to laugh at us or put us down.
Because of this intimidation, you will probably feel like
modifying your MPP to the point where you're asking for less
than the maximum amount that the other person would think
Another reason for asking for more than you expect to get
will be obvious to you if you're a positive thinker: You might
just get it. You don't know how the universe is aligned that
day. Perhaps your patron saint is leaning over a cloud looking
down at you and thinking, "Wow, look at that nice person.
She's been working so hard for so long now, let's just give
her a break." So you might just get what you ask for
and the only way you'll find out is to ask for it.
In addition, asking for more than you expect to get increases
the perceived value of what you are offering. If you're applying
for a job and asking for more money than you expect to get,
you implant in the personnel director's mind the thought that
you are worth that much. If you're selling a car and asking
for more than you expect to get, it positions the buyer into
believing that the car is worth more.
Another advantage of asking for more than you expect to get
is that it prevents the negotiation from deadlocking. Take
a look at the Persian Gulf War. What were we asking Saddam
Hussein to do? (Perhaps asking is not exactly the right word.)
President George Bush, in his state of the Union address used
a beautiful piece of alliteration, probably written by Peggy
Noonan, to describe our opening negotiating position. He said,
"I'm not bragging, I'm not bluffing and I'm not bullying.
There are three things this man has to do. He has to get out
of Kuwait. He has to restore the legitimate government of
Kuwait (don't do what the Soviets did in Afghanistan and install
a puppet government). And he has to make reparations for the
damage that he's done." That was a very clear and precise
opening negotiating position. The problem was that this was
also our bottom line. It was also the least for which we were
prepared to settle. No wonder the situation deadlocked. It
had to deadlock because we didn't give Saddam Hussein room
to have a win.
If we'd have said, "Okay. We want you and all your cronies
exiled. We want a non-Arab neutral g overnment installed in
Baghdad. We want United Nations supervision of the removal
of all military equipment. In addition, we want you out of
Kuwait, the legitimate Kuwaiti government restored and reparation
for the damages that you did." Then we could have gotten
what we wanted and still given Saddam Hussein a win.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Roger,
Saddam Hussein was not on my Christmas card list last year.
He's not the kind of guy I want to give a win to." I
agree with that. However, it creates a problem in negotiation.
It creates deadlocks.
From the Persian Gulf scenario, you could draw one of two
conclusions. The first (and this is what Ross Perot might
say) is that our State Department negotiators are complete,
blithering idiots. What's the second possibility? Right. That
this was a situation where we wanted to create a deadlock,
because it served our purpose. We had absolutely no intention
of settling for just the three things that George Bush demanded
in his state of the Union address. General Schwarzkopf in
his biography It Doesn't Take a Hero said, "The
minute we got there, we understood that anything less than
a military victory was a defeat for the United States."
We couldn't let Saddam Hussein pull 600,000 troops back across
the border, leaving us wondering when he would choose to do
it again. We had to have a reason to go in and take care of
So, that was a situation where it served our purpose to create
a deadlock. What concerns me is that when you're involved
in a negotiation, you are inadvertently creating deadlocks,
because you don't have the courage to ask for more than you
expect to get.
A final reason-and it's the reason Power Negotiators say that
you should ask for more than you expect to get-is that it's
the only way you can create a climate where the other person
feels that he or she won. If you go in with your best offer
up front, there's no way that you can negotiate with the other
side and leave them feeling that they won.
- These are the inexperienced negotiators always wanting
to start with their best offer.
- This is the job applicant who is thinking, "This
is a tight job market and if I ask for too much money, they
won't even consider me."
- This is the person who's selling a house or a car and
thinking, "If I ask too much, they'll just laugh at
- This is the salesperson who is saying to her sales manager,
"I'm going out on this big proposal today, and I know
that it's going to be competitive. I know that they're getting
bids from people all over town. Let me cut the price up
front or we won't stand a chance of getting the order.
Power Negotiators know the value of asking for more than you
expect to get. It's the only way that you can create a climate
in which the other side feels that he or she won.
Let's recap the five reasons for asking for more than
you expect to get:
- You might just get it.
- It gives you some negotiating room.
- It raises the perceived value of what you're offering.
- It prevents the negotiation from deadlocking.
- It creates a climate in which the other side feels that
he or she won.
In highly publicized negotiations, such as when the football
players or airline pilots go on strike, the initial demands
that both sides make are absolutely outlandish. I remember
being involved in a union negotiation where the initial demands
were unbelievably outrageous. The union's demand was to triple
the employees' wages. The company's opening was to make it
an open shop-in other words, a voluntary union that would
effectively destroy the union's power at that location. Power
Negotiators know that the initial demands in these types of
negotiations are always extreme, however, so they don't let
it bother them.
Power Negotiators know that as the negotiations progress,
they will work their way toward the middle where they will
find a solution that both sides can accept. Then they can
both call a press conference and announce that they won in
An attorney friend of mine, John Broadfoot from Amarillo,
Texas, tested this theory for me. He was representing a buyer
of a piece of real estate, and even though he had a good deal
worked out, he thought, "I'll see how Roger's rule of
'Asking for More Than You Expect to Get,' works." So,
he dreamt up 23 paragraphs of requests to make of the seller.
Some of them were absolutely ridiculous. He felt sure that
at least half of them would be thrown out right away. To his
amazement, he found that the seller of the property took strong
objection to only one of the sentences in one of the paragraphs.
Even then John, as I had taught him, didn't give in right
away. He held out for a couple of days before he finally and
reluctantly conceded. Although he had given away only one
sentence in 23 paragraphs of requests, the seller still felt
that he had won in the negotiation. So always leave some room
to let the other person have a win. Power Negotiators always
ask for more than they expect to get.