Ask for More

If you’re like most people, negotiations probably make you nervous.

If that’s not the case, then you’re pretty lucky because most people don’t like negotiating.

There are probably lots of reasons for this and we won’t go into them too much here, but I do want to go into why we should negotiate more, even when it doesn’t seem like we can.

In many cultures today, negotiating is a sort of dying art.  Business people negotiate over everything, but outside of business we usually only negotiate the price of a car or a house.  We may even be willing to negotiate the price of something we buy from a street vendor or from another private individual, but even that only happens some of the time.

I think that one reason for this is that prices usually seem to be set, and therefore non-negotiable.   For most of us, when we go the the grocery store, the price of a loaf of bread is whatever price is posted.  You can accept it or choose to not buy.  When we go to an electronics store, the price of an iPad is the price that’s posted and there’s no negotiating with the sales person.

The truth is, that in many settings where it doesn’t seem like we can negotiate, we actually can.  The issue is that only certain people at established businesses are authorized to negotiate.  The person working the cash register at a grocery store probably doesn’t have any power to negotiate.  But in a furniture store, for instance, the sales person often is given some authority to negotiate price.  And we leave a lot of value on the table for them when we choose to pay full price, all to avoid the discomfort of negotiating.

So I want you to think of negotiating in this type of circumstance a little bit differently.

In an exercise done in my negotiations course at the University of North Carolina participants were asked to play a round of a game called Scattergories, for which they would be compensated somewhere between $3 and $10.  After completing their round, each participant was offered $3.  Of them, only 25% asked to receive more after which they got the full $10 without any further negotiation.

Other participants, when offered the $3, were given advice from an another person to negotiate for more.  After that, the number of people who asked to receive more when up to 50%.  Apparently people are more willing to negotiate when they feel like it’s acceptable in the situation.

A third set of participants were given advice to simply “ask for more”.  After given that advice, all of these participants asked if they could receive more and each received the full $10.

So here’s how I want you to think about it.  Instead of framing it in your mind as a negotiation, think about simply asking for more (or less depending on the situation) when you think there might be a chance at a better deal.  When you view it this way, it’s less intimidating.

One thing to keep in mind is that the risk in asking is really low.  When you ask for a better deal, in almost every situation the worst likely outcome is that the person will say “no”.  And that’s fine.  Some people will let you know that they don’t have the power to change the price.  That’s okay.  It didn’t hurt to ask.  Sometimes they will just say that the stated price is their price and they aren’t willing to negotiate.  Oh well, it still didn’t hurt to ask.  But the payoff comes when people say “yes”.

A few months ago, I was traveling with my family through San Antonio, Texas.  We had planned to drive down to the beach in Corpus Christi one night, stay in a hotel, and then spend the next day on the beach.  But that night it was dark and raining really heavily.  When we checked the weather forecast, it became clear that a day at the beach wasn’t going to be any fun.  So we had to change our plans.

So we stopped at a restaurant and grabbed dinner before setting out to find a hotel.  I looked up a few options nearby that would suit our needs and picked one that was nearby and offered a good value.  I had been talking with my wife about this principle of “asking for more” so she challenged me to do that with the hotel attendant.

When I went inside, I asked about the rooms they had available to make sure they had the setup we wanted.  I then asked the price for one night and upon hearing the answer, I asked if that price could be reduced.  I offered as my reason that it was already late and that any vacant rooms wouldn’t bring in any income, so it’s not uncommon for hotels to offer discounts to people who book at the last minute.

She told me that she couldn’t change the price.  She wasn’t a manager, there wasn’t one on site, and the price in the computer was the she had to give me.  She then told me that there were some discounts that she was authorized to give, but they were for certain groups of people and I wasn’t a part of any of those groups.

“Oh well,” I figured.  It didn’t hurt anything to try.  If I really wanted to have a shot at a great price, I would have said something like “thanks anyway, we’ll just go look for another hotel.”  That might have gotten a manager on the phone.  But I chose not to.  My family was tired and just wanted a room.

A little bit later, as I was carrying things from the car into the room, I ran into the hotel attendant in the hall.  She was bringing blankets up to our room for the sofa bed for our son.  She told me in passing, “I went ahead and gave you the 10% discount.”

I was surprised, to say the least.

She didn’t have authorization to change the price, but she did have authorization to give certain discounts.  And she used that authorization to give me a discount that I didn’t qualify for because I asked.

There are lots of other cases where you can ask for more (or less).  I’ve listed a few ideas to get you thinking.

  • Furniture stores (or other stores where you buy expensive items)
  • Rent for apartments and houses
  • Most service companies (anywhere where you’re paying for someone’s time and expertise)

The point is that the stated price is often not set in stone.  There’s almost always room for negotiation.  I know it can be intimidating.  Trust me, I’m an introvert so I understand how uncomfortable this can be.  But what you’ll find is that it’s not as strange as you might think.  And if you treat it as just asking for a better price then it probably won’t seem strange at all to the other person.

So why not?  Ask for more!

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