5 negotiation quotes you will use in real life

Feb. 27, 2020, 11:34 p.m.

Everyone wants things, right? Well, short of violence, the only way to get them is by asking nicely — aka negotiating.

Now, if you search “negotiation tips,” you’ll come up with wisdom nuggets like, “stay calm,” “listen closely,” “set goals” and “be creative.” As true as those truisms may be, they’re also universally applicable to the point of uselessness. What’s the alternative? “Get emotional” or “be unimaginative” as a solution to your problems? So now you’re thinking everything you know about the world is wrong … it probably is, and no thanks to me — but don’t worry. I took a negotiation class last quarter and am willing to (once again) violate my self-imposed no-listicle rule to bring you, well, it’s in the title. These are quotes from the instructor, Stan Christensen. Won’t find them in textbooks. Say these to yourself or to the other person as the shit is hitting the fan (or preferably before).

“Can we talk about X?”

Maybe your roommate likes to mix sardines and kimchi and cheese whiz, drizzle it with Sriracha, sprinkle with honey nut cheerios, microwave for two minutes, eat two bites, then leave a half-eaten bowl in the sink to collect water for days at a time. How do you start the conversation? You could say, “What the shit, bro,” or, “Stop that shit,” but he’ll go on defense, dig in, say “Nu-uh, stop being a [expletive]” — and now you have a sulky roommate on your hands. Framing with the above quote will start a collaboration instead of an argument, and lay the foundation for a healthy understanding of story, intentions and emotions.

Also useful: “I noticed a difference in how we do/think/talk about X…”

“The #1 skill is recognizing your own assumptions.”

Like most people, I started my negotiation journey thinking that I was going to learn how to get my way, but I found that what I really needed was to get out of my own way. Last summer, I was supposed to fly home with my youngest brother to visit our aging grandmother. When I was grounded from knee surgery, I tried to get my older brother to take my place, but he was against it. I assumed that the only way baby bro could fly is if he went with one of us — but big bro pointed out that the baby was, in fact, old enough to legally fly by himself, that airports inside security are some of the safest places for an unaccompanied teenager, and that it would be a great learning experience for him. As much as I love pushing my older brother’s buttons, this time I listened to him. In the end, I had to concede that he was right. Baby bro went to Greece on his own, and I avoided the logistical nightmare of coordinating new flights.

Also useful: “Why should I be open to persuasion?”

“Let’s see if we can squeeze more juice out of this lemon.”

It’s Christmas morning. Two people are fighting over an orange they each think Santa left for them, and it’s Salt Lake City, so every store within a 200-mile radius is closed. Easy, right? Solomon’s baby. Cut the thing in half. Person one goes to their garage hangout, squeezes the OJ out, makes a mimosa, throws the rest away. Person two goes to the kitchen grinds the rinds of half a peel, makes a fruitcake that tastes too much like a maraschino cherry. What’s the problem? Well, they could have had the orange juice and the peel, respectively, if they’d taken the time to understand what the other wanted. Then again, if you’re drinking mimosas alone in your garage on Christmas in Salt Lake City, you probably have bigger problems than low OJ content.

Also useful: “Is it possible to make this better for both sides?” or, “Why is this important to you?”

“Leave the last dollar on the table.”

Here’s the thing: everyone wants to “win.” Everyone wants to know they got the “most concessions,” or “broke their bottom line.” It’s a base satisfaction, like choking someone with their own collar in a jiu-jitsu match. But negotiations don’t happen in a vacuum. 

One day you’re chewing out a classmate in basic training, trying to get him to quit. Five years and a continent later he’s your team leader and you’re worried he’ll make you gargle his dip spit or something. Stan would say, “If we called [the class] ‘Relationship Building,’ no one would take it.” It’s sad but true. Unless we want to live isolated in a cabin in the woods (which I have to admit, sometimes sounds amazing), we’re going to have to get along with all these confusing, petty, complicated people. Don’t sacrifice a relationship for a quick win. Leave the last dollar on the table. Also remember that, to everyone else, you’re one of those people.

“You’re on video now, let’s continue this conversation.”

When all else fails.

Contact Nestor Walters at waltersx ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Nestor was born in Bangladesh, raised in Greece, and served 10 years in the U.S. Navy. He studied math as an undergraduate, and now studies applied mathematics and oceans as a master's student at Stanford.

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