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Make, Don’t Ask

Published: Jan 22 , 2018
Author: Simon Letchford

In all the deals I’ve ever been involved in negotiating, both for myself and on behalf of clients, there are four words that have cost the most money…

“What do you propose?”

We train around 13,000 professionals a year in advanced negotiation skills, many of our participants have 20+ years of commercial experience, and most have done at least some form of formal negotiation training.

Yet when we ask them before the training the most obvious negotiator’s question of all - “Who should propose first?” - more than half get it wrong.

So what’s going on?

In my experience, at least 80% of the time the person who asks the other side to propose is disappointed with the answer. And then has all the work to do to drag the other side off that opening proposal without causing a loss of face. 80% - I don’t like them odds…

Imagine selling a car privately. A potential buyer turns up, likes the car a lot, and expresses interest. Are you going to ask them how much they’d like to pay? Of course not, because most people would propose a figure that works for them, not for you.

Yet people routinely ask the other side to go first. People give us a whole range of reasons:

  • It’s better to see where the other side is coming from;
  • Whoever goes first loses; or
  • They might offer me more than I want.

Or they say “whoever called the meeting”, or “the salesperson” should propose.

I call B/S on all of these. Deep down I believe there are two real, underlying reasons for people to avoid going first:

  • They’ve not learned how to confidently respond to NO; or
  • They don’t know what they want. i.e. they’re unsure what a good deal looks like.

Both are learnable skills. But for those who like the “Cliff’s Notes” versions of a good book, here’s the lazy negotiator’s simple 3-step process for getting more of what you want in life – whether you’re buying, selling or just trying to get rid of that old clunker car of yours:

  1. Do some homework and work out what you want;
  2. Be optimistic, realistic and specific;
  3. Propose It.

Propose dinner. Propose where you’ll go for vacation. Propose a pay-rise. Propose a follow-up meeting. Propose a price for that old car of yours.

Be bold. Be brave. Stop asking, and start making.


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Simon Letchford
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