How To Negotiate

One of the main reasons that lawsuits start–or that people give up once they have been screwed–is lack of good negotiating skills. This isn’t always the case, of course. Some corporations, landlords, customer service representatives, etc., are simply intractable. If you negotiate well, you may just get what you want. But even if you don’t, you will set yourself up to take the situation to the next level.

    • Make sure you are talking to someone who can give you what you want. If you aren’t, talk to that person.

    • Be up-front about what you want. If it will take a free month of phone service and a refund on your phone to make you happy, ask for that. However, be prepared to justify your request, and don’t get greedy.

    • Stay cool. You lose credibility and shut down the other person when you start yelling. Hang up the phone instead and try again later, with another person, if possible.

    • Confirm your understanding of any agreement in writing. Leave a paper trail. Recordings may also work.
    • Be understanding. Try to understand where the other person is coming from.

    • NEVER EVER MAKE EMPTY THREATS. Don’t threaten a lawsuit if you don’t intend to follow through (or know if you can). In fact, threatening a lawsuit is rarely effective, anyway. If you are at that point, just sue and pick up negotiations with their lawyer.

    • Corollary to the above, don’t make ineffective threats. Unfortunately, calling your state’s attorney general will rarely help anything, and companies know this. Same goes for reporting them to the FTC or the BBB. Do these things, by all means, but don’t use them as threats, because it probably won’t help.

What has worked for you? SAM GLOVER


Edit Your Comment

  1. Kornkob says:

    “Be understanding” should also be coupled with ‘Be reasonable’. Setting your expectations appropriately is a significant first step. If you go into a negotiation with an unreasonable set of demands or expecations, your outcome is almost certainly going to be a miserable failure.

  2. Terminixsux says:

    I agree that remaining calm and firm is the best approach. The BBB can be helpful, as they will contact the company on your behalf, but don’t think that they have your best interests at heart. Their(The BBB) goal seems to be to negotiate what they feel is an effective resolution. This is usually done at your expense, and once they feel they’ve “done their part” they’ll just ignore any further efforts on your part to obtain justice or fairness. My handle, Terminixsux, is a result of Terminix’s repeated failure to live up to their part of our contract, and the BBB failing to follow through on my complaint. I would never use any servicemaster company again, and I certainly wouldn’t ever trust Terminix with the pest control for my house. I lost an entire porch to carpenter ants while under their care. All they are interested in is getting you to sign a contract and pay them money. Once they have your money, you might as well just forget about any service. Screw Terminix, the BB and Servicemaster. Your best bet is to find a local small buisness owner whose livelihood depends on his reputation.

  3. FunPaul says:

    I prepare myself by organizing the reasons for the call, what it would take for me to be satisfied, and what I am prepared to do if my expectations are not met–usually stop doing business with them or take my business to a competitor.
    I will typically explain the facts of the situation and let the representative know how that differs from my expectations and how I came to have those expectations. I then ask them what they can do to resolve the situation. If they are able to exceed my expectations to make good, I let them know that it’s acceptable and I thank them for their efforts.
    If not, I will suggest what I’d like. From there it will either end in my accepting the resolution or explaining what I’m prepared to do if they are unable to resolve the situation.
    If a resolution cannot be reached I will follow through.
    I try to keep this as friendly as I can, you don’t need to show that you’re angry or frustrated to get results. I think people are actually more prone to help you if you remain friendly and personable. Be the type of person that they would like to continue doing business with.

  4. coopjust says:

    Eh, the BBB is sometimes effective because it shows that you have the time/interest to pursue the issue instead of making empty threats. Parago did my rebate (another legit rebate rejected…) after a BBB complaint with little hassle.

    Microsoft Xbox, on the other hand, just closed the BBB complaint. The Washington State AG and NY AG couldn’t do much, other than sending letters, but it made MS realize that I wouldn’t stop with a half baked resolution and I would pursue the matter. MS agreed to give me a brand new Xbox (after 4 broken refurbs, 4 months, and 30 hours on the phone). They also gave me Xbox Live time and an apology.

    Legal threats don’t work, as the article says, because most people don’t follow up. If you try to resolve it w/ a company, say you’re going to take action, and then you actually follow through, the company is MUCH more likely to listen to you.

    On SprintNextel, I should have been allowed to leave early w/o penalty due to a new Long Distance Federal Universal Service Fund charge (NOT A TAX OR GOVT. IMPOSED FEE). Reps lied, different stories, cursed, hung up.

    After a BBB and FCC complaint, I got a call, and an apology, from SprintNextel. They let me off (as they were legally required to).

  5. SmoovyG says:

    I’d add Be Prepared To Call Back. It’s been my experience that no matter how nice and helpful the rep is, there’s a 50/50 chance that the system at XYZ Company is somehow not going to process things exactly as you settled on them. Keep notes from your initial call, including names and exactly what you settled on and odds are whatever you were promised the first time will go through the second.

  6. wikkit says:


    If the BBB and AGs are ineffectual, what ultimate leverage do you recommend the consumer using?

    With a responsive company the consumer’s dissatisfaction or threats to discontinue service are enough leverage to get action, but the bread-and-butter of this website are the unresponsive companies. Is there a higher power or ultimate trump that can be invoked?

  7. Sam Glover says:

    @wikkit: One of the reasons I posted a negotiation howto is that there aren’t a lot of options between the company refusing to cooperate and a lawsuit.

    The BBB, as another mentioned, will make a note of your complaint and make a few phone calls to try to resolve the situation, but they aren’t really set up to get results. Neither is a state AG, unless they get hundreds of similar calls. State AGs aren’t allowed to bring suit on behalf of one consumer, and their letters to a company often look like this:

    “So this customer said you did this, and did you? Because if you did, that’s illegal and you shouldn’t have. But don’t worry, we won’t sue you anyway.”

    Basically, those charged with protecting consumers are either unable to protect individual consumers or have no interest in actually doing so (the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of Currency and it’s protective attitudes towards banks it is supposed to regulate comes to mind).

    So what can you do? You can negotiate effectively. And if that doesn’t work, complain effectively. Elevate the level of customer dissatisfaction using the Internet, but that’s about it, unless you want to sue. This is becoming more effective, particularly as a result of sites like Consumerist, but it isn’t very effective as a threat.

    And along those lines, maybe I’ll post a conciliation/small claims court how to this week.

  8. Empathy Empathy Empathy. Works all the time for me.

  9. tigerjade says:

    We pulled D.R. Horton (home builders) into line by going to the local troubleshooters (TV). We bought our first home from them in 2003, and some siding was ripped off in a storm; turns out it wasn’t nailed on according to regulations (it should be nailed on every stud (16″ apart) and instead was nailed every FOUR FEET). The entire neighborhood had the same issue; you could see siding warping everywhere you looked.

    They refused to replace or repair, even though the house was less than a year old, so we went to the troubleshooters for the local news stations. Within 24 hours of talking to the troubleshooters, D.R. Horton had their head siding crew out to our house to replace ALL the siding; it was more than we wanted, but we didn’t argue. :)