Never Make a Concession When You're Negotiating Unless You Ask for Something in Return

Roger Dawson

Power Negotiators know that anytime the other side asks you for a concession in the negotiations, you should automatically ask for something in return. Let's look at a couple of ways of using the Trade-Off Gambit:

Let's say that you have sold your house, and the buyers ask you if they could move some of their furniture into the garage three days before closing. Although you wouldn't want to let them move into the house before closing, you see an advantage in letting them use the garage. It will get them emotionally involved and far less likely to create problems for you at closing. So you're almost eager to make the concession, but I want you to remember the rule: However small the concession they're asking you for, always ask for something in return. Say to them, "Let me check with my family and see how they feel about that, but let me ask you this: If we do that for you, what will you do for us?"

Perhaps you sell forklifts and you've sold a large order to a warehouse style hardware store. They've requested delivery on August 15-30 days ahead of their grand opening. Then the operations manager for the chain calls you and says, "We're running ahead of schedule on the store construction. We're thinking of moving up the store opening to take in the Labor Day weekend. Is there any way you could move up delivery of those fork lifts to next Wednesday?" You may be thinking, "That's great. They're sitting in our local warehouse ready to go, so I'd much rather move up the shipment and be paid sooner. We'll deliver them tomorrow if you want them." Although your initial inclination is to say, "That's fine," I still want you to use the Trade-Off Gambit. I want you to say, "Quite frankly I don't know whether we can get them there that soon. I'll have to check with my scheduling people, and see what they say about it. But let me ask you this, if we can do that for you, what can you do for us?"

One of three things is going to happen when you ask for something in return:

  1. You might just get something. The buyers of your house may be willing to increase the deposit, buy your patio furniture, or give your dog a good home. The hardware storeowners may just have been thinking, "Boy, have we got a problem here. What can we give them as an incentive to get them to move this shipment up?" So, they may just concede something to you. They may just say, "I'll tell accounting to cut the check for you today." Or "Take care of this for me, and I'll use you again for the store that we're opening in Chicago in December."

  2. By asking for something in return, you elevate the value of the concession. When you're negotiating, why give anything away? Always make the big deal out of it. You may need that later. Later you may be doing the walk through with the buyers of the house, and they've found a light switch that doesn't work. You're able to say, "Do know how it inconvenienced us to let you move your furniture into the garage? We did that for you, and now I want you to overlook this small problem." Later you may need to be able to go to the people at the hardware store and say, "Do you remember last August when you needed me to move that shipment up for you? You know how hard I had to talk to my people to get them to re-schedule all our shipments? We did that for you, so don't make me wait for our money. Cut me the check today, won't you?" When you elevate the value of the concession, you set it up for a trade-off later.

  3. It stops the grinding away process. This is the key reason why you should always use the Trade-Off Gambit. If they know that every time they ask you for something, you're going to ask for something in return, then it stops them constantly coming back for more. I can't tell you how many times a student of mine has come up to me at seminar or called my office and said to me, "Roger, can you help me with this? I thought I had a sweetheart of a deal put together. I didn't think that I would have any problems at all with this one. But in the very early stages, they asked me for a small concession. I was so happy to have their business that I told them, 'Sure, we can do that.' A week later they called me for another small concession, and I said: 'All right, I guess I can do that too.' Ever since then, it's been one darn thing after another. Now it looks as though the whole thing is going to fall apart on me." He should have known up front that when the other person asked him for that first small concession, he should have asked for something in return. "If we can do that for you, what can you do for us?"

I trained the top 50 salespeople at a Fortune 50 company that manufactures office equipment. They have what they call a Key Account Division that negotiates their largest accounts with their biggest customers. These people are heavy hitters. A salesperson at the seminar had just made a $43 million sale to an aircraft manufacturer. (That's not a record. When I trained people at a huge computer manufacturer's training headquarters, a salesperson in the audience had just closed a $3 billion dollar sale-and he was in my seminar taking notes!) This Key Account Division had its own vice-president, and he came up to me afterward to tell me, "Roger, that thing you told us about trading-off was the most valuable lesson I've ever learned in any seminar. I've been coming to seminars like this for years and thought that I'd heard it all, but I'd never been taught what a mistake it is to make a concession without asking for something in return. That's going to save us hundreds of thousands of dollars in the future."

Jack Wilson, who produced my video training tapes, told me that soon after I taught him this Gambit, he used it to save several thousand dollars. A television studio called him and told him that one of their camera operators was sick. Would Jack mind if they called one of the camera operators that Jack had under contract and ask him if he could fill in? It was just a courtesy call. Something that Jack would have said, "No problem," to in the past. However, this time he said, "If I do that for you, what will you do for me?" To his surprise, they said, "Tell you what. The next time you use our studio, if you run overtime, we'll waive the overtime charge." They had just conceded several thousand dollars to Jack, on something that he never would have asked for in the past.

Please use this Gambit word for word the way that I'm teaching them to you. If you change even a word, it can dramatically change the effect. If, for example, you change this from, "If we can do that for you what can you do for us?" to "If we do that for you, you will have to do this for us," you have become confrontational. You've become confrontational at a very sensitive point in the negotiations-when the other side is under pressure and is asking you for a favor. Of course, you're tempted to take advantage of this situation and ask for something specific in return. Don't do it. It could cause the negotiation to blow up in your face.

When you ask what they will give you in return, they may say, "Not a darn thing," or "You get to keep our business, that's what you get." That's fine, because you had everything to gain by asking and you haven't lost anything. If necessary, you can always revert to a position of insisting on a trade-off by saying, "I don't think I can get my people to agree to that unless you're prepared to accept a charge for expedited shipping" or "unless you're willing to move up the payment date."

Key points to remember:

  • When asked for a small concession by the other side, always ask for something in return.
  • Use this expression: "If we can do that for you, what can you do for me?"
  • You may just get something in return.
  • It elevates the value of the concession so that you can use it as a trade-off later.
  • Most important, it stops the grinding away process.
  • Don't change the wording and ask for something specific in return because it's too confrontational.

Roger Dawson is a professional speaker and the author of two best selling books on negotiating: Secrets of Power Negotiating and Secrets of Power Negotiating for Salespeople, both published by Career Press. He was inducted into the Speaker Hall of Fame in 1991.

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