By Colin Kennedy

Ever had a moment when you’re driving along and suddenly the red and blue lights start up behind you? I was driving down a hill on Auckland’s North Shore, my two oldest daughters in the backseat behind men, when a police officer ‘lit me up’, so to speak. And that’s when things got interesting.

I pulled over and responded to my oldest daughter’s inquiring looks with, “A policeman has just pulled me over, sweetheart”. The policeman walked past the rear passenger window, on his way to the driver’s window to speak to me. But when my daughters saw him they burst into tears; howling waterworks which startled even me (they told me later that they panicked because they thought I was going to jail).

The police officer, mildly rattled himself, asked me if I was aware I was doing 61 kilometres (or was it 62?) in a 50-kilometre zone? I was immediately contrite and apologetic, and followed that up by blaming my daughters – their crying had distracted me, I said, while driving down the hill… hence the slight lapse in concentration on a downward slope.

I feel ashamed to say that the kind police officer accepted my excuse and let me go with a warning. The point of this story is one about negotiation.

Author Herb Cohen refers to it in his book “You Can Negotiate Anything” – specifically, he says that “In any negotiation, you will increase your chances of success if you make things personal by getting the opposing side to identify with you as a human being”.

Clearly the cop was also a dad who has been in a car with screaming kids.

Cohen says this could be as simple as behaving decently and generally being likeable. In essence, when negotiating, don’t underestimate the power of personal connection. We do business with people we like and, sometimes, people who come across as vulnerable, win concessions.

Cohen identifies three factors that are crucial in a negotiation:


If you have to buy a specific model of fridge, the power rests with the sales person. If you tell her your brother got it last month for less, you invoke the power of precedent.

  1. Time

If you are on a deadline, the power rests with the other party. If it’s near the end of the month and they’re trying to make budget, you have the leverage.

  1. InformationIf your spouse says ‘he or she’ simply must have this house and they tell you that in front of the salesperson, well… make sure you control how much information you give to the other side.

Do your research before the negotiation so you go in with the greater balance of power.

In The Art of Negotiation, Michael Wheeler, advocates mapping your outcomes ahead of the negotiation. In other words, before entering a negotiation, make sure you:

  1. Plan for your stretch goal (best case scenario);
  2. Flesh out several possible compromises you would be happy to accept if you were to fall short of the stretch goal; and
  3. Know your limit, the point where the buck stops.

Finally, as most good negotiators will tell you, negotiation is not a war, it’s a collaboration. Aim for the win/win.

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