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Homework. II.

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There are lots of social norms that go unbroken in Western society. These rules aren’t written anywhere, but everybody who belongs knows them. Sometimes some people break them, but there are social consequences.

One of the examples I’ve noticed recently is that it’s against the rules to close your eyes in public. As soon as you do it, you’re basically considered homeless. It doesn’t matter if you’re waiting for a six-course, $200-a-plate meal, because if you close your eyes, all of a sudden, it’s like WTF is he doing! :)

Here’s another rule that’s pretty much unbroken: in polite society, you don’t negotiate. It’s just wrong.

I was at a supper a few years ago with one other guy and four older women. It was a steakhouse, and we had a big meal, and joked around a lot. It was a good time. But then, at the end of the meal, when the waiter asks if everything was good and the other guy goes “no, it wasn’t.” He proceeds to complain a little about the steak, saying it wasn’t enough this and not enough that. At this point the whole table goes quiet. Everyone is obviously uncomfortable.

Negotiating is kind of like that. It just isn’t done. At least, not here.

I have another friend who was born in Eastern Europe, so he was taught to negotiate for everything. He has passed through the discomfort and come through the other side. He has negotiated with Best Buy, Future Shop, at the grocery store, and probably even at Starbucks. And he wins, because he cares less than the other guy.

The corollary to the previous paragraph is that part of what you pay for almost any service, you pay to prevent embarrassment. So this weekend, you’re going to negotiate.

This weekend’s homework is to negotiate for something you are not allowed to negotiate for.

You don’t need to win. You only need to try. It can be as simple as ordering a coffee and saying “oops, I only have $2″ instead of the $2.25 that’s needed. But if you’re going for a major purchase, try it there too.

Another way to do this is to bargain on side aspects of the purchase instead of the previous one. “Can I get it for $200, tax in?” or “Can you throw in a free USB cable?” are both good templates to use. Try either, or both.

Use whatever tactics you think are necessary. The point isn’t to pay less, though– it’s to push through the anxiety of breaking social norms.

Good luck with your assignment. Report back in the comments when you’re done.

* Filed by Julien at 4:22 pm under homework


Hi, I’m Julien Smith. I'm the founder and CEO of Breather.

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64 Responses to “Homework. II.”

  1. Pete Says:

    That’s going to be the tough one.

  2. Frank Says:

    I appreciate your writing and your posts. Always interesting and gets me thinking..love that!

    So this post…

    Its like asking guys if they exfoliate. That look at you like “wtf did you just ask me?”

    Then I respond, its just good for your skin man, dont look at me like that.

  3. Franklin Chen Says:

    I spent decades growing up in the United States, but even now am not sure I know all the “rules”.

    (1) Some months ago I was at my local public library and after checking out some books, decided to rest a bit before heading back out. I sat down and closed my eyes. After a while, someone came up to me and said I wasn’t allowed to sleep in the library. I said “OK, but I’m not sleeping; I’m just resting”. She then said I wasn’t allowed to close my eyes. WTF? I someone had not learned this “rule” all my life.

    (2) Since my parents were born outside the country, negotiation has been part of their daily existence, so I learned very quickly as a child that we were “weird”. It’s funny, because I thought that the US was all about free markets, competition, bargaining, etc. We Americans don’t seem to like markets as much as we claim to. I think there is some deep lesson to be learned here about what we claim to believe and how we act.

    • Fiona Says:

      That’s because if they let someone not homeless sleep, then someone who is will call their bluff. (“Hey, that guy was sleeping! Why can’t I?”)

      Libraries are pretty well known havens for the homeless (which is probably because we don’t offer the proper services, but that’s another topic).

  4. mars dorian Says:

    haha, I did that often in the past, when I was still wild and reckless ;)

    Good idea – I will try it out this weekend. It’s going to be exciting to see what will happen – I want to break through my shame barrier.

    Will you do your homework yourself ?

  5. Andrew Pressault Says:

    Julien,

    Can I tell you how much I love these homework assignments? The insight they provide is incredible. Not that I’ve ever been bad at eye contact, but to really focus on it actually changed the way I perceive passive social interaction.

    This one, again, a simple concept and task. But what it yields, tangible and otherwise, is fantastic.

    Keep up the great work, friend.

  6. Florin Says:

    I don’t usually bother with smaller purchases, but if you’re going for a big screen tv, a vacation package or anything over a few hundred dollars/euros, you HAVE to haggle!

    Whenever I go on vacation I talk to hotel booking and get more than 50% off everytime. In Salzburg I got a hotel room for 50 euros/day instead of 125, in Budapest it was 35 instead of 75. 75 euros per day in Germany means covering all the food and entry to museums and even a few drinks.

    So, HAGGLE, ALWAYS HAGGLE!

  7. Paul N. Says:

    Nice article. Very interested to read about more social norms …

  8. m.y. Says:

    If the barrista lets your off without paying that 25 cents, it will probably come out of his/her pocket when it comes time to balance the register. Negotiation isn’t bad in theory, but try to be mindful of who it affects. Its one thing to take 1% off of Best Buy’s profit margin on a purchase, but I would rather not take money out of the pockets of those making minimum wage.

  9. Nate Abele Says:

    I read this book when I was 11:

    http://www.amazon.com/You-Negotiate-Anything-Herb-Cohen/dp/0553281097/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1338647743&sr=8-1

    It was written by a masterful negotiator, and fundamentally changed how I viewed the world. Beyond the idea that everything is negotiable, I think it really helps you realize the broader point, that any assumption can (and often should) be questioned.

  10. Fiona Says:

    My two cents: complaining about something at the end of a meal (or anything) comes off as a ploy to get something for free. It’s not true negotiating. True negotiating is being upfront that you are trying to get something for less, and while I’m not a negotiator myself, there’s nothing wrong with that. If there truly is something wrong with your meal, call over the waiter or manager and complain then. Don’t eat it all or most of it and THEN complain after the fact. That’s just tacky and THAT’S why everyone at the table was uncomfortable.

    • Fiona Says:

      I also don’t think ordering the coffee and THEN saying you have two dollars is honest negotiation. Tell them before you order or it’s not negotiation.

      • Chuck Currie Says:

        I agree with Fiona (what a lovely name), you should only negotiate up front, and only with someone who has the authority to negotiate the price of the item or service, i.e., the owner or creator of the item/service, or their appointed representative, which could be the shop owner, or store manager (and then you are negotiating the retailer’s profit, not the creators price). Also, when you negotiate with a commissioned sales person, you are not negotiating the price/profit of the item, you are negotiating, with a few exceptions, their commission – the owner/creator/retailer still receives their price.

        For a good lesson in negotiating, watch an episode or two of “American Pickers” – the premise is scouring the back roads, barns, sheds, garages and warehouses of America looking for antiques, but it is really about the art of negotiation. You’ll see great examples of rule number 1 – caring less than the other person, and being able to just walk away.

        Thanks Julien, this is a great homework assignment, one I need to work on.

        Loved “The Flinch” – recommended it to my kids and FB friends. Also, loved your interview with Dave Asprey – the two of you are breathing new life into this 65 year old dude.

  11. Dave Doolin Says:

    This is true, and among those of us of a certain age, we learned negotiation and “backtalk” or “smartmouth” were essentially the same, and carried dire consequences.

  12. Raúl Colón Says:

    Julien,

    I remember about 10 + years ago watching an interview of Donald Trump I remember him saying he negotiated even buy his business suits.

    I don’t negotiate all the time. But when I see a business relationship where the other side is benefiting a lot more than I am and I am not sure if they care about me I negotiate.

    I buy produce from a Vendor all the time and he is always giving hand outs to his other customers, especially those that have the same religious beliefs.

    Every two weeks I go to where he is set up, I support him as much as I can, and the other day after buy around $50 of items (he only accepts cash) I needed $3 dollars to buy a meal from him. I asked him if I could hand him the 3 dollars on my next visit.

    He decided to say he could not make an exception and that he needed full payment. I understood completely and since my priority was getting that item I returned an item of $20 so I could complete my purchases. He lost out on more profit than the $3 we was going to give me a credit for and I understood that his objective is to squeeze very penny out of me at the moment.

    In the future will make sure to buy from others and not make him a priority in the list.

    In this case I use negotiation to validate how committed a person is in a relationship.

    I don’t do it often but many times I get some strange surprises on the way people respond!

  13. Karma Says:

    Dude, you need to get out more. Unsubscribed.

  14. Bob Says:

    My favorite negotiation question for low cost items is “How many of these do I need to buy before I get a quantity discount.” Ask before they know how many you want to buy.

  15. Victoria Says:

    Funny- I did this incidentally the other day while out shopping in a little boutique. Perhaps, more accurately, I felt the discomfort of bargaining, even though I didn’t initiate it.

    I admired a dress, the shop keeper (foreign, by the way, which might explain her apparent lack of discomfort with the encounter) agreed it was beautiful and said how she had one herself and that I would love it as well, to which I said something along the lines of “I’m sure I’d love it, but I can’t justify how expensive it is”, at which point she told me that she would make a deal for me. The way in which she said it, as though it was just a part of ordinary business and nothing to think about, was very much in her favor. I almost ended up buying the dress because she so nonchalantly offered to decrease her margins, not because I actually wanted the dress.

  16. verna Says:

    Evidently you can always negotiate on furniture. I have a friend who did it at Macy’s and won. I was told I could do it at a furniture store, but they would not give me a break. I have no problem trying to get a better deal, even if it’s as you say, at Starbucks. I returned a drink last week. I did not like it, and said so. I was going to put up with it, but no, I returned it and got my money. I did not accept a gift card or a different drink, I got what I wanted because I asked nicely.

  17. Suzanna Says:

    Julien,

    You are an insightful and brilliant young man. I know you homework assignments will help many to view their world in a different way.

    My husband has always fought the “flinch”, doing the unexpected. Imagine a 6’3′ 250 lb. bear of a man entering a packed elevator, and as the door closes, turning around and facing everyone, instead of looking at the door.

    The elevator rider’s expressions were priceless…confusion, fear – he is a powerful-looking man, after all – to giggles and outright laughter after he smiled his big grin at them.

    A ride to be remembered…as is life. Thank you for guiding others, your gift is invaluable.

  18. danielle Says:

    Great assignment. I negotiate all the time, it’s in my blood as I was raised by several strong female hagglers, and being a former food business owner, I know it goes both ways. Yes, many customers try and negotiate for food, but I also negotiated for my goods and expenses with food suppliers and vendors.
    These days I still negotiate, but not always on purpose. Yesterday I went in for my usual coffee and when I went to pay, I realized I had forgotten my wallet. I told the cashier and said I would have to leave the coffee as I had nothing to pay for it with, and she looked at me and said don’t worry about it. I appreciated that immensely! It’s things like that which keep me going back there, and today I left an extra tip to cover the cost just because. I also sometimes negotiate with the deli in my office when I get lunch; if my total is 3.26 and I only have 3.25 or just don’t feel like digging for change, sometimes I will offer them $3 flat or say I can charge it. Usually they will take the $3 flat since credit card fees suck. I appreciate places that are cool, I was the same way and in my mind it’s like if you scratch my back, I’ll surely scratch yours.
    Great topic and post, thank you again.

  19. Tim Says:

    Last year, when I was a sophomore in high school, I and a friend, Zach got in trouble for throwing water balloons at the track and field kids. We got sent to the assistant principal’s office where he gave us a detention. I tried to reason that our actions weren’t harmful and given that it was the last week of school, we should be forgiven. Zach was urgently trying to stop me, thinking I was off the rails. I told the principal if he waved us, we would give our word that we wouldn’t tell anyone about it so as to prevent inspiration in others. The principal seemed to find it amusing but I served time nonetheless. Afterwards, I felt like a stronger person.

  20. Naomi Says:

    Ooh, this is a good one. If you can adopt the attitude permanently, it can really open a lot of windows in your world. There is always room for bargaining and hope and little extras.

  21. Pedro Says:

    I’ve done the coffee thing many times, since I sometimes do lack the change. I decided to challenge myself this morning though, so I negotiated for a free muffin. Guess who was satisfied this morning? THIS GUY.

    For my two cents: if you attend a place regularly enough, like a coffee shop, make friends with the employees. Those seemingly small acquaintances go a long way.

  22. Jo-Anne Says:

    You use the word negotiate I use the word haggle but call it what ever you want it is not something I do, hubby though does it all the time when buying large items…….

  23. Laurie Buchanan Says:

    I’m in total agreement with M.Y. (comment #8) who said:

    “Negotiation isn’t bad in theory, but try to be mindful of who it affects.

  24. Jack L. Says:

    I was initially intimated by this Hw assignment, but I thought what the hell, I’ll give it a shot. Today when I was visiting my weekly hooker appointment, I decided to negotiate. I said, “I would like the tri-hole package for the price of the mono hole” To my surprise, it was not uncomfortable at all but she no. I remained silent to prolong the flinch, and thanks to your book, she gave in first and awarded my bravery with the dual hole package!

  25. Henrique Says:

    Are you kidding? I negotiate whenever I can, *specially* expensive stuff. Something that works for me is asking for a discount because I’m going to pay in cash. It usually goes like: “this notebook is X dollars”, “ok, I want 10% off, I’m paying in cash”, salesman goes talk to the manager, comes back with “ok, I can do 5% off”. Boom, instant 5% off just because you asked.

    • danielle Says:

      I totally agree, people/businesses like cash. Cash is truly king. I figure if you are gonna spend the money, you can get a discount many times by paying cash and the merchant is happy and you’re both happy. It’s a win-win most times, boom :-) Agreed

  26. Maureen Says:

    I too felt awkward at negotiating until I went to China. Everyone there negotiates for everything. What made me any different or special to try. All anyone can say is “no” and surprise….they didn’t.

  27. matthew allen miller Says:

    Just tried to get 3 drinks for the price of 2 in exchange for a favorable Tweet and/or Facebook check in. They denied my offer.

    • Andrew Says:

      I manage social media for local businesses… this is against Facebook and Twitter’s terms of service, and can result in the business receiving significant penalties.

      Not surprised in the least you were denied. Businesses cannot offer free or discounted items in exchange for a favorable review/check-in/tweet/etc, etc.

      • matthew allen miller Says:

        Well, then, I negotiated for something I’m not allowed to negotiate for. I think I get an A on this assignment.

  28. x Says:

    i’m from brazil and “negotiation” is common here. but one thing is to negotiate, ask for discounts (many places actually have a margin for discounts), another one is be “cheap”. also, sometimes when you “negotiate” the guy you’re negotiating with is about to take money from his share (of “tips” or “bonus” on the sale). also, if everyone negotiates it gets annoying and slow.

  29. Rosanna Says:

    I went to Harveys. I wanted a burger (what was it, the Canadian mushroom melt?! Names don’t matter)they had it on promotion a few weeks ago which is now over.
    I asked for it (the burger with mushrooms), they said it wasn’t available anymore. They offered some generic burger with bacon on it instead. I refused, I said it wasn’t MUSHROOM, and couldn’t be compared.
    I said I wouldn’t have any other burger, unless it had mushrooms on it (knowing they weren’t doing those anymore), so the manager said he could find the leftover mushrooms in the freezer from the other week, and make one for me especially, if I didn’t mind waiting 20 mins.
    I didn’t mind at all – I had just arrived from a trip abroad and had tons to chat about with my boyfriend.

    I got my freakin mushroom burger (and the manager’s personal offer of free drink refills) and I will remember the manager’s name now – Thank you, Des! Some people will go out of their way… you just have to negotiate nicely! haha :)

  30. Susan Cooper Says:

    That’s isn’t going to be easy for me, but I will give a go and let you know what happened. :)

  31. Suzan Bond Says:

    Negotiating has been very tough for me so this assignment was a bit intimidating. Not wanting to wimp out on this assignment (last week’s was great) I went for it at my first opportunity. I actually tried two new things. I went wig shopping. Now buying a wig let alone trying one on has never been something I’ve been comfortable with but have been dying to lately for some reason. Busting through fears I tried on a bunch of them. I selected two very fun anime looking wigs (pink and blue) and took them to the register where I asked for yes–a discount. The woman wasn’t authorized to do it but I was so proud of myself for doing it.

    Another thought on the negotiating thing. I see others do it all the time but rarely do it myself. Here’s the rub. I end up feeling taken advantage of because I’m playing by the “rules.” Now every situation may not be appropriate (ex. baristas who are making minimum wage) but there are times when it’s appropriate and wise to do so.

    Anyway, lots of thoughts from this assignment. Even though my attempt wasn’t successful I learned a few things:

    1. I don’t ask for what I want nearly as much as I should.
    2. Asking is much easier than I thought.
    3. I need to negotiate more. And I will.

    Thanks for the homework Julien.

  32. Justin Miller Says:

    J Smith,

    I am loving this. I plan on doing a little 30 day challenge where each week I tackle the homework you’re throwing out at the masses. Doing a little write up and what not of the experience. We’ll be finishing up the month with whatever you throw at us int he next 2 weeks. Maybe even continue this thing as long as possible.

    Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. I love it!

  33. Ken Says:

    Bargaining is a common norm here in the Philippines. Whenever we buy on a small retail store, we almost always ask for the smallest price the store could offer for the item or we ask for a free stuff that could go with the item. It was like a bidding system, just the other way around. Stores bid for the lowest price. (This doesn’t apply on malls and big retail stores).

    I wasn’t used to bargaining until I met my wife. She was good on making bargains and now I apply a little bit of it. I’m still shy of doing this. = )

  34. Deb) Says:

    Assignment complete. $20 off at the shoe store! :)

  35. Sarah Says:

    Sucess, I got a free beer on Friday. But I have to admit the previous beer (which I paid for) made it a little easier ;)

  36. Shane Jacob Says:

    This is easy enough. I guess like your friend in Eastern Europe, we guys in India are pretty comfortable negotiating…every where! :)

  37. Kat Says:

    Does it count if I negotiated with my husband regarding who will be making dinner all this week? Usually I plan and cook dinner, due to our work schedules. This week, however, he will be doing that three out of five days.

  38. Nattymctatty Says:

    Done! I picked up a basketful of reduced meat in the supermarket today and asked the assistant if she could reduce it some more for me as it was going to be out of date tomorrow. Result= a months worth of meat for my dinner reduced from £74 to £8.50 :-)

  39. Dave Says:

    I happened to get a quote for some tree service after I read this, so I thought, why not? and asked for and got $100 off the quote. Why did I not know I could do this years ago?

  40. Katrina Miller-Fallick Says:

    My fiance does this. CONSTANTLY. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him buy something with out trying to negotiate. And even though it’s HIM doing it, it makes me REALLY uncomfortable. Sometimes, when we eat out, I tell him what I want and run to the restroom while he orders so I can avoid listening to him try and negotiate for free drink refills or what not.

    That said, I AM at heart, very cheep. Or Thrifty. What ever. So I’m going to try and learn to appreciate my fiance’s negotiating, and NOT run away, but stay present, and try and get through the discomfort.

  41. Wade Shaw Says:

    I’ve spoken to a lot of concerned managers, and gotten a lot of worried waitreses. Everyone I negotiate with automatically assumes I wasn’t satisfied with the product, service, etc. They come out to “fix” the problem, and can’t wrap their minds around the absence of one, and the presence of a negotiation. Me maintaining eye contact through out our conversation rarely makes it easier for them.

  42. Lee Says:

    I’m loving the home work idea. Keep em coming.

    I’ve been having hot water problems in my apartment that my landlord has been taking his time to fix. Yesterday, I asked him if he’d knock $100 off the rent till it’s fixed.

    He said he’d get back to me, but my balls grew two sizes from just asking.

  43. Rachyl Says:

    My HVAC unit died last week; a combination of a failed compressor, low freon, and the fact that the thing is 13 years old made it more sensible to replace than repair.

    Today I got the proposal from the HVAC company. They offered me an $850 discount right off the bat because of who referred me to the company. I asked the VP of Sales if that was the best discount they could offer, and he said it was… but then he offered me instead an upgraded filtration system, $150 value, at no additional cost.

    You never know what you can get unless you ask.

  44. Matt K Says:

    Great Post. Everybody does always seem to get uncomfortable when you try to negotiate.

    My business partner does this all the time, at restaurants, retail stores, etc…..

  45. Kanchax Says:

    Oh yeah the closing eyes thing. I did that in a mall in Vermont a month ago.
    Had nothing to do, waiting for mom and sis. So I sat down on a bench and closed my eyes. People said many things. The one thing I will remember the most is this : Sit straight. I was not sitting straight and this aged man (I guess by the voice) told me to sit straight. From the dozens of commentaries and even some couple sitting on another bench observing me (heard them talk of me), that comment was really cool.

    Then I went to a pancake shop and turned “crazy” on the working staff. By that I mean that I knew they would fuck with us by the means of our food. And so even though when mom is there I give her command, I took the lead and took ourselves the fuck outta there. Those gays waiters aren’t straight talkers man. (Had to say the pun)They lie not well. Nor does the lesbians.

    I do not buy much stuff but will come back to you by tomorrow with a new life experience. Assigment II -style.

  46. Blaine Says:

    Went to Chapters and found an Ultimate Play Like The Greats guitar book on a last copies cart it was $25 reduced to $10. I negotiated a price of $5 and bought some other stuff. When I got home and looked at my receipt I realized they made a mistake and only charged me $.50. Score!

  47. Emily J Says:

    I was at the bank today setting up a small business account and it seemed like everytime the agent clicked in a different screen I was pre-approved for a credit card. I kept saying no because I’m trying to pay down the balances I have on two CCs I already have I don’t want to be tempted. I told her I’m not charging anything on my current cards to get them paid off. She tried to sell me on the low APR and balance transfer fee which was “only” 3%. I kept asking if I could get a 0 balance transfer fee. Kept the eye contact, kept asking saying I would apply for it on the spot if it were 0%. I even mentioned a competitor who I knew had 0% interest and no transfer fees but she didn’t budge. So I passed on their “great offer that won’t last long”. At least I tried.

  48. Russkiy Says:

    Yea…))) don’t try to do it Russia, otherwise you will be pledged for being greedy :)))

  49. Juan Pablo Says:

    In Toronto a few days ago, 5 days into “Faces for Change Ride”, a cross-country cycling ride to raise awareness for Malaria I was holed up in a friends apartment in York University trying to nurse a swelling knee back to health. The problem: I needed a proper ‘fitting’ for the clips in my cycling shoes and seat height adjustment along with several other minor/major tweaks.

    A ‘fitting’ costs about $100 and upwards to about $350-400, not wanting to afford myself the expense I negotiated with the store owner.
    Price paid: $0.
    What it cost me: a few hours of work around the shop + help in “how to Twitter”.

    Thanks for the homework assignment. I would have done it none-the-less, but since you posted and wanted comments, now I have something to share. Cheers!

  50. Dianne Monnier Says:

    OK – I did it and it felt weird. I ‘negotiated’ a commission and I did not expect the other party to go for it – in fact, I had ’3′ conditions. The response? “I accept all your conditions”. Mouth agape, I fell off my seat!
    There’s a really apt Dutch saying, ‘You already have a ‘no’ – you might get a ‘yes’ ;)

  51. Person of no consequence Says:

    this is late… but i got frozen yogurt and shaved a grand total of 3 cents off the price! Be proud…

  52. sylvain Says:

    Hate to negociate, and even hate being with people that do while i’m with them.

    Still, we bought a new car 2 weeks ago, so i decided to push it further than i would have done normally. Result ? Saved me an additional $1,000.

    Julien, i owe you one, next drink is on me.

    Cheers!

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