How To Negotiate Anything


Power, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. There’s a simple formula that anyone can use in order to increase their perceived power. By following that formula, you unlock the ability to successfully negotiate anything.

The formula is rather simple, yet for full effect, I’ll illustrate it with a powerful story.

Imagine a prisoner in a solitary confinement. The authorities have removed his shoe laces and his belt, because they don’t want him to hurt himself. (They are saving him for them for later on.) The wretch slouches back and forth in his cell, holding up his pants with his left hand, not only because he’s minus a belt, but because he’s minus fifteen pounds. The food they shove under the steel door is slop, and he refuses to eat it. But now, as he runs his fingertips over his ribs, his nostrils pick up the scent of a Marlboro cigarette, his favorite brand.


Through a tiny porthole in the door, he watches as the lone guard in the corridor sucks in a lungful, then exhales blissfully. Desperate for a cigarette, the prisoner respectfully taps on the door with the knuckles of his right hand.

The guard ambles over and contemptuously grunts, “What do you want?”

The prisoner replies, “I’d like a cigarette please… the kind you’re smoking: a Marlboro.”

The guard mistakenly perceives the prisoner as powerless, so he snorts derisively and turns his back.

The prisoner perceives his situation quite differently. He’s aware of his options; he’s willing to test his assumptions and take risks. So he taps again on the door with the knuckles of his right hand, this time commandingly.

The guard, exhaling a cloud of smoke, irritatedly turns his head. “Now what do you want?”


The prisoner responds, “Please, I would like one of your cigarettes within the next thirty seconds. If I don’t get it, I’m going to bang my head against the concrete wall till I’m a bloody mess and unconscious. When the prison officials pick me off the floor and revive me, I’ll swear you did it.

“Now, they’ll never believe me, but think of all the hearings you’ll have to attend and the commissions you’ll be testifying before. Think of the reports you’ll have to fill out in triplicate. Think of the administrivia you’ll be tangled in — all that as opposed to giving me one crummy Marlboro! Just one cigarette and I promise not to bother you again.”

Will the guard give him a Marlboro and light it up for him? Certainly. A quick cost-benefit analysis is sufficient for the guard’s perception of the situation to change completely.

So how can you, my dear reader, negotiate anything by altering other people’s perception of your power level?

Power formula: Be aware of your options, test your assumptions, take shrewdly calculated risks based on solid information, and be convinced that you possess the level of power that you want to display.

Remember; it is you who determines how others see, believe and react upon you.

Go ahead and renegotiate your term sheets, your salary, your responsibilities. Know what you’re worth and let them see it.

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