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Negotiation: Ask and Convince

The Four Phases of Negotiation – Part 1

All of us find ourselves in difficult situations from time to time. We need to mitigate the consequences of some sort of trouble or we need someone else to do something for us to resolve a problem. When I find myself in these situations my reflex is to just railroad my way to a solution. I have to remind myself that behaving that way won’t get me what I want. I have to step back and carefully implement the four phases of negotiation.

What this is not: This is not a method or guide to negotiation. It is not intended to replace all the other books, guides and methods that are available to teach you how to be a better negotiator. A list of some of the top books on negotiation methods and techniques is attached at the end of Part 2.

What this is: This is a guide to the levels of negotiation. Using a sports analogy, this is a description of the playing field – not the game to be played. Knowing where you are in the phases of negotiation allows you to better form strategy for your next step. Seeing your opponent misuse the phases of negotiation lets you in on the secret that they don’t know what they are doing. All knowledge of your opponent is critical.

Phase One: Ask

When angry or frustrated, many people forget that a great many situations can be resolved simply by asking the other person for their help. At this phase, I usually hold back from suggesting a solution. Sometimes I have received more than I expected by allowing them to solve my problem for me. The advantage to me is they get to feel better about solving the problem for me, instead of me telling them what to do. Additionally, they have been given the chance to be a hero and feel good about their job.

Be careful at this phase to listen carefully to their answer when you ask for help. Many people will tell you right up front that they don’t have the authority or ability to help. If you find yourself in this situation, ask them who can help or has the authority to fix the situation. One of my favorite axioms is “Never take no from someone who can’t say yes.” Keep going up in the organization until you get to the level of person who can help you.


Several years ago, I was staying at the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco and asked the concierge to suggest a restaurant for dinner. We were dressed in jeans and sweatshirts and weren’t going to change. He called and confirmed with a restaurant that our dress was acceptable and made the reservation for us. When we arrived, the restaurant was horrified at how we were dressed and wouldn’t seat us. I called the concierge and asked him what to do. He called one of the most popular restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf, pulled strings and got us a table. We walked right past the long line and were seated immediately. When we got back to the hotel there was a fruit basket waiting in the room with an apology – even though the problem with the first restaurant wasn’t his fault.

Phase Two: Convince

When you feel you are talking with someone who can help you and asking hasn’t gotten you the results you are seeking, then logic is your friend. You need to convince them that taking care of your situation is the best answer. This is the time to suggest a solution and explain why it is the best solution. Be thorough in explaining why your suggestion is the best solution. Be firm and pleasant and allow them to try to convince you that their side is right. If you find you are wrong, back down gracefully. If you still believe you are right, then stick to your guns and continue to convince your opponent in a kind and persistent manner.

If after a reasonable period of time you haven’t convinced the other person that your position is correct, you should consider asking for their superior. The person you are talking to may just be the wrong person to convince. Or they may secretly not have the authority to do what you need done. Often at this point, someone will tell me they don’t have a supervisor or their supervisor isn’t available. Rarely is this true, so persistence in asking can pay off with a person who is willing to help. If they insist that they don’t have a supervisor, ask to talk to the person who does their job review.

If you still can’t get to their supervisor, it’s time to “start at the top and work your way down.” Ask for the president or general manager or division head. If they don’t willingly transfer you, then get online to look up the president of the organization. Then contact them directly. No, you won’t get to the CEO. Yes, you will get to the most powerful person in the company, the CEO’s assistant.


I was trying to find the right person within IBM to solve a problem. Phone call after phone call wasn’t getting me anywhere. So I called the chairman’s office and asked them who I should be talking with to solve the problem. Immediately, I was put in touch with the person in charge of the global product line. When the product manager realized who my client was, he gave them a $50,000 system to resolve the problem.

Craig’s Rule: Choosers can’t be beggars

In the next post, I’ll walk you through the next two phases of negotiation: bribe and threaten. And I’ll list some good resources for learning more about negotiation.

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