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It was an early Saturday morning when I walked into my local post office to buy a stamp for my sister’s birthday card.”Uh, let me check,” the clerk responded, doubtful. He disappeared to the back then returned seconds later to relay what I already knew: “Sorry lady, we don’t have them. We do have a shipping label for 44 cents, though.”
I shot him a dirty look, raising the birthday card as evidence. How was I supposed to slap a shipping label on that? I know the post office is going bust, but not even stamps? I wanted to tweet Obama.
“What, you don’t want to buy it?”
“No, I don’t want to buy it,” I snapped, “it’ll look like crap. Where can I buy a stamp around here?”
“Uh, try the bodega.”
I followed his advice and braced myself as I asked the cashier for a stamp.
Indeed the bodega had the merchandise, but for this I would have to pay 60 cents–not 44, the actual value of a First Class stamp, and a 36.36% hike. Now I was pissed.
“I’ll pay you 50,” I said.
“What? No, you’ll pay me 60,” the cashier shot back.
“I’ll pay you 50 … or I’m leaving your store.”
“Fine,” the cashier said, now defeated. “Pay me 50. Take the damned stamp.”
I plunked down two quarters and left, pinching my stamp in hand victoriously. How did I turn things around?
According to Herb Cohen, a master negotiator and author of Negotiate This! By Caring But Not That Much, my back-and-forth with the idiot cashier actually employed one of the golden rules of good negotiation: You have to be prepared to walk away from the deal.
As Cohen explains on his site, “when you care too much and are over-invested emotionally, there is an increased flow of adrenaline which causes you to become doped-up and dumbed-down. This results in loss of perspective, impaired judgment and a focus on failure.”
I knew I could visit another post office or bodega to buy a stamp, and I still had a few days to mail the card before my sister’s birthday. But the bodega cashier wasn’t so sure: He’d assumed the post office would always be out of stamps or that the hipsters who frequented his store would actually think he sold them. Unfortunately for him (and perhaps the postal system), people still tend to buy stamps from USPS.
We’ll be writing more about negotiation and how this skill can make you a smarter consumer, but for now, remember to detach yourself from your emotions–you’ll appear more cool, collected, and confident, thereby forcing the other guy to give you what you want–and not take advantage of your wallet.