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The Stealth Negotiation Superpower: Playfulness

By |April 15, 2024

Here’s how I stumbled over the new superpower of playfulness to make a delightful deal…And learned the optimum time of day to make a deal.  

If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go as a team.

One day at about 10:30 in the morning, I was sitting down at my desk getting ready to pay a $3,300 medical bill. A bill I’m happy to pay in full.  My philosophy is to ask full price and overdeliver - so as a 2-way street, I don’t have a problem paying full price, I just expect others to over-deliver as well.

(Please don’t misconstrue this to mean I tolerate scope-creep.  I don’t.)

But I'm thinking… you know what?  I'm feeling kind of happy, I'm in a playful mood. Let me see if I can get a discount on this baby. 


Now, 10% discounts are a throwaway. Usually, if you call somebody up on the phone and make a reasonable case, and if the bill feels a little old to them… maybe 30 days old or even 60 days old, they’re probably open to a discount if they get the money on the spot. And…  as long as I'm not a complete jerk. 

The Black Swan rule is “never be mean to someone who can hurt you by doing nothing”.  Imagine what they can do for you if they feel like it?

So my mental calculation: $3,300 bill… by spending half an hour on the phone…a 10% discount equates to about $600 an hour. Yeah! I'm going to work for $600 an hour. 

I dial these people up to see what they have to say…And of course, I get their mind-numbing phone tree…

“Press 1 for… Press 2 for … etc.” And finally, “To pay your bill…press…” (Translation: “If you’re a deadbeat…settle up now.”)

I press that number and it rings through. The young lady on the other end of the phone says “hello”, 

Which isn't even…“Hi, how can I help you?”  Nothing at all. Just a straight “Hello”. 

My thoughts?  “Alright, so this is a little bit of a tough cookie.” 

But I'm in a playful mood. So I think the heck with it. Let's have fun with this, I say, “I owe you money!” in a very playful,kind of fun, self-effacing way. In an “I admit I’m guilty”  sort of playful and fun tone of voice. 

Her: “You got a billing number?”  

Me: “Yeah”, 

She looks it up and says:  “Oh, yes, you do” (but now she’s using a playful voice too).

Me: “I need to pay you guys before you come to my house and drag me out of my house.” And she starts to laugh. 

Her:  “Yeah, we will do that” (and now she is really laughing with me.)

Me: “If I pay the whole thing now…What kind of discount can I get?

Her:  “Let me check.”

I hear her talking a little bit away from the phone, andI hear “$700” in the background. And so I think, oh, okay, awesome!  I was hoping for 10% and it sounds like it’s going to be 20%...I am holding my breath.

She comes back on the line.

Her: “$700”.

I am delighted.  So to confirm I say “$700 Off?” 

Her: “No, no, we'll settle for $700”. 

I am floored by this response. I can't pay this baby fast enough. I'm really kind to her on the phone…I tell her, I appreciate it. I give her my credit card number and we settle that thing on the spot. She sends me an email invoice, showing that the whole amount has been paid. 

Your income is the average of the 5 people in your inner circle.

What happened? 

There were 2 critical elements of why this worked. 

#1:  I was in a playful mood. 

You're 31% smarter, if you're in a positive mood. Being positive and playful makes you more adept, quicker to understand and its easier for you to say the right things in the moment. 

Now, being playful, the empathy awareness that I need comes from asking myself…”What are these people actually thinking? What is the voice in their head saying to them about me or the situation?” 

And being playful, you know what the bulletproof emotional kicker is?  You’re fearless.

So I'm going to say what's on her mind and my tone of voice is not indicating to her that I'm whining, complaining, excusing or attacking in any way, shape or form. This is often the same as self-effacing humor. This is tactical empathy at its best. Your tone of voice is making your words land properly.

#2: Greenlight time.

Is there an optimum time of day?  About 10-ish in the morning, depending upon your day, is probably when you're at your sharpest.  And them too.

You’ve probably got a lot of mental gas in the tank. You may be fully caffeinated… You haven't been burned out by the day (decision fatigue).  

The post-lunch food coma hasn’t hit.  This of course is followed by your afternoon circadian low.  In very rough terms, your biorhythms hit their low points at about 3 am and 3 pm.  (This is why in the FBI we liked locking people up at about 5 am in the morning as they haven’t come out of that trough yet and tend to be more docile.) 

Now as it turns out, the person I'm calling on the other end of the phone is in the same time zone. And as it turns out, there's a pretty good chance this person is in green light time also… when she hasn't yet been worn out by the day.

When I get her on the phone. And it isn't “Hi, how may I help you?” It's just a simple “hello”, this tells me this person is tired of debtors calling in and making excuses. So when I hit her with a positive tone of voice, playful tone of voice, it triggers her’s as well.

I create more imagery in her head.

And what in fact, really happens with debtors? If it gets bad enough, they send the sheriff to take you out of your house. I go all the way there and laugh about that possibility with her. 

I've got her in a playful mood, which is completely going to impact when she turns around to whoever she works for, and pitches it.. 

Optimize your success.  Have fun.  Be a Black Swan.

The more people in your inner circle 

that share your approach to life’s negotiations,

the more prosperous you will be. 

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