Is It Always Okay to Ask?

NegotiationA number of years ago I was at a garage sale with my wife and witnessed a man negotiate the price of a used copy of Huckleberry Finn from a quarter to a dime, and at the time was taken aback by it. How cheap can someone be? It’s Huckleberry Finn for crying out loud, arguable the single most important piece of American Literature.

At the time, with disgust in my voice, I mentioned the incident to my father-in-law who was a retired VP of Sales. His matter-of-fact response was “you never get what you don’t ask for.”

For the man buying Huckleberry Finn, I can only assume that it was the art of the deal that was most important to him. It was winning.

I don’t view negotiation that way. I’m more of a win-win kind of person. A negotiation is successful when both parties walk away happy, regardless of whether they got what they wanted. In the case of Huckleberry Finn, I would imagine both parties were happy – the person selling the book would probably have given it away just to get rid of it (that’s what garage sales are for) – but I just can’t get past the guy actually asking to discount something that only costs a quarter. Aren’t there limits on asking? Aren’t there things that just shouldn’t be negotiated?

What are your thoughts? Are you comfortable asking for anything? Do you think that there is always a winner and a loser in a negotiation?

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