I want to share with you a personal secret that has been
of great value to me over the years. I'm a strong personal
believer in the use of humor in negotiation.
Humor does three things. First, when you inject a little humor
it can really lighten things up. Second, humor makes it easier
to be tough without offending anybody. And third, humor helps
when you don't want to answer a question.
First of all, humor can help you get what you want by breaking
up the tension. It makes people feel more comfortable. And
it shows that you don't take yourself too seriously.
I just read in Time Magazine that when we were negotiating
with the North Koreans for the release of an American pilot
who was shot down over their airspace, the chief U.S. negotiator
said to the North Korean negotiators, "Well, is he okay, does
he still have his fingernails?" There was a moment of silence
and then the North Koreans burst out laughing. Imagine how
much that remark eased the tension.
Then there's this little thing that I do when I buy something
in a store. I ask the salesperson, "Do you give veteran's
discounts?" It's amazing what happens. Sometimes they don't
get it, and they just say no. But more often I get
a big chuckle out of them, and quite often I get a substantial
I remember buying a lumbar backrest, one of those things that
you put in the small of your back when you sit. I asked the
salesman, "Do you give veteran's discounts?" He started to
laugh and he said, "What war?" I replied, "The Spanish American
War," which, for those of you who are too young to remember,
was in 1898. He practically fell down he was laughing so hard,
but he gave me a ten percent discount. It's hard to resist
a little well-placed humor.
Second, humor makes it easier for you to take a hard line
without offending anybody. I remember a sales presentation
where we asked the buyer, "Are we in the ballpark?" He said,
"Boys, you don't even have gloves!" We roared. It was hilarious.
But we got the point, which was, "Sharpen your pencils!"
Third, if you want to avoid answering a question, humor can
help. Just make a joke out of it. Politicians are good at
So remember, laugh and the world laughs with you! Cry, and
it's time to read my book.