Negotiation Is No Laughing Matter – Or Is It?

by Ed Brodow

Ed Brodow, Business Negotiation Expert

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 discount.

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 that.

So remember, laugh and the world laughs with you! Cry, and it's time to read my book.

Ed Brodow is a keynote speaker and negotiation guru on PBS, ABC News, Fox News, and Inside Edition. He is the author of Negotiation Boot Camp: How to Resolve Conflict, Satisfy Customers, and Make Better Deals. For more information on his keynotes and seminars, call 831-372-7270 or e-mail, and visit

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