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Negotiation Strategy: leverage the money-back guarantee to get more than your fair share (indirect threat)

This is a case study from this same website.
A customer of Social Power sought to negotiate additional benefits with an unstated thread.

More precisely, she indirectly threatened recourse to the money-back guarantee.

This can sometimes work, so let's see how she did it:

1. Ask A Trojan Horse Question

I call this technique the "trojan horse question".

It's a negotiation technique where you deliberately ask a question that forces the seller to either deny your first request, or to deny the product possess a certain feature.

At first blush, it seems a neutral, normal question.
But it serves to set up the negotiation power move (read on).

In this case, she asks if once the course fully unlocks, all the articles will also unlock:

machiavellian negotiation technique

98% of customers understand they're two different products.

The precedents also don't paint the best picture of her: she asked questions privately, blatantly ignoring my requests to please ask them in the forums. That does not show much respect for my boundaries and my time.
And she asked to receive a bonus ebook before it actually unlocked, suggesting she might feel like she's entitled to special treatment.

But let's extend the benefit of the doubt: as far as we know, this might also be an honest misunderstanding.
And from a power dynamics perspective, it doesn't matter whether it was premeditated or not.

Let's see:

2. Let The Seller Disqualify His Own Product

Her question put me in a position to deny.
The articles don't unlock because they are two different products, so I need to address that:

power negotiation example

Notice that I don't give an outright "no". I just describe the different state. This allows me to soften my denial, and I decrease the disqualification she cornered me into.

Now I'm on the back foot, and in a potentially vulnerable position.
I'm in a potentially vulnerable position because I had to disqualify my own product, potentially making the customer unhappy, which sets the customer up for a potential judge role -ie.: "I'm disappointed"-.

How does it work?
Like this:

  • If the seller denies you, the seller might start feeling he is being too tough and uncooperative, and it puts psychological pressure to be more accommodating towards your next request
  • If the seller denies the product has a certain feature, you have now successfully disqualified the product. And you made the seller admit it. That will put pressure on the seller to add more free stuff to make you happy again about the product
  • The customer sets herself up for a potential judge position and guilt-trip power move -ie.: "I'm disappointed, you need to do something to fix this"

Is It Fair, So Far?

This technique is borderline.
It can be annoying to be on the receiving end but, but if the buyer raises a real issue, it can still be part of fair negotiation -that's how I got a discount for the desktop computer with which I started this website, after all (see "low ball psychology")-.

The next step is to now place your request from a power position:

3. Cash In Your Power Position: Field Your Request For Freebies

Now, this is normally where you field your request.

You would ask to get something more, or a discount. And since the seller had to disqualify his own product and admit the weakness, you are far more likely to get it.

In this case, she asks:

Would you be willing to add the article subscription to my account?

I wouldn't have liked it because the suspicion was still that it was all premeditated. But I would have understood and I'd given her the benefit of the doubt.

However, she decides to go one step further.
And she adds the indirect threat:

4. Add A Threat For More Leverage

Now here comes the real assholish power move:

negotiation threat example

Look at that:

"let's figure this out before the trial period ends".

Those are the power moves that make me shake my head in mild disgust.
Her words communicate the following:

Do give me that additional subscription soon, or I might ask for a refund

As you might guess from my work, I'm not a big fan of this way of relating to people.
My reply:

thwarting a power move attempt
The straw that broke the camel back of course was the threat.
That moved her request from "possibly entitled" to "manipulative and covert aggressive", and deep into the realm of "asshol-ishness".
I started this website to teach people the power dynamics of bullying and abusive behavior.
So there was no chance in hell I'd acquiesce.

But not everyone operates under moral guidelines, so for completeness of analysis we must ask:

Is This Technique Effective?

Yes, it often is.

It makes you come across like an asshole, but it can often work.

Bigger corporations often give freebies just to keep customers happy and avoid bad online reviews.

And it would also work most of the time for smaller businesses that operate on a rational basis instead of a value-driven basis. The most rational choice indeed is to give it to her, avoid the risk for a refund request, and keep a happy customer -and people who bought the subscription would never know that someone got it for free-.

This why being a principled human being is a choice not always based on effectiveness, but on principles.
Most of the time, being a principled man works in your favor. But not always. And that's why those who chose a principled life truly stand on a category of their own.

Deleted user and DM have reacted to this post.
Deleted userDM
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Hey Lucio,

The manipulative nature of that covert threat she gave reminds me of a shady persuasion tactic that is common in the world of pyramid schemes.

A lot of recruiters in pyramid schemes use this frame control technique (from minute mark 6:14 - 6:29) to get people to buy into their programs.

Recruiter: "Nobody never doesn't have the money. It's just whether or not they're willing to go the extra lengths to get it. Here's an example: your mother is dying in the hospital and you need 32 hundred dollars for an emergency operation. Are you going to get the money, yes or no?"

I could be wrong, but this feels like frame widening and is hard to argue with without subjecting yourself to being judged. This leading question invites some added social pressure for you not to be the one who admits they would not fight to save their loved one (and feels like the strategic manipulation you'd see from Tai Lopez).

Your breakdown of the threat that was added for leverage in your case study above was great and I definitely would not have noticed it had it been done to me. I know you are big on giving people the tools to stand up to bullies as well as manipulators in your blog, forum, course, etc., so if you have any thoughts on this manipulative persuasion tactic, I'd love to hear them :).

Best Regards,


Hello Ali!

I would consider that tactic part of a "hard-sell" strategy.
And yes, I would definitely consider it manipulative. And especially annoying from a power dynamic point of view, as they're basically trying to bully you into buying.

It can be effective, unluckily, but only under certain conditions.
Hard-sell techniques are known for having a lot of unhappy and disgruntled customers -of course-, so you can expect a higher incidence of bad reviews and money-back requests.

A good way of answering that questions is by not accepting their frame in the first place.
That's the most important part, whatever you do next is up to you, from walking away, to telling them "shut the fuck up, you snake oil salesman", to telling them they're acting like bullies, or a to a more civilized answer such as:

You: Sorry, but that's nonsense to compare a sick mother to the attendance of a course.
The problem here is not if we can find money, the problem here is if our money goes to a trustworthy organization. That's the issue here: trust. And frankly, the more you keep on going with your aggressive hard-sale tactics, the more you lose our trust

Basically, you reframe from "stop making excuses, you can find the money" to "stop being an aggressive dick, it's about trust, and you're losing our trust".
You're also giving him a chance of changing tack and do some proper, better sale, instead of relying on bullying. If they change approach, then you can also give them a chance -albeit always keep in mind that they first approached you with a bullying tactic, and that weighs against them-.

Notice also the use of "our", plural, in the above example.
That way you set the frame of one against many instead of "you VS him". If you do it well, you can become a bit of a leader figure for everyone around who's also skeptical and they'll start to coalesce around you.

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Hi everyone,

I've been working through the negotiation and persuasion course from Yale I spoke about in my blog post "MOOCs to Increase Your Personal Power" and I came across a negotiation strategy called "The Nibble". This strategy sounds vaguely familiar to Lucio's first post in this thread:

1. Leverage the Law of Social Effort

As negotiation expert Herb Cohen says, "

In this particular example, we'll say that I am a salesman at an exclusive men's suit shop. Now, you've tried on over seven suits thus far and I am exasperated with you. Just as I've made up my mind that you're never going to buy a suit, you turn to me and say:

You: ""

2. Let The Seller Enter a False Sense of Security

3. Cash In Your Power Position: Field Your Request For Freebies

*I'll be quoting Lucio a bit here so you can see the similarity between this negotiation strategy and the one used in his first post at the top of this thread.

Now, this is normally where you field your request.

You would ask to get something more, or a discount. And since I (the salesman) had to invest so much into this sale, you are far more likely to get it.

In this case, you ask:

You: What kind of tie will you be throwing in free?

I wouldn't have liked it because the suspicion was that this was all premeditated. However, more often than not, this works because as Herb Cohen said, "...

3.1 The Added Threat For More Leverage

Take another look at that:

You: What kind of tie will you be throwing in free?

Those words communicate the following:

Do give me that tie now, or I might walk away from this deal.

How to Avoid Their Power Move

In frame control techniques we learned that when you want to avoid escalating an unnecessary frame battle, which you could also likely lose, instead turn it into a joke. This is called Using Humor to Control the Frame (AKA: “Humor Framing”). This is what that might look like after recognizing the game being played:


And you treat it like it's a joke.

Is This Technique Effective?

Yes. More often than not, people will notice the game that was just played but don't know how to effectively react to it. Remember, there are three basics to power:

  1. You (how you talk, walk, stand, lead, etc.)
  2. Reading power dynamics (emotional intelligence)
  3. Acting on power dynamics (social intelligence)

Most people don't know how to act on this power move in a socially intelligent manner, so they give in to the buyer's demands to avoid losing the sale. If the buyer is a tough negotiator and sees that you've given him an inch, he may even go so far as to say:

Customer: "How about a shirt as well?"

And it would also work most of the time since you are still invested in the deal.

This is quite Machiavellian and I'm glad I could share it with you all. I'm having an incredible amount of fun learning negotiating from this course, but I feel like I wouldn't appreciate it as much if I didn't have access to the Social Power course. I'll be sure to post a review of the Yale course after I've completed it.



P.S. I seem to be having trouble using the "insert link" feature in my forum posts. Not sure if it's just me or my computer, but when I click the icon I am scrolled down to the bottom of the page with no text box to insert the link.

Zeph has reacted to this post.

Thank for sharing, Ali!

Yeah, nibbling can be annoying, and push people on the edge.
I remember one example, I think from "power negotiating". The buyer had negotiated a very low price on a set of trucks from a guy who had gone bankrupt.

The seller was already not well inclined towards the buyer. Right at the signature time, the buyer said "oh, and you're gonna put new tires on those trucks, right?"

The seller got up and walked away.
Deal thrown away, and a lot of wasted time.
That's the danger of pissing people off and coming across as an asshole: some people might not operate rationally anymore, they just want to hurt you back if they feel like you're taking advantage of them.

Curious to hear your review on that course!

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I tried out this technique for myself today to see what kind of results I would get in terms of effectiveness:

I wasn't sure when the canister would be arriving, but I was pretty sure it wouldn't arrive today. So, I asked that "trojan horse question" above to get them to disqualify themselves.

They responded with:

As it turned out, the product was expected to arrive today. Which, was also great news for me because I was looking forward to it (I ordered it close to the weekend and it only delivers on business days, so I had to be extra patient before I could get my hands on this canister :).

Unfortunately, a mixup happened on UPS's side where they dropped the ball. So, since I ordered my shipping through the company (and not UPS), I pose the trojan horse question to the company again (this time knowing what their answer would be):

I highlighted the time above to show that we have reached the end of the day. At least, it's too late in the day for anyone to be shipping anything where I am.

Also, my choice to make the final sentences of my emails closed-ended that way is referred to as the "yes/no test" by Ramit Sethi. It helps set up a clear call-to-action for the receiver.

Their response:

Awesome, loved their response. The only issue was they weren't going to do anything to try and right this wrong, and I didn't feel like that was fair since I was genuinely looking forward to this order and would, in fact, be a long-term customer for them if I enjoyed it.

More than that, I paid for my order to arrive today. Not tomorrow.

So, I cashed in my power position to field my request:

As you can see, I fielded that request at 9:02 PM. And, in only two minutes I got a full refund on the shipping costs:

As annoying as it might have been for the receiver and even though this was premeditated, I believe this was all in fair play due to the circumstances.

I foresaw that my package wouldn't arrive on time, expected fairness since I paid for it to, and set up the trojan horse technique in advance to help make sure I could get my fair share back. (And, as a result of being collaborative all throughout, the silver medal technique wasn't even needed here.)

Feel free to share your thoughts on this case study below (I'd also be curious to hear anyone's views on the ethics of this exchange).

Matthew Whitewood has reacted to this post.
Matthew Whitewood

I think it's fair :).
I would expect a faster delivery when I pay more for that.

I find it annoying when companies play with words and say "on track" rather than "it's going to arrive".

I think, in this case, the trojan horse question is about asserting what you agreed upon.

It may even be value-adding because the company may start respecting the agreement of faster delivery if enough customers highlight this.

Thanks for sharing this.
I may use this technique too in the future when needed.

Ali Scarlett has reacted to this post.
Ali Scarlett

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