Secrets of Power Negotiating: Summary & Review

secrets of power negotiating

Secrets of Power Negotiating (1987) is a book on negotiation, negotiation power dynamics, and, as the author calls them, a list of “negotiating gambits” that will help you become a more astute negotiator.

Bullet Summary

  • Learn all the gambits: negotiating is a skill
  • Never say you are the ultimate decision-maker, always say there is a higher authority above you that you must check with
  • Flinch when the other party makes the first offer

Full Summary

About The Author: Roger Dawson Roger Dawson is a trainer, public speaker, author, and expert in negotiations.


Negotiating is a super quick way of making (or saving) money. If you are negotiating a house, but even a car… Or a piece of furniture, you can make the equivalent of thousands of dollars in an hour.
And it’s all bottom dollars: no taxes and expenses.

1. Ask for More Than You Expect

You ask for more for two reasons:

  1. You never know he might be willing to give it
  2. You will seem more cooperative when you will make larger concessions

But if you are asking for way more than plausible imply some flexibility or you might look out of touch with reality.

2. Never Say Yes to First Offer

Saying yes right away triggers two thoughts from the other side

  1. “I didn’t do as good as I could have” and he’s not happy with the result
  2. “there must be something wrong”

In the first case, they will be unhappy and the relationship will sour. In the second case, they might even pull out of the deal.

3. Flinch At Their First Offer

Always react with some shock at their first offer.
Most of the time, a concession will follow right away.

When you don’t flinch and take the first offer seriously, then the seller (or buyer) will feel legitimized by their first offer and will try to defend it.

4. Avoid Confrontation

When you escalate an issue you push the other party to want to prove you wrong.

5. Be Reluctant

If you look eager, you show a weak hand and the other party will feel like they can do better.
Show yourself reluctant, instead, like you’re not sure like they need to push you and cajole a bit more.

Playing reluctant at the beginning is a great way to lower their demands before the negotiation even starts

When people play reluctant on you

If somebody is pretending to be reluctant at your price, say the following:

I’m afraid there is not so much flexibility on the price, but if you tell me what you are looking for (make him commit first) I’ll bring to my team (higher authority) and I’ll try to convince them (good guy/bad guy)

6. The Vise

The vise technique is a simple sentence:

You’ll have to do better than that

Then don’t say anything and let them change their own stance with a concession.

Responding to the vise

An experienced power negotiator will answer in a way that makes the other party commit first without making any concession:

How much better exactly

7. Higher Authority

Weak negotiators fall prey to their own egos and present themselves as the ones with final authority.
Much better instead if you can refer to a vague, higher authority that must approve.

With a high authority, you can:

  • Play the good guy (you) and assign the bad guy to the higher authority
  • Ask for tough concessions without seeming nasty (higher authority requirements)

The author for example would negotiate the best price he could get. Then he would say it looks good but he only needs to run it through the board.
After a few days, he’d get back in touch and say the board is being difficult and needed some better terms.

Higher Authority Example

The author used to take pride in being the owner of the flats he was renting.

Then he realized that people always bothered him with too many questions, asked him for exceptions, and didn’t pay on time because they thought he must have been rich and not needed the money.
Then he started introducing himself as the middleman for some foreign investors instead.
And when they’d ask him to pay late, he’d say:

I understand, sometimes it can get difficult, but on this property my hands are tied.
They told me that if the rent is not due on time I must file an eviction notice.
What can we do to get the rent on time?

Or when you want to say no to a proposal right away you could say:

Yeah, I see your point, but the commiteee has already rejected a few proposals around that price

Putting Pressure Example

Imagine you’re a buyer and would like to spend 20k on a product. The quote comes in at 25k though.

You could say:

Wow, that’s much more than I was expecting. I’d need to wait for the committee on that. I’d be comfortable giving you the go ahead for 20k, but anything above I’d need to hold off until the committee convenes.

And there you just created enough pressure that the seller might want to make the sale right away and give it at your price.

Dealing With Higher Authority

Ideally, you want to remove the recourse to higher authority right away. And you do that by having the other party admit that he can make a decision.
You could say:

“If the offer (or car/proposal) meets all your needs, is there any reason you wouldn’t give me a decision today?

If they are shrewd to avoid that, use the following 3 steps:

  1. Appeal to their ego (they always listen to you, don’t they?)
  2. Get a commitment to recommend it 2 (“You will recommend it, won’t you?”)
  3. Write “subject to” close (in your proposal write “subject to committee rejection within 24h”)

8. Get Counter-Concessions Right Away

The value of a service or of a nice act quickly depreciates and becomes the status quo.
If you do a favor, that means you won’t be able to get a favor back if you let too much time pass.
That’s why you would get concessions for your own concessions.

How to ask it

Roger Dawson recommends you use the following sentence:

If we can do that for you, what can you do for us?

My note:
I don’t personally agree with that sentence, which feels highly impersonal and blatantly manipulative -also read Never Split the Difference

Manipulation: Techniques, Strategies, & Ethics

9. Never Offer to Split the Difference

When people offer to “meet in the middle” play dumb.
Say that

Oh, you mean like you could go down (or up) at X? Let me talk to my partners and see what they think.

And then you have just moved the negotiation range with the previous middle now being the low-bound.

10. Overcoming Impasses

When you’re facing an impasse, put the big issue aside and deal with the other small ones. That will allow you to rebuild momentum.

11. Good Guy / Bad Guy

One negotiator will pretend they are angry at your proposal and might storm out.
The other one will say they will try to appease them… If you can make a few concessions here and there.

This is the most obvious example (and BTW: you should avoid negotiating with two people when you’re alone in general).

It can be used in conjunction with higher authority, where the negotiator says that the committee doesn’t usually like X but he’ll try to soften them.

Counter Moves

When people use good guy/bad guy against the author recommend you:

  • Shame them (come on, you aren’t using a good guy/bad guy against me)
  • Create your own bad guy
  • When he shows up with someone else, jump in and say “I’m sure you’re here to play the bad guy, let’s skip that and find a win-win approach, fair enough?”
  • Call the bluff in your mind, know what they’re up but don’t say anything

12. Nibbling

At the end of the negotiation, when the tension is releasing, try to have another go at something you couldn’t get earlier. Or add something new.

Counter Move

You could say something like:

Oh come on, you are getting an awesome deal (you’re not trying to squeeze us with the last penny now)

Do it with a smile on your face so it’s not confrontational and they know you’re not taking them seriously.

And also:

  • Negotiate all details in advance
  • Make the other party feel like they won

13. Taper Your Concessions

Don’t make a final big concession and then say “that’s the most I can do”.
If the concession is too big the other party feels like you still have room to go.
Decrease your concessions instead until you say “now that’s it”.

14. Never Give Your Bottom Line Up Front

Some people say they don’t like wasting time negotiating and giving their final price in their opening sentence.
But these people, say the author, are doing it all wrong.

Some other times you can get tricked into giving your bottom line. For example, a customer might show up and say “we have 2 other similar products we want to go for.
But just to take a quick look, can you give us your absolute bottom line price”.

15. Withdrawing the Offer

If you are dealing with a very interested party you can pretend your committee rejected your last negotiation round and is also vetoing the previous one.
Now the bottom line price you can do is X (X being higher than what you had told him before you were comfortable with).

This is a big gambit that can make or break a deal.

16. Make The Other Feel Good

You don’t want to lose a negotiation just because of the other party’s ego. Watch out not to push too much and to give something.

Also, read:

17. Cherry Picking

Cherry picking is shopping around for options, then going to your favorite provider and trying to make him match his competitors on their favorable terms.


You should try to stop your prospects from shopping around by showing your great knowledge in the field. Once they realize you can tell them what your competitors will propose, they might realize there’s no point in wasting time.

18. Time Pressure

80% of the concessions happen in the last 20% of the allotted time.
Some unethical negotiators can use time against you, and that’s why you should never reveal if you have a deadline.

When time pressure works on both sides, the side with the most options has the most power.

Sometimes you can leave your proposal on their table and with time they might find acceptable what at first they said they would never consider.

19. Walk Away Power

Learn to develop walk-away power.
The author says that the minute you pass the point when you are able to say “I’m prepared to walk away from this”, you lost the negotiation.

But don’t threaten to walk away abruptly, make it under the protection of the good guy/bad guy.

20. Don’t Use “Take It or Leave It”

It’s annoying and cantankerous. Use instead something like “sorry, but less than this I will have to drop out”.

21. The Hot Potato

The hot potato is people trying to make their problem your problem.
Like “it’s not in my budget” or “I can’t authorize that”.

Power negotiators always test the validity of such expressions.
For example, you could say:

Let’s imagine this hypothetical scenario where I can find you exactly what you’re looking for and you will love it and your team will love, is there any point in letting you know then?


Imagine I could show you a car that is twice as safe and in the best running condition you’ve ever seen but cost 10% more. You might still want to take a look at it, don’t you?

Justifiers Never Deliver

Justifiers are words that tell you in advance your partner is not going to deliver.
They are expressions such as “I’ll try my best” or “I’ll see what I can do”.

secrets of power negotiating

Real-Life Examples

Here are a few articles where I apply many principles of Secrets of Power Negotiating:

Real-Life Applications

Don’t Be Intimidated by Title… 
… They most often don’t mean a thing.

Never Think You’ve Got the Weak Hand..
… That’s the mistake most beginners do.


Some Examples Are Jackass Negotiating
The book is great, but not all examples are in my opinion. One is the complaint to the top hotel staff to get a discount on the room.

Some Awkward Moments
In one of the examples Roger just does a nice sale of his CD during a dinner. Galvanized, he pays for both. When the guest says they would have paid for the dinner, he calls back the waiter to get his credit card back (and he had also picked the best restaurant expecting the guests to pay).
I couldn’t help but think that was the cheapest move ever (and the second cheapest move is to pick the most expensive restaurant knowing your guests will pay, I always despised that behavior).

How Americans/Asians/Chinese negotiate
I found the chapters on local customs to be little more than folklore with some utter nonsense mixed in.
He says that part of the reason why Germans enjoy 3 weeks in a SPA and Americans only work is that America never experienced the life-changing effect of a war.
Little later he says “Asian people are very relationship-based”. Asian people… ??
A bit later again he says:

Frankly, I doubted that they would ever make a transition to a free market economy because the Russians are not entrepreneurial at heart. Understand that the communist system removed all incentives from their way of life.

Again I’m scratching my head.

Bad Body Language
There are a few chapters on body language, but some of it is wrong.
He says that after all the countries he traveled to, smile was the only body language to mean the same in all languages. Not true, there are many more signs that are cross-cultural.

Long Winded Digressions
There are quite a few digressions from the main topic. Some of them are quite interesting though, like his take on the Amalfi coast:

 If you can find a balcony in Ravello and get yourself a glass of Chianti Classico while you savor the view that has enchanted visitors for centuries, you’ll agree with me that life doesn’t get much better than that. You can search if you want, but you might as well take my word for it: Life doesn’t get much better than that. Maybe it does with a bottle of Chianti Classico.

Charisma / Charm Confusion
The author talks about the power of charisma and uses Clinton as an example. I feel he makes a major confusion here between charisma and charm (if you’re interested read how to be charming and how to be charismatic).


SO Much Wisdom
The Wisdom of Power Negotiating is exactly the kind of wisdom that we promote here on this website.
This is the kind of “Machiavellian knowledge” and information that will make the victims of this world able to stand up for themselves against the sharks of this world.

Awesome Hostage Negotiation Explanation
The author goes into the training that hostage negotiators do and how hostage negotiation works. Fascinating stuff.


I have listed a lot of cons.
But if you have been reading around here I always list a lot of cons for the best books. It’s because I hold them to a whole different standard than most books.

And Power Negotiation is the kind of book that you have to hold to a higher standard simply because it’s that book.

The first part is better than the second half which gets a bit too chatty and long-winded. But overall, this is a life-changing book. And a book everyone who wants to understand psychology and human nature should read.

This is exactly the kind of information that this website wants to spread to empower people.

Check out the:

20 Manipulative Negotiation Tactics

or get the book on Amazon

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