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Negotiation skills with Tom Petty

Obviously this article isn’t officially endorsed by the late great rocker, but while pondering his brilliant back catalogue, Tom Petty did help me think about negotiating, and I hope he can help you too.  

As you go into the great wide open of a negotiation, who knows what’s going to happen?  It’s an unpredictable moment—but there are some rules that will help you to get the best possible outcome, and Mr Petty has kindly hidden them in his songs to help us. 

I can’t make any hard promises that they’ll work every time, but they’ll certainly help you raise your average. You want the best deal you can? With Tom’s tips, you’re gonna get it! 

So, here we go:

Runnin’ Down A Dream

Negotiation might make it possible for you to afford something that you can’t currently quite afford. So give it a go. Set yourself clear objectives, pluck up courage, and ask the question.


Be prepared to walk away if you have to. Your strength in a negotiation comes from your ability to walk away, and if you do have to walk away you’ll be stronger next time: first because this person will remember that you have walked previously and also because, even against a new person, you will know that you can walk away, and the other person will sense that.

Something Big

This one makes me think about opening offers—how much should you go for? If you’re selling, how high should you set your price? If you’re buying, how low should your opening offer be? The answer is “Beyond the best you could hope for.” Ask for something big, because otherwise you’ll never get it. You can only move back from your opening offer, not further. So open big!

The Waiting

This reminds me about the power of silence.  “The waiting is the hardest part,” sings Tom. So after you’ve made an offer, go quiet and sit it out—if you keep talking you keep giving more away, and you look weak.

Close up of man's hand moving the Queen on a chess board.
Your move…
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Makin’ Some Noise

This track makes me think about ‘The Flinch’:  when you hear their opening offer, if you are unhappy with it make sure you say so—poker face will make them think you are happy! And if you are indeed happy, don’t let that show, but make a big show of being unhappy. So whatever the offer you get, you must look unhappy. And this requires looking shocked, making shocked noises and statements, turning away, slumping, looking depressed, etc.

I Won’t Back Down 

This track is surely about unilateral conceding! If you are asked to improve your offer, and you do, then you have given away four things: (a) some money (b) you have rewarded bad behaviour so they will do it again, and then what will you do—keep on conceding? (c) you’ve looked weak and/or (d) you’ve made your previous position look dishonest—“Why were you asking for X if you are prepared to agree to Y?” So the answer is to always trade—“If you give me A then I can move my position a little,” and this gets over all of the four problems above.

Not a track, but… Don’t be Petty

You’ll have to give something if you’re going to get something, so don’t get emotionally attached to a detail that doesn’t really matter in the bigger picture.

Even The Losers

Don’t worry about losing the deal. If you walk away there will be another deal to be done tomorrow, quite possibly a better one. So even if you don’t have an alternative at the moment, have faith that you’ll find one in the future. Don’t take a loss-making deal just because you don’t have an alternative at the moment. 

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