A Spy’s Guide to Negotiation

Negotiation is a superpower. At its core, negotiation is about getting the maximum benefit at the minimal cost. And whether you realize it or not, life is one long, ongoing negotiation…

With myself, my wife and two children all living together in a 31ft motorhome on a three year national speaking tour, negotiations happen in every conversation! During a playful game with money recently, my son asked me for a “three dollar discount on a two-dollar hug.” He essentially wanted me to give him a hug AND a dollar… And how could I resist?!? Such is the power of negotiation.

While some will disagree when I say that life is one long negotiation, the truth is that we would all welcome the chance to be more powerful negotiators. So let me share a few strategies I’ve used to win along the way; in my spy days and my everydays.

1. Positive Sum Game

There is a pervasive idea that every negotiation has a winner and a loser. This idea is absolutely and totally wrong! When one party wins at another’s expense, the result is a zero sum game. The best negotiators understand that effective negotiating seeks a win-win outcome; a positive sum game.

The foundation of effective negotiation is mutual respect. Consider the last time someone tried to negotiate with you. Maybe it was a child negotiating staying up late, or a buyer on Craigslist trying to buy a piece of used furniture. In either case, whichever opponent approached you from a place of respect and dignity likely got a response based in the same. But if you were bullied or coerced by your opponent, you probably shut down and became defensive.

Once one party gets defensive the negotiation is officially inefficient. Maximum benefit is still attainable, but not at minimal cost. The defensive posture on one or both sides adds a sort of ‘distrust tax’ to the ongoing dialogue. Instead of a win-win or even zero sum game, the negotiation becomes a negative sum, lose-lose scenario.

Keep common courtesy and dignity at the heart of the negotiation. Is your opponent a bully? That’s fine! A bullish approach is a great tell that your opponent is immature and inexperienced at negotiating. If you hold true to dignified, calm responses, you will maintain control of the negotiation and be one step closer to getting what you want when you want it.

2. What’s In It for Them

In any negotiation, the question at the top of your opponent’s mind is, “what’s in it for me.” While most see that as a disadvantage for reaching common ground, the truth is that you have the informational advantage because you already know what they are thinking. Even better, your opponent will assume you are thinking the same way, which puts them at a distinct disadvantage if you can focus on one very different question: “what’s in it for them?”

Let me give an example to show how this strategy works. I recently had to go into negotiations with a career salesman to purchase our used 2017 Winnebago motorhome (codenamed ‘Sacagawea’). Sticker price was $85k, on clearance for $79k. HOT DEAL said the web page. Our budget was $70k at full strength. We saw the rig and loved it – it was perfect for our planned #EverydaySpy tour!

But finding and falling in love with an RV is easy. Buying it at the price you want is the hard part. And with 20% of Americans buying one of these on any given day, the sales people have the home field advantage.

I will save you the dull planning details we went through to prepare and cut to the moment of truth. By thinking, “what’s in it for them,” I realized that the salesman had the opportunity to close a sale in the slow season, get one step closer to meeting his monthly sales quota, and move a rig that had been on the lot longer than anticipated. Thousands of dollars in price for me amounted to a few percent commission for him, but failing to meet his end of month metric could cost him his annual bonus. So I opted to negotiate below my target budget and gamble that he would try to finance me before he would stonewall me. My gamble paid out…

After about 75 minutes of back-and-forth, we landed at the final price and a handshake: $61k with no financing. Thinking about “what’s in it for them,” not only won me a new touring vehicle at 25% below it’s sticker price, it also won me an extremely happy salesperson! I was able to coordinate independent inspections on the rig while it still sat at the dealership, have dozens of free fixes made, and even got a complimentary black tank flush and wash.

It’s easy to predict the behavior of someone who’s thinking about themselves. But if you prepare yourself to negotiate by thinking about the needs of the other person, your opponent will never know what you are going to do next.

3. Reel and Deal

Of the three strategies I am presenting here, this one is the most scandalous! It is true that espionage is not a game often played fairly. Every advantage counts because only the winners get to write history books. So for those of you looking for a more cut-throat advantage, I offer you this.

‘Reel and Deal’ is essentially a game of cat-and-mouse where you allow your opponent to feel as though they have hooked you into a raw deal. They set the terms, exercise their authority, and ultimately get complacent thinking that they are in control.

Just before the final point of closure, you offer a small change of negligible loss to your opponent. For example, before signing the final purchase price for a car, you ask if the purchase includes a complimentary oil change. Your opponent will naturally accept your request because they are not assessing you as a threat. Instead, they see you as a premature victory. When they accept your first request, you add on subsequent requests of graduating complexity. One oil change turns into 3 oil changes, which then turn into a year’s worth of oil changes, which then turns into a year’s worth of routine maintenance, and so on until you reach a point where the sales person says no.

By the time your opponent says no, you are back in control and can leverage the time and effort they have already invested into the negotiation to set your own terms. This is an especially powerful strategy when you have to finalize administrative details with someone other than the original salesperson. The second person does not want to go back to the sales person, and the sales person does not want to lose time renegotiating, so the natural state for both parties is to simply acquiesce to your requests.

One of the unique benefits of this approach is that if you cross a line and the negotiation is reopened, you remain in control because the other parties are now acting on your inputs. You can choose to return to the original strategy, accepting the updated terms from your sales person, and repeat the whole process again. In the end, the worst that can happen is that you get what you want at less cost than the salesperson and staff whose time was used up thinking they hooked you at the beginning.

Conclusion:

Negotiating takes patience and practice, two things most people aren’t willing to invest. So remember as you prepare to buy your next car, negotiate your next salary, or close your next business deal, these are three strategies that you can apply that your opponent is unlikely to expect. Good luck out there!

One Life. No Compromises.

A Spy’s Guide to Downsizing

**Spoiler alert** Downsizing is difficult! It’s emotional, time-consuming, frustrating, and more than a little humbling. But all the challenge and discomfort is a small price to pay for the freedom at the other end.

There are different kinds of hard. They range from frustrating-Sunday-sodoku hard to infiltrating-Bolivian-drug-lord-compound hard. For our family, downsizing landed east of climb-a-palm-tree difficult but not as hard as self-performed-root-canal.

For anyone out there wondering how a pair of former spies handle this emotionally challenging task, here was our strategy and a summary of the results!

Step 1: Set the Threshold

You can’t trust emotions, so we set a measurable threshold as a start. Our home is roughly 1800 square feet of floor space. Our 2017 Winnebago is about 150 square feet of floor space. Based on raw volume, our rig is about 7% of our home. Since we need to live, love, and work in the motorhome, we obviously can’t fill 100% of the open space. So we ‘guess’-timated 500 cubic ft (30% of available space in the rig) would be the limit of ‘stuff’ we can take with us.

We picked a small room in our home, measured what 500 cubic ft would look like, and started filling it up!

Step 2: Titanium and Floss

It didn’t take long before we realized we would need to let a whole lot of stuff go. Between the two of us we had 76 years of life, 17 years of education, 3 careers, and 2 childrens’ worth of stuff. And like all people, we were attached to our stuff. The solution? Prioritize!

We are all attached to the things we have carried along for this long in our lives. But not all attachments are equal. Some attachments are as unbreakable as titanium chains. Others are as flimsy as cheap floss.

At first we tried running everything through the question, “Does this bring me joy?” But the results were unexpectedly disastrous! Turns out, most of what we had actually brought us feelings of guilt, obligation or embarrassment – very little really brought ‘joy’.

For example, we inherited all the medals and awards our parents saved from our respective childhoods. No joy here for us – but what were we supposed to do to show respect for all the work, thoughtfulness and pride our parents put away in these aging boxes labeled by year? And what about the sizable library of books we had read and collected on our journeys? Spanning 5 continents and 4 languages, most of our books couldn’t be reproduced via Kindle or iBooks. Not really joy here either, but history…responsibility…pride.

By prioritizing we were able to work our way through everything and honor legacy pieces while parting ways with the paper weights. If anyone saw the carnage of what got left behind, there would be anger and sadness for sure. Sorry Mom, Dad, and all our wonderful language tutors!

Step 3: Less Cost, More Life

The last big hurdle for downsizing was getting rid of everything that didn’t fit and didn’t carry a significant emotional bond. We were smart enough to follow rule #1 about moving – never do it in a rush. But we still had a timeline to keep! So we opted to sell-sell-sell as much as we could and donate the rest.

For anyone who has ever hosted a yard sale or tried to use an online selling platform (Craigslist, Facebook, OfferUp, etc), you already know the countless offers we got that were robots, ridiculous, or just plain rude. But that is part of the dance, so we had to follow the steps. That said, we knew we were in control and that every item someone paid for and carried away was one less thing we had to find a home for later on. After all, most of what was going out the door had little/no personal value – just ‘fair market’ value. And when you start seeing the freedom of downsizing, you start seeing that the things you let go can have a new life somewhere else. But it took someone wiser than us to teach us that perspective…

A story: Amid all the downsizing, I needed one very specific thing – a roof-mounted bike rack that was compatible with my existing (old) roof rack. To buy the parts new would have cost me about $300. When you are in minimizing mode, buying expensive new things just seems stupid.

So my wife suggested I check Craigslist. Low and behold, for $40 on the first page I found exactly the bike rack I needed. Only one seller, one option, great condition. When I met the seller to pick up the racks he said, “I don’t care about the cost, I just want these racks to have more life!” I thought his sentiment was brilliant and it went on to shape our attitude as we sold the rest of our household.

The conclusion!

We did it – we whittled our family of 4 down to 10 changes of clothes each, 2 pairs of shoes each, a compact kitchen and a handful of other bare essentials. The total earnings we made ridding ourselves of all the junk? $9,000. Crazy right?

And the most amazing thing is that we don’t miss any of it! In reality, we really only regularly use a few things in our daily lives. The rest sits around for use once or twice a year at most, bringing us neither pleasure or pain. Maybe I will feel the pain down the road, when that one time comes that I really need my collapsible, Mexico-themed nylon hammock…but luckily that day is not today. Fingers crossed it’s not tomorrow either.

#EverydaySpy Tour

What is an #everydayspy?

Spies are just people; everyday people trained to do amazing things. Spies pay taxes, save for retirement, watch sitcoms and experience all the same highs and lows of any average American. And while Hollywood makes us think that spy training requires elite athleticism, multiple language fluency, and dashing good looks, the truth is quite the opposite.

Spies must blend in anytime, anywhere. I don’t know about you, but I think most of the great spy heroes of film and fiction wouldn’t be my first choice to hide in plain sight. Yes – there are times when special skills and training are required, but the fundamentals of espionage are more than enough to transform ordinary people into extraordinary protagonists.

Enter the #everydayspy – the seemingly plain, utterly forgettable individual with the ability to shape the decisions, actions and future of everyone around them. These are the men and women that dismantle terrorist operations, penetrate foreign governments, and undermine external threats from the inside out. But like me, we don’t all stay hidden behind the beige walls of Langley or the mirrored windows of Fort Meade. We learn to apply our skills in relationships, in business, and in all aspects of everyday life.

I believe all people have the capacity to become Everyday Spies – what they lack is the knowledge. But like all great truths, knowledge cannot be kept hidden forever. It always finds its way to the surface.

And so my wife and I, two former covert CIA intelligence officers, have chosen to make it our mission to share our knowledge from sea to shining sea. We call it the #Everydayspy Tour – 50 States in 3 years, speaking and spreading the espionage skills that allow us to shape the world around us.

Like so many missions before this, we’ve sold or donated nearly everything we own and will rely on raw curiosity, creativity and passion to drive us forward. We are basing the tour (and our family of 4) out of a 31′ Winnebago Motorhome codenamed “Sacagawea.” We launch from Florida on December 9th, 2018 with plans to be in Maine by August 2019!

While the way we serve has changed, the oath we once took to support and defend our country has not. Now, we offer our voices and our expertise in appreciation of those still protecting our freedom. Join us, learn the skills, and begin your #everydayspy mission today!

Launch!

I’ve worked on a lot of projects for other people. Some took weeks, some months, and others years. But no other project has compared to launching my own podcast in terms of excitement, fear, doubt, and joy!

The Everyday Espionage Podcast officially launched on November 13th, 2018. An unknown and untested podcast, I was humbled to receive material and financial support from four official sponsors. The entire podcast was conceived, recorded and engineered by the talented team at Stereo Lab Studios in St. Petersburg, Florida. The only role I had to play was creating the content and delivering the message!

With a wonderful family supporting me through my master’s degree and a full-time job, it was my limited free time that got used up recording 13 episodes of the first season. There were days I doubted we would finish, days I feared sounding like a fool, even days lost to equipment malfunctions and schedule conflicts. But I leaned on those around me recognizing it was their support, not my talent, that would make the podcast real…

It is now in your hands, my fellow everyday spies, to decide if we were successful or not. The podcast is live on your favorite podcast platforms and available to you for comment, subscription, and review.

Share the message or shoot the messenger? Whichever you choose, know that it is your choice to make.

Special thanks to:

William Miller – creator of the best-selling Jake Noble book series

The St. Petersburg City Theatre

Marone law Group

Triggermouth T-shirts of St. Petersburg, Florida

Everyday Spy

Everyday Espionage intends to challenge conventional thinking, cultivate elite achievers, and change the future of our world.

Our world is built on a series of acceptable behaviors and shared assumptions. This is conventional thinking. Those who act within the norm are accepted. Those who act outside the norm are rejected. But there is a third group…a group that rides the narrow road in between.

The space between ‘accepted’ and ‘rejected’ is full of fear, doubt and loneliness – but it is also the only road to greatness. Every hero of history and legend chose to leave behind the common in pursuit of the uncommon. And we can do the same.

I thought I was uncommon when I had my first vertical takeoff in an F-15. I thought I was uncommon when I took control of 200 nuclear missiles. I tought I was uncommon when I accepted my undercover identity and swore to serve in the US Central Intelligence Agency. I was wrong.

I was following a path shaped by my achievement but directed by others. And so it is with many of us, as we seek to satisfy in pursuit of promises; as we pledge loyalty and lose leverage. This is common convention – doing what is expected of us and seeking external rewards.

CIA taught me that conventional thinking can be predicted, directed… controlled. And even as I learned the secrets of negotiation and manipulation, I could see myself and my peers falling into the same cycle of conventional thinking. We all wanted to be accepted, to be rewarded, and we were willing to do anything to get there.

Our world will never change as long as our thinking stays the same. I am proud of my history of service, but now my mission is one of change. And whether I am accepted or rejected, mine is the path of doubt, fear, and greatness.