How to negotiate better: Use time

There are no secrets that time does not reveal.
— Jean Racine

Imagine the phone rings, a voice says we have kidnapped Jill and you need to pay $500,000 in 24 hours to get her back alive.  The phone goes dead, what should you say next time the phone rings?

Before we answer the question, let’s consider the negotiating variable of time. Who benefits from time? If you settle quickly who gets the best deal, if you settle slowly who gets the best deal?

You may be surprised by the answer. Ben Lopez, an experienced hostage negotiator explains in his book, The Negotiator. Time works against the kidnappers. They have to guard and feed the hostages for 24 hours a day. The longer the negotiations go on, the bigger the physical cost for the kidnappers. Also, the bigger the psychological investment by the kidnappers, then the more willing they are to get anything for their efforts. The longer the negotiations go, then the smaller amount they will be willing to accept compared to their original demands.

So to answer the question about time, a quick negotiation favours the kidnappers and a long negotiation favours you. And to answer the original question: tell the kidnapper “you just don’t have $500,000, but that you are prepared to pay a ransom to get the hostage back safely. It will take you some time to see how much cash you can get.”

In your next negotiation, think carefully about how time affects the negotiation. Does it benefit one side more than another?