If you're in a negotiation or you've asked someone for something, listen carefully to the answer. If you hear the word "decided" or an adverb such as "normally" or "typically," it always means you can and should ask for more. That insight comes from Janine Driver, a communications expert and bestselling author. She spent 16 years as a federal law enforcement officer at the Department of Justice, where she conducted analytic interview and trained others to do the same.
In a fascinating TEDx Talk, Driver demonstrates how these words signal that there's some wiggle room in the offer being made, and what you should say in return.
1. "-Ly" Words.
Imagine asking your new acquaintance how many kids he or she has, and getting this answer: "Typically, I have two kids."
Most of us hearing that response would assume there was more to the story. For example, the speaker is in the middle of an adoption, or is estranged from one of the children, or perhaps has recently lost a child. In that context, it's obvious that a statement preceded by "typically" or "usually" is not a simple statement of fact. The same goes for a whole list of similar words: "generally," "normally," "commonly," "customarily," "ordinarily," and so on.
Now imagine that you're sitting in someone's office and they've just made you an offer for your product or services. They say, "We usually pay X for that." Do you recognize that adverb as a signal that there's some wiggle room? You should. I had a potential customer say that exact sentence to me last year. I got him to raise his price 33 percent, just by asking for more.
Though it may be less obvious than an "-ly" word, "decided" is also a signal that some negotiation is possible. When someone says that they decided something, it always means that a different decision was possible -- and maybe that other possible decision is what you want.
Driver and her husband had trouble conceiving after their first child, and so they went to a fertility expert to discuss using an egg donor. After the doctor examined Driver, the nurse explained that the doctor had decided on a specific protocol for her. That protocol would require her to give herself injections in the thigh or buttocks at specific times of day for four months. She said she burst into tears when she heard this. As a speaker and consultant who travels about 100 times a year, she knew she would never be able to comply with that schedule.
But then she remembered that the nurse had said "decided," and that a decision is not the same thing as a fact. If someone has decided something, it always means that a different decision was also possible.
What should you do if you hear one of these "wiggle words"? Use a magic word of your own.
"Because" is how you get someone who "typically" offers only this much, or has "decided" on a particular course of action to reconsider. "Because" lets you use reasoning to get what you want. Driver gives people what she calls "the because challenge." If you hear the word "decided" or one of the "-ly" words, you should immediately answer with a "because" statement that provides a reason why your case should be an exception.
That's what she did when the nurse told her about the protocol the fertility doctor decided on. "Because I travel on planes all the time, this isn't an option for me," Driver said. "Is there another option?"
Yes, the nurse said, there were also hormone pills. However, "typically you have to be 35 years old or younger."
Hearing that "-ly" word, Driver doubled down. "Wouldn't you agree I'm not a typical patient?" she asked. The nurse agreed. So, Driver pressed on, "Because I'm not a typical patient, and because I travel so much, and because I have the money right now to pay for this other way, would you be willing to ask the doctor if he'd make an exception?"
The nurse said she'd give it her best shot, and Driver is now the happy mother of three boys.
Next time you hear "decided" or an "-ly" word, what will you do?