Let’s pretend I’m at a car dealership. Now let’s pretend you can feel my emotions. If you can feel those emotions and you can see me in that dealership chair, then you know what I know. I’m feeling miserable. I’m feeling like I’m going to be completely taken advantage of. After months of deliberation, I’ve found a car I like and I’m hopeful to do a deal. But my emotions are powerful and I’m trying to conceal the fact that I’m ready to be taken advantage of. I can no longer fight this momentum that I’ve created. I don’t really need a car, but I really NEED that car. You know? Of course you do because you’re feeling my emotions. I’m a mess. The dealer gave me their bottom line. It looks suspiciously like the the price I saw online. Aren’t we negotiating here? I asked that aloud. No, we aren’t. They said. I stressed and I tried and at the end of the day I just paid what they told me to pay, and then I drove off in my new car wondering just who I think I am.

The last time this happened to me was three and a half years ago. I dread the next time I have to buy a car, because the process is terrible and my personality does not match up well to this pursuit. But this isn’t about me, it’s about negotiating. It’s about the process. The pain. The joy. The relief and the misery. The process of buying or selling anything is terrible, in general. Ever try to sell an old boat? I have. It’s no fun, because you love that boat but you also hate it, and you have to tell the buyer why you love it, but if you’re honest, like me, then you tell him why you hate it, too. This isn’t great for negotiating, but here we are.

We’re back at that car dealership now. But this time, imagine I have an advocate with me. Someone who helps buyers buy cars all of the time. Someone who helped your friend buy a car, and your friend’s car is really terrific. They saved a few hundred bucks on the car, which isn’t everything, but it is something. You’re sitting at that desk, but instead of sitting alone, you’re sitting with your advocate. He told you that just last week this dealer knocked $500 off of the same car you’re buying, and when the dealer tells you he won’t knock off the $500 this time, the advocate knows he’s lying. You sit there, because you’ve told the advocate that you need this help, and let the deal play out. After checking with the manager several times, the deal is secured. You saved the $500, and your advocate friend made a fee for his time.

Now pretend that you’re not at a car dealership but instead you’re buying a home. You have an advocate in the form of your agent, but there’s a greater issue at play. That issue is that you secretly don’t trust your advocate. Because of this, you’re concealing your true intentions from him. You’d pay $1.1M but you told him you’ll only pay $1M. You told him this because you don’t want to automatically pay your top price. This works with sellers, too. You’ll sell for $1.1M but you’re telling your agent you’ll only take $1.2M. You need that buffer, or so you think. As someone who has worked for buyers and sellers for 24 years I will tell you something that you should know: If you aren’t honest with your chosen agent about your negotiating limits, then you cannot be upset when the contract fails to come together. If you’re that buyer and you said you’d pay $1M, your agent is telling the other side you’ll pay $1M. If you tell them that repeatedly, they’re going to believe you and draw that line for the other agent to see. $1M, that’s it. But the next day the seller sold to someone else, for $1.075M, and now you’re mad. Furious, actually. But if you would have paid $1.1M, why didn’t you say so?

I see this sort of thing time and time again. Customers and clients shield their true motivations from their agents, and I suppose some of that intentional subterfuge is justified. But if you trust your agent, you need to be honest with your agent. If you’re not, then you cannot be unhappy when the outcome isn’t the one you wanted.

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