I used to consider myself a decent negotiator. In fact, I taught negotiation 101 in my younger years, and became an avid student of different negotiation techniques. Several jobs I have had required some confidence to negotiate on behalf of a company.

For example, I once sniffed out the good guy-bad guy technique during negotiations with two sales representatives from a vendor, and kicked out the bad guy from my office and got the price I wanted from the good guy. Oh, I was good.

Years ago, my wife and I stopped by an old farmhouse that had an old wooden sign next to the driveway with an amateurish “Antiques” painted on it. She convinced the reluctant farmer to open the barn for us to look at his stuff.

The barn had junk and some genuine antiques. My wife soon found a dining room table with six chairs that she liked.

“How much for that grouping?” I asked.

“Gosh, I don’t know, really; I think no less than $1,500,” he finally said. An amateur and ripe for the picking, I thought.

We looked around some more and stumbled across a dining room cabinet with glass doors that exactly matched the style of table and chairs we had just looked at.

My quick negotiating mind spun into action. I didn’t want to rip this guy off too much, though.

“Tell you what, I’ll buy that dining room table and six chairs for $1,500, but only if you include this cabinet,” I said, pointing to it.

The old farmer hemmed and hawed, scratched his unshaven chin, looked carefully at the furniture, and put his head down in contemplation.

“Okay,” he said, his eyes and mouth turned down.


I even got him to deliver it. I was in a fine negotiating mode and felt proud of myself.

Table, chairs, and cabinet delivered, we dusted and polished them in their new dining room setting. Then I opened one of the cabinet’s glass doors to put shelves in and noticed a faded sales sticker on the inside that I missed earlier. It read:

“Beautiful dining room table, six chairs, and matching cabinet – $1,200.”

The old farmer had outfoxed me – I paid $300 more than the list price.

“I am so mad,” I yelled to Pam. She continued her polishing and didn’t dare to look up.

Beyond humiliated and irritated, I went back to the farmer and his barn, having promised my wife I would return with something else worth far more than the $300 I overpaid for the dining room set.

The farmer said he was very sorry about the confusion, and yes, of course, I should pick out something additional.

After a long search, I found a small round end table that had a beautiful granite top and Chinese wood-scroll trim.

“How much is this?” I asked.

“$400,” the farmer replied.

“I’ll take it.”

He acted exasperated, shaking his head slightly, mumbling something.

“Come on, sir, you screwed me once. Give me a break,” I insisted. “It’s only fair.”

I brought the round table back to our house, and my wife loved it, my negotiation reputation again intact. We flipped the table over to dust and polish the beautifully carved legs.

On the bottom of the table was a faded sticker that listed the price: $200.

Are you kidding me? Outfoxed again.

I wanted to go back to the farmer for the third time, but my wife worried I would come home without the car.

It reminded me of an old saying, but I added a new twist:

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me and you’ll never see me again.”

Since then, you would think I have had ample opportunity to sharpen my negotiation techniques. While living in Knox County, I have bought two homes and sold one, purchased a Rockland condo (my sister rents it from us), two trucks, and sold one boat.

Here’s a recent example of how my negotiating has developed.

“What’s your best price for this truck?” I recently asked a Rockland dealer, my voice pitched low so he would know who he was dealing with: a customer ready for battle.

Unimpressed, he quoted me a price.

I shook my head, rubbed my chin, and tried to look irritated. His eyes locked on mine.

“Okay,” I said.

At least there was no old sticker with a lower price on the undercarriage of the truck, like there was on the farmer’s Chinese round table.

I looked.

Mike Skinner is a writer who lives in Tenants Harbor. Skinner was a medic in the U.S. Army, a hospital executive, and a college educator. He is the author of “My Life as a Non-Valedictorian,” available through Maine Authors Publishing, local bookstores, and Amazon and Kindle.