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Fight or Flight?

Tips for knowing when to go at it and when to give in.

When you're the little guy, you have to be realistic. Chances are you won't have the time or leverage to negotiate everything you'd like. Pick your battles wisely.

Start by putting yourself in your opponent's shoes. Big businesses often say no based on "policy." These internal rules keep them running smoothly. Understand this if they declare certain requests off-limits.

Other times, calling something nonnegotiable is simply a ploy to wear you out. Use your business network and clever research to find out what's really going on. You may have more leverage than you think.

If you have the opportunity, negotiate. But limit your demands. Focus on just a few points-the important ones that you may actually be able to win.

If they say no, demand a plausible explanation. Dismiss the canned deal-maker's dialogue: "We always do it that way," or "Take it or leave it." Use open-ended questions to get the other side talking.

If you go over someone's head, beware of blowback. At the very least, count on that subordinate carrying a grudge. Also, consider a "most favored nations" clause-their obligation to treat you no less favorably than others with whom they're making similar deals. If it works, you'll coattail on someone else's better terms. If it doesn't, at least you'll know you're not alone. And misery loves company.

A speaker and attorney in Los Angeles, Marc Dieneris author of Deal Power.

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This article was originally published in the November 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Fight or Flight?.

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