My wife lost her cell phone antenna two days ago as she hiked through the woods near our house. Without the antenna, her cell coverage is extremely poor. So she stopped at a Radio Shack in town yesterday to see if she could get a replacement antenna at a reasonable cost.

At first, the sales clerk seemed very friendly and helpful. She said if they had an old phone with the right antenna, my wife could have it for $10. So they looked through a box of old phones, but found nothing.

Then they looked through another box and found an almost brand new phone with the right antenna. My wife was thrilled. Her alternative (or Plan B in leverage terms) was driving to the closest Verizon store and buying a new phone. But the nearest Verizon store was 90 minutes away.

So all my wife had to do was pay the $10, right? Wrong. The salesperson looked at the antenna and told my wife it looked brand new and she better check online to see the price of a new antenna. My wife, while obviously upset, knew she had weak leverage (consider the time and gas costs to get to and from the Verizon store).

What did my wife do? Instead of getting mad and possibly making things worse, she told the salesperson she had forgotten to thank her for recommending a landline phone the last time she was in the store. She said that phone has been great.

This completely changed the sales clerk’s attitude. Now recognizing my wife as a repeat customer, the sales clerk stopped looking on the internet and sold my wife the used antenna for $10.

The lesson? Previous relationships, in this case in the form of a previous customer, can make a significant difference in negotiations. Pay attention to your relationships – past, present and potentially future ones – and consider raising them if you find yourself with weak leverage.

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