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Six Negotiation Tips from Frank Underwood of House of Cards

Tyler Hall

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Whether you are familiar with the character Frank Underwood who is the US President in the hit TV show, "House of Cards", or not, here are some great negotiation tips based on some of Frank’s best quotes.

Please note that I do not condone a lot of Frank’s actions as they are often led by questionable ethics, manipulation and deception. I’ve picked some of Frank’s quotes that can apply in your negotiations where relationships matter, both in business and your personal life.

  1. Be Truthful

“I have zero tolerance for betrayal, which they will soon indelibly learn.”

It would be safe to say that we’ve all been caught lying or doing something we said we wouldn’t do - the consequence of which damages trust in a relationship. People have a long memory if they’ve been wronged, and it could take a long time to rebuild that trust if reparable at all.

Be upfront with people and build as much trust as you can. Trusting relationships enable more fruitful negotiations, as information, interests and objectives will be shared more freely.


“I love that woman. I love her more than sharks love blood.”

Frank is referring to his wife, Claire, who is in on almost every decision he makes. They make a formidable team. They prepare and strategise together, then have clear roles in the negotiations: Frank acts as the statesman and Claire is in constant support (mostly, sorry for the spoiler).

A lot happens at the negotiation table. If you are flying solo you need to be able to listen well, speak well, pick up flexible language or body language, identify underlying issues/interests, make considered proposals, ask pertinent questions and the list goes on. By having a team, you have the luxury of being able to delegate tasks, and thus mitigate the risk of missing anything, as well as manage the process more effectively and put your position forward, clearly.

        3. How to Negotiate a Long List

“That’s how you devour a whale… one bite at a time.”

If you find yourself in a negotiation with a long list of issues which you are addressing, it’s better to handle them one by one. If you present a Godzilla-like proposal, it can be overwhelming for the other party and will create difficulty in reaching any agreement. Seek consensus issue by issue. The response will be a ‘yes’, ‘maybe’ or ‘no’. Go through the entire list, bank the ‘yes’s’ and go back to the ‘maybe’s’ and ‘no’s’ to find flexibility regarding which of those can become a ‘yes’.

    4. Information Disclosure

"There’s no better way to overpower a trickle of doubt than with a flood of naked truth"

We’ve discussed how trust enables more fruitful negotiations. One way to build trust is to disclose information. Disclose as much information as you can and do so early. You will find that if you are free with sharing information, the other party will be more inclined to reciprocate. Such early synergy will give you an advantageous basis to build proposals that will address both your and their interests. This will improve your chances of making a richer deal that will last. 

       5. Check Your Position

“If you don’t like how the table is set, turn over the table.”

Are you in deadlock? Don’t like the current negotiating landscape? Take a timeout. Revisit your strategy and preparation. Some obstacles may be insurmountable, but most can be negotiated. Negotiating is a creative process. Create options that may overcome an obstacle or objection and trade your way through it.

        6. Control

“You wanna know what takes real courage? Keeping your mouth shut no matter what you’re feeling. Holding it all together when the stakes are high.”

Manage the negotiation process. Go at a comfortable pace. Use adjournments if you need time to think, or if you are going round in circles, or if you reach deadlock on an issue. At times, you may need to slow things down for the other party's sake. If you sense that they may not fully understand the issues or that they have been put on the spot, it’s in your and their interests to decrease the pace, or take a break. If they are confused or unsure there will never be a ‘yes’.

Also, keep your emotions in check, as a competitive stance will breed a competitive response.

Tyler Hall

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