Everyone should learn how to use a model to negotiate with. And I have a very cool rock and roll one to share with you.
Negotiating is a very underrated skill which is odd because it can easily nudge, or even stack, the odds in your favour.
Negotiating can help whether you’re:
- purchasing stock for the warehouse
- on holiday haggling for sunglasses
- or just at home trying to get the kids to eat vegetables
Today, I’d like to introduce you to The Meat Loaf Triangle. It’s a simple tool that identifies the most flexible area of a product or service - Cost, Time or Quality. Knowing how these three elements interact can help you to negotiate more effectively.
The 1980s gave us a whole host of amazing bands. The Smiths, The Cure and New Order were just three of my favourite groups to emerge from that period. But there was something for everyone.
Pop was at a peak with Michael Jackson and Madonna leading the way. New Wave poseurs were hanging around on yachts, trading bitchy barbs as sharp as each other’s cheekbones.
Spandex clad hair metallers were having a field day, often standing wide legged in a field with unplugged electric guitars for some reason. Hip Hop had found its groove and Rap was beginning to be something to shout about. Even winsome singer songwriters left over from the 70s had their solid recognisable niche.
And then in a category all on his own there was Meat Loaf. Right. What was he all about?!
I never really ‘got’ Meat Loaf. Still don’t quite understand the attraction, but as a standalone theatrical megastar I get that he knew what people wanted. Fifty million sales of Bat Out Of Hell attest to that for sure.
Even though I never ‘got’ it, I still had to listen to Bat Out Of Hell far too many times because one of my best mates was incapable of playing anything else. Every day, for one particular long teenage summer, these lyrics were never more than a hissy cassette loop away:
“I want you, I need you but there ain't no way I'm ever gonna love you, don't be sad, 'cause two out of three ain't bad.”
And so it came to pass that Meat Loaf was responsible for the most annoying ohrwurm in history. Oh, and also unwittingly teaching me about the three sided Time, Cost and Quality concept and how to negotiate better by using it.
The Meat Loaf Triangle is so called because of the three sides - Time, Cost, Quality - you can only ever have two out of the three sides in your favour.
But that's okay. As the big guy with lacy sleeves himself pointed out, two out of three ain't bad.
Bizarre Love Triangle
All things being equal:
- we want our purchase as quickly as possible (Time)
- we’d rather pay the lowest amount possible (Cost)
- we’d like the product or service to be top notch (Quality)
These three variables dictate what’s at stake but you can’t have all three. So someone’s always going to have to give way on one of them.
The quicker you can identify which of the sides that is negotiable, the quicker you can decide how far you are willing to shift and what your strategy will be.
To use the Meat Loaf Triangle you need to consider what’s important to you. What are your priorities in buying the service or product?
To know how to negotiate there are three key questions you need to be asking yourself:
- How good does it need to be?
- When do you want it?
- How much are you willing to pay?
The answers to each of those questions determines an outcome.
If you want it quickly but you’re not prepared to pay top dollar then it’s going to be poor quality. Is that okay? It might well be. Can you accept a poor quality item? Is it good enough for your requirements? We don’t always need the very best, sometimes you just need an average item to get by for a while.
If quality is important, however and you want it with next day delivery then you’ll need to pay up. Sorry that’s the way it is. Is it worth the extra cost for you? Can you afford it?
If you want quality but are insistent on a low price, however, then prepare to wait. You might have to wait a long time.
I Call That A Bargain
My dad illustrated this last point nicely when he got his kitchen extension built at a dirt cheap price. He was in no rush and paid a builder friend to do it in between other jobs. It took forever, but the quality was great and it was a ridiculous bargain.
Coincidentally we had an extension done not long after him and he could not believe how much more we paid.
“Don’t you know how to negotiate? I thought you taught that stuff!” he said.
Our priorities were different to his. We had young children who needed four finished walls, running water and fewer breeze blocks and cement mixers in the garden. Those requirements hadn’t been a priority for my dad - he was happy living in a building site for months on end!
We both paid extra but on different sides of the triangle. He paid with his time, I paid with cash - both have a value. Your circumstances will dictate which you go for, but it’s always about priorities and recognising which side you can be most flexible on.
In earlier times BC (before children) we spent many months backpacking around India, East Africa and Indonesia. Our biggest resource was time, we had plenty of that but a finite, ever-dwindling pot of cash.
This dictated how we were able to travel and the standard of accommodation. We often compromised on quality and time in order to eke out the best value and so our mode of travel often doubled as accommodation.
Sleeping on trains and buses meant we could travel for longer at a lower cost and in the process enjoy different experiences. Conversely, when my dad holidayed he would spend much more than we did ensuring he had comfortable accommodation and speedier transport.
To be frank, these days I’d run a mile from a two day bus ride in Zambia but my priorities have changed in the last two decades. As have my powers of recovery. It’s knowing this and understanding which sides of the triangle are in your favour.
Savour The Flavour
The Meat Loaf Triangle is also a useful diagnostic tool. If you want to know where corners are being cut just go through the three sides one by one.
Feeling hungry? Take a popular burger franchise. The McDonalds website tells us that it takes a full forty two seconds to grill a hamburger which, once cooked and complemented by bun and relish, will set you back a princely eighty nine of your English pence.
You can probably work out which of the three elements you’re sacrificing. Still feeling hungry?
A Model To Negotiate
Don’t go Googling The Meat Loaf Triangle though. It hasn’t always been called the Meat Loaf Triangle. And when I say ‘it hasn’t always’ I actually mean ‘it has never’. Not until this Top Tips post.
I’ve heard it called the IF Triangle, The Iron Triangle and The Project Management Triangle. But much like the overblown hysteria of any and every Meat Loaf album, none of these names do it for me. So I had to change it.
Whenever the concept has cropped up it has always made me think of that line “two out of three ain’t bad” and so The Meat Loaf Triangle it is.
The Meat Loaf Triangle asks you to consider what your priorities are. You’re going to have to be flexible on one of the sides so decide which it is you’re willing to negotiate on.
When you know this you can then rest satisfied that you’ve got a result on the two elements that are most important to you. And as Mr Loaf memorably said, two out of three ain’t bad.
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