My first negotiation was with a landlord.
He was a high school principal in East Lansing, Michigan, and he had rented his house, a comfortable two-story colonial, to me and some college friends for the summer. He was going on vacation, and we were going to summer school.
None of us had ever lived in our own house before. We soon figured out that the best thing to do with that much space was to throw parties. They started out small, but as word got around, they grew. By midsummer, our guests even included members of the Michigan State football team. I was a big football fan, and Michigan State was just starting a long winning streak, so I didn’t mind that one bit—until the night a beefy lineman decided to body slam our landlord’s baby grand piano, taking one of its legs right off.
A week later, the landlord decided to interrupt his upstate holiday to pay us a surprise visit.
The house was not a pretty sight. Our landlord was understandably upset. He took one look at his damaged piano and started shouting that he would call Michigan State’s dean and have us all expelled. My roommates were struck dumb with fear.
I knew I had to step in. Mustering my nerve, I told our landlord he had two choices: He could throw us out of his house and get us kicked out of school, which meant he’d have to take care of the mess and repairs himself and find new tenants, or he could forgo calling the dean and let us clean up the house and pay to repair the piano.
He mulled over my ...