How to negotiate a lemon

Recently I asked Twitter, “Two chefs in the kitchen want the last lemon. Who gets it?” In this blog post, I’ll show you how to negotiate a lemon and introduce the basics of negotiations.

Here’s the situation: Two chefs want the last lemon to complete their dishes. The problem is that only one lemon is left. Who gets it? The two chefs need to negotiate for the lemon, but the basics of how they negotiate for the lemon can be applied to almost anything.

Pradip Khakhar

Let’s look at the options and outcomes:

Option A: Chef 1

If chef 1 is able to negotiate for the lemon to finish the dish, chef 2 misses out and therefore is not be able to complete the dish.

Option B: Chef 2

Similarly to option A, if chef 2 is able to negotiate for the lemon to finish the dish, chef 1 misses out and therefore is not be able to complete the dish.

Option C: 50/50

Splitting the lemon 50/50 may seem like a good idea to please both chefs and half a lemon may seem to be better than none of the lemon. Is this a fair compromise? (maybe?)

Option D: Other

There is only one lemon, what are the other options I hear you ask? This is where you can get creative.

How to negotiate a lemon?

And this is where *some* people start dropping off when the word *negotiation* is mentioned. It doesn’t have to be that way. We all negotiate in some way every day, from simple things to choosing who decides what to watch on TV or negotiating large complex business deals.

In one of my favorite books Bargaining for advantage by G. Richard Shell, he explains:

Negotiation is an interactive communication process that may take place whenever we want something from someone else or another person wants something from us.

So instead of thinking of it as a negotiation start to think of it as a communication process. Anyway, let’s get back to our question.

Two chefs want the last lemon. Who gets it?

Results from Twitter

When I asked this question on Twitter. The results were interesting. 👇
Pradip Khakhar

Nobody selected option A, therefore, appears that nobody wants chef 1 to have the lemon and 6% of the respondents chose option B.

The question does not differentiate between option A (chef 1) and option A (chef 2). Options A and B mean that one chef will be able to finish the dish (and therefore be happy) while the other chef doesn’t finish the dish (and therefore be unhappy). This is a terrible outcome and negotiations should not be a zero-sum situation.

6% of the responses chose Chef 2. Without talking to the 6% we don’t really know why they chose Chef 2. A couple of thoughts come to mind that they potentially randomly picked between the two chefs or that they see negotiation and in particular this lemon situation as a zero-sum event. This is a common fallacy

The majority of people who responded (70%) chose 50/50, this could suggest an appeal to their compromising personality. Your personality is linked to your negotiating style While it may seem to be the *fair* thing to do it may not be the *right* thing to do.

The remaining 24% chose “other”.

Summary of the results from the Twitter Poll

Chef 1: 0%

Chef 2: 6%

50/50: 70%

Other: 24%

Some of the comments were interesting:

🙏 Thank You, to everyone that commented and voted. I really appreciate you engaging.

OK, so how do I negotiate this lemon

What if there was a way in which both chef 1 and chef 2 are able to finish their dishes?

As we saw from the twitter comments understanding why each chef needs the lemon is fundamentally the key to solving this challenge.

Let’s say that chef 1 wanted the lemon for the juice and chef 2 wanted the lemon for the peel (AKA rind or zest). A little communication and understanding the interest behind why chef 1 and chef 2 want the last lemon helps create a solution in this situation where both chefs get what they want.

One size does NOT fit all

Clearly this may not happen all the time, however the moral of the story here is:

1. Negotiation doesn’t have to be terrifying.
2. Think of it as a discussion and ask questions.

Every negotiation is different and has its own nuances. I’m planning to write more about negotiation in the future however, below are 4 things to think about as you negotiate virtually anything (yes, IMO you can negotiate almost anything).

(Please note that negotiation is not a one size fits all and the following is my POV. It is NOT the only way. If you are currently negotiating something important to you seek personalized advice from a professional.)

It’s about talking to people

This means that you need to understand people, how they think, act and react. However, before you look at other people (the people you negotiate with) you first need to take a look at yourself in the mirror and be self-aware. Think about:

1. What kind of person are you?
2. What are you partial to?
3. Do you think with your brain or your heart?

How to find out your personality

I am not a big believer in standardized tests, however, if you are curious what your personality type is – take a look at 16 Personalities and take their free personality test as that is one of the better personality tests out there (in my opinion – no affiliation).

If you took the 16 Personalities test let me know what your personality type is:

I took the 16 Personalities test and I am an Enter personality type here Share on X

Does your personality influence how you negotiate?

Your personality can influence how you think, act and react in a negotiation. I’ve seen personality shine through in a positive and negative way.

For example,

1. Being comfortable with the uncomfortable pause. It’s human nature to be uncomfortable after asking a question and then just staying quiet. Yeah, you know what I am talking about that uncomfortable silence. Staying quiet comes naturally to some people and it can be very difficult for some people.
2. Knowing when you stop talking. If you are uncomfortable with the pause and the person you are negotiating with is not, you may end up talking during that pause to avoid that awkward silence. I’ve seen prices change drastically during this pause the salesperson wanted the sale and the potential client just stayed quiet.

It’s possible that you may not know who you are negotiating with especially in business deals where you are invited to negotiate face to face. However, you can learn to quickly read the room and understand the dynamics. For everything else, well there is the internet. LinkedIn, Twitter and even personal blogs, etc. can show likes/ dislikes/ potential similarities, etc. The goal is to try and understand who you negotiating with to find some common ground and make a positive impact.

Should you always be nice?

IMO I think is more important to be known for someone who can get the job done than to be nice. (Obviously, there are exceptions to this such as making sure it’s legal and working with family etc.) There is a saying: if you want to please everyone “sell ice cream” I don’t recall where I saw this saying, I did not create it.

A few things to consider:

1. Is the negotiation a one-time transaction or a relationship?
2. Does your personality make you compromise or be accommodating?
3. Short term goals vs. long term goals
4. How much leverage do you have?

For another POV read this article: How being nice in a negotiation can backfire.


This is a step that I cannot stress enough. When someone has done their homework and prepared they know the deal better than the person they are negotiating with.

Things to think about as you prepare:

1. What is your goal or outcome? (or put another way what do you want out of the negotiation)
2. What are the alternatives (in the event a deal doesn’t happen)
3. What is your walk-away point (you are not getting the value out of the deal anymore)
4. Repeat steps 1 through 3 for the person (or people) you are negotiating with

Look for solutions where both parties find value

Repeat after me: Negotiation is not a zero-sum outcome.

In our lemon question above, I told you that chef 1 wanted the juice and chef 2 wanted the peel, this means that both chefs were able to create a win-win situation. However, let’s say that I told you the chef 1 wanted a couple of slices of the lemon to add on the side of the chef’s taco dish and chef 2 also wanted the same thing. In this case, a 50/50 split would make sense and still create a win-win situation.

If you are the type of person that “demands” things you may get what you want in the current deal, however, you may end up losing the relationship.

If you are the type of person that “gives aways” things you may not get what you want in the current deal and may be seen as a pushover in future deals.

Usually, the best deals are:

1. Efficient (I have seen a sales deal take over two years and still has not closed. I think by now the salesperson needs to cut the losses and move on).
2. Maintains a relationship (Remember its all about people instead of showing pipeline that really doesn’t exist)

Always, Always focus on the goal or outcome. The minute you start focusing on positions you are asking for trouble and the negotiation may come to a standstill.


Product Managers and Salespeople are negotiating all the time and to an extent, we all are negotiators in some form. Negotiation is a skill and can be improved like any skill. I’ve shared some basics in the blog post, however, there is so much more I’d like to share and will do so in the coming months.

If you’d like to see more content around negotiations and persuasion let me know:

Hey Pradip - I'd love to learn more about improving my negotiations and persuasion skills. Share on X

I cannot stress how important it is to practice. I ran several negotiation classes at Long Island University and for private companies and the feedback was that they all enjoyed practicing in the mock negotiation.

It’s one thing to sit and read, but if you *Learn By Doing* you will improve your negotiation skills. After all, you cannot learn basketball by reading – you need to get out on the court and play.

The more you practice the more you start seeing negotiations through a different perspective. Its a blessing and a curse (in the nicest possible way) as you start seeing when people BS you (yes, it’s true). Not everyone but there are several people who will use underhanded tactics and leverage to force you into a deal that may not be in your best interests.

On the other hand, you also start seeing people who are genuinely interested in creating value for both (or all) parties and are sincere and upfront.

How to negotiate a lemon – closing

As with anything preparation is the key. Know what you want out of the negotiation (be very clear about that) as well as what the other person what’s out of the negotiation (I will concede that finding this out can be difficult and take additional work). Be self-aware and know the importance of interpersonal skills. And finally, self-integrity (I’ll just leave it at that).

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Posted by Pradip Khakhar

Hi, I'm Pradip Khakhar. Product Manager and Founder The Product Angle.