Whether paying for dinner, or negotiating complex business deals, Phil Slade discusses why having a ‘brain aligned’ conversation is essential to successfully navigate any difficult money conversation.  


A few months ago I was at a dinner with new international business partners at a very nice restaurant and everyone was keen to impress. The night was going perfectly with conversation and wine flowing freely. Then, the moment came that could potentially derail the whole evening – the bill was brought to the table. “No worries,” I said. “I’ll grab this.” One of the partners then insisted, “No, I really must take care of this.” 

In a friendly manner I retorted, “No, no, we’re quite happy to take care of this one.” “No, no, no,” the partner said much more pointedly this time, “I really insist that I pay!” Desperately not wanting to offend, everyone paused for a moment. The silence seemed to last forever as the waiter stood stranded in the middle with the EFTPOS machine having no idea where to go next. 

Fortunately, in that moment I knew exactly what to do – I employed the APSI principle.

The APSI principle is a way of effectively navigating difficult conversations, particularly when the only likely outcome appears to be lose-lose. This is a rule for dialogue that can be applied to any sticky money conversation, whether negotiating for percentage shares in a company, a pay rise, how much to spend on a new house or car, or even negotiating spending limits on family presents. 

The principle of APSI works because it helps structure your conversation in a way that aligns with the way our brains ask questions. It lowers tension and quickly finds a way forward that everyone feels happy with. APSI. Activate, Partner, Strategise, Implement. 

The order of what you say is as important as the content. 

Back to the restaurant. I needed to find a quick solution and avoid an embarrassing international incident. But before I went into solution mode I needed to ACTIVATE his interest. Neither of us were listening to each other as we initially tried to pay. We both had a clear intention and neither wanted to budge. So I went to the partner waiving the opposing credit card and said quietly, “It seems both of us want to do the right thing, and find a way we can both save face in the process.” He looked at me inquisitively and I knew he was now actively listening.

Next, I needed him to feel like I was PARTNERING with him to solve a common problem – that I was friend, not foe. So I said with a friendly smile, “I know this is a matter of honour for both of us and I may have a way we can come out of this with our pride intact.” “Neither of us want to be the one to offend on our first meeting, do we?” “Of course not! What do you propose?” he laughed. We were now on the same side. Partners.

The next step was simple, outline the STRATEGY – no detail, just the overall strategy. “This isn’t the only time we’ll meet,” I said a little louder so others could hear. “So, if you let me pay this time I promise to let you pay next time, and you can spend as much as you want on us!” This was acceptable to him and he gave a respectful nod.

But that wasn’t the end of it – I still needed to implement the plan. So I lightly addressed the group as I approached the waiter and said, “So we’ve agreed that if I pay for tonight, you can spend even more on us the next time we’re together.” The group laughed, the bill was paid, international crisis resolved. Whenever you encounter a difficult money conversation or a tricky negotiation, APSI is the only thing you need to remember.

The APSI process for difficult money conversations

Activate. Trigger their interest and active listening. Why is it relevant? What is the shared goal? How does the conversation specifically relate to them? Wait for a sign of emotion before moving on.

Partner. Empathise with the feelings of the other person so you are not adversaries, but partners trying to solve a common problem together. Shift the conversation away from beating each other to achieving a shared goal. Wait for a version of “yes, that’s it” before moving on.

Strategise. Outline the overall strategy without going into detail. What is the pathway or key points that need to be achieved so you both win? Don’t go into detail of the plan until you sense some form of acceptance.

Implement. Now work out the detail. Outline exactly what the plan is and key next steps.