If there is one thing I hate with a passion, it is shopping, but if there is one thing that makes it tolerable for me is when I am in a foreign country where playful bargaining is part of the game. Our family lives fairly frugally, and one of the things we save up for are internationally travelling vacations. In June 2008, we found ourselves in Bali, Indonesia, staying in a basic beachfront Balinese cottage. Along the shore was a boardwalk where small nick-knack shops were located. While walking along the boardwalk it was common to get pestered by the local peddlers, “Do you need transport?”, “Come into my shop mister – good price for you”, “You want massage?”
After we had been there for 2 weeks, my wife had been checking out the stores to buy some gifts. She wanted me to do the bargaining to get some good prices. As a seasoned bargainer, I decided I would try and get a bargain by going to a store about half an hour before it shut. My wife, two kids, and I walked along the boardwalk in the darkness, smiling at the locals who were saying, “You want massage, you want transport?”
We arrived at the store where my wife had seen the trinkets that she wanted to buy. As we entered the store, my kids saw a dog and immediately had it lying on its back as they made friends with it and caressed it. My wife pointed out the ear rings, necklaces, and bracelets she wanted, and the storekeeper and his assistant put them on the counter.
The games began as he gave me the first price with a cheesy smile on his face. I immediately went into play mode, became animated, and jokingly stated – “I am an Irishman, I am a very poor man, my country has had a potato famine”. I offered him about a quarter of the price he was asking and he shook his head in fake distress. He counter offered with what he called his best price. Backwards and forwards we bargained, until about ½ an hour later, we got to about 50% of his original asking price. With a big smile on my face, I stated, “This is my final offer, this will make you happy, it will make me happy, my wife will be pleased, and my children will be ecstatic“. He smiled and shook my hand and we had a deal. I then added, “See, my children are so happy they are giving your dog a free massage – even your dog is happy!” With that last statement, he and his fellow store owner burst out in belly laughter and were just about rolling on the floor. As we walked away from the store, I could still hear the uncontrolled laughter. It was a good night of bargaining.
So how can this translate to the workplace?
Negotiating is a very common occurrence in most workplaces. As an engineer, I find myself negotiating with project engineers to make sure that there are enough safety features in the proposed design to keep people safe. We have to work together to make sure we get a final concept that works with the constraints of budgets etc. When we are trying to convince people to consider our point of view, we are in negotiating mode. A win-win negotiation is the best outcome, and it can also build bridges for future wheeling and dealing.
What can we learn from this?
A healthy sense of humor is a powerful tool for dealing with negotiations. When people are laughing, it is very difficult for them to be angry or stubborn. Imagine the relief you feel when someone makes a humorous comment during a tense moment.
When tension in the workplace is not managed correctly, there can be a gradual erosion of respect and trust amongst employees as well as other destructive mechanisms such as:
a. Employees do not work creatively together to come up with a mutually agreeable solution
b. Future negotiations are set up for failure from the start
c. Energy levels and inventiveness are sucked out of the workplace, and employees can lack trust and be instinctively combative
d. Teams that are not cohesive become inefficient and unproductive
Eleven ways exceptional workplaces negotiate successfully and build ongoing relationships rather than adversaries:
1. Seek win-win negotiations, not win-destroy
2. Aim for a long-term relationship of mutual respect and trust
3. Be truthful- being deceitful will destroy the success of future negotiations
4. Negotiate using lighthearted humor- smile and laugh at appropriate times
5. If a preposterous offer is made that is way-off, make it clear that it is not worth negotiating if rational thinking is not being brought to the table
6. Keep the negotiations respectful
7. Use active listening skills, don’t cut off the other persons sentence and jump in with your contradiction
8. Use emotional wording such as:
a) “The offer you have put on the table is generous. It makes me feel that I can trust you and that you understand the importance of both of us succeeding.”
b) “Imagine my predicament: we made a bid for your project that you accepted, we shook hands, and a week later, the price of steel sky-rocketed. It would help me out if you could work with me to get a bit more funding. I feel awful about asking, but I am boxed into a very difficult corner.”
9. Make fun of yourself (the safest type of humor)
10. One of the most powerful negotiating relationship builders is to give the other person an additional benefit once the deal has been made (in Bali, the shopkeeper got a free massage for his dog). This creates good-will for future negotiations
11. Negotiate face-to-face so you can observe body language. Smiles can go a long way, narrowed eyes can mean skeptical, lack of eye contact can mean deception.