Losing Sight of the Goal in a Negotiation

If you lose sight of your goal during a negotiation, it can create problems for you.

America is not a country of negotiators. We rarely negotiate. The only time most people negotiate is when they buy a car or a house. As more people buy cars online, even that limited type of negotiating may disappear.

We are a fixed price country. When Americans go to the store to buy a gallon of milk and the price marked is $3.75, they do not go to check out and offer $3.00. If you did, they might be calling security. We too often take for granted that the price marked on the item is the only price which is acceptable. That may or may not be the case, but we are conditioned to accept the price marked.

Obstacles to Negotiating

The first obstacle to negotiating is having the nerve to propose a lower price.

My wife and I frequently do international travel. We were once on a trip to Istanbul. As a footnote, everywhere in the Middle East, bargaining is expected but it may be hectic.

As we walked through the bazaar in Istanbul, we came upon a guy selling hats that we saw many of the men in Istanbul wearing. My wife was a collector of unique hats from foreign countries. The hat was a bunch of different colorful pieces of cloth sawn together.

As background, the bazaar was large and had hundreds of stalls selling all kinds of things.

I asked my wife to pick out which hat she wanted. She picked one and I asked the person who was sitting on a small stool next to the hats how much it cost. He quoted me a price in Turkish Lira of 2,000 lira which sounds like a lot of money but was about $2.

One key to bargaining in foreign countries is to make sure you know the exchange rate. You can sometimes get more for your money if you bargain in dollars. The people in foreign countries know where to get a much better exchange rate than you as a foreigner can get. They are typically happy to get dollars. However, in my experience, the more remote the location the less likely that dollars will be accepted by a seller.

So, we began the negotiation. I offered the equivalent of fifty cents for the hat. The man starting yelling at me in Turkish and creating quite a stir. I do not know any Turkish, but I can usually tell whatever language is being used when I am being called all kinds of names related to my ancestry and what I could do with my various body parts. He must have been an expert at his use of language because all the other Turkish shop keepers were smiling at his outburst.

He refused to budge on the price. By now his histrionics were noticed by more people. My wife said just pay him the $2 and be done with it. I refused to give in to his ploy.

My wife was quite embarrassed that I would “haggle” over $1.50. To me there was a principle at stake. I could not let this seller get the best of me. She finally walked away with a look of disgust on her face, her look was not aimed at the seller but at me. I had forgotten one of the cardinal rules of negotiating; make sure your principal is happy with what you are doing. 

It took a while to patch things up with my wife. I had caused us needless marital strife over about $1.50. I had forgotten the key aim was to make her happy, and causing a confrontation over $1.50 was not about to bring any happiness.

We went back to the bazaar the next day intending to buy the same kind of hat. We could not go back to the same seller after what happened yesterday. There were many sellers selling the exact same hats.

Choosing a location far away from the scene of yesterday’s debacle, I asked her to pick another hat. She chose one. I offered the seller fifty cents he took it and put the hat in a bag. With a self-satisfied look on my face, I turned to my wife and said “See.” One of the more stupid things I have ever done. I forgot another cardinal rule, if you are successful, be gracious and do not crow over your victory because it may be fleeting.

Since that episode, my wife has become a seasoned negotiator in foreign countries and can often get a better price than me. She had to first get over the fear of making an offer below what was being asked by the seller.

She also learned another cardinal rule; that the seller is not selling you something to take a loss. If you bargain the seller down from the asking price, the seller knows where the profit and loss line is. Its your job to get as close to that line as you can. 

About the Author

Joe Swerdzewski, former General Counsel of the FLRA & owner of JSA LLC is the author of The Essential Guide to Federal Labor Relations, A Guide to Successful Federal Sector Collective Bargaining, etc. For more info on JSA’s services, email info@jsafed.com or subscribe to JSA’s newsletter.