No Negotiation Please, We’re British

I have never thought I was the best negotiator. In particular, the hardball, screaming, shouting, temper-losing, bullying, American school of negotiation leaves me strangely cold. I can do it professionally enough if I absolutely have to (the skill is in ignoring the internal voice telling you that you’re acting like a dick), but people who do it to me just piss me off and make me obstructive. Every now and then, however, you need to deal with used car salesmen, Uzbek carpet dealers, New York jewelry makers and other serious professionals, and that is when the negotiation skills have to be dusted off. And I’m afraid to say that recently this didn’t go quite as planned.

We are in a jewelry bazaar in deepest, darkest Asia and we are trying to do a deal. There isn’t a large amount of money at stake, but it’s enough that any money we manage to save would be pleasing enough to make an effort for. We had done our homework properly – a full day walking the stalls identifying the precise type of necklace we wanted. We have taken photographs of all the items on offer, with prices and other details written on the stallholders’ business cards and included in the photos. We have worked out the various pricing factors involved – size, materials, quality etc. – and how they impact “first prices”. We have winnowed out any that are off the quality / pricing curve and have slowly been narrowing down our tastes and choices to a few candidates. We have made a final shortlist without making up our minds as to a firm favourite – price would determine which way we went.

The pricing discussions started well enough: I had (extremely politely, while explaining what I was doing) insulted the sellers of the two final candidates with extremely low offers. Please don’t react now, I had said, we appreciate that these are insultingly low offers and we want to give you time to think about them. Both offers had been flatly refused, and that was fine. The two stalls were within sight of each other and we had an hour and a quarter until the market closed at 5pm. The plan was to loiter within sight of both stalls letting the dealers stew until one of them cracked and tried to negotiate. At which point you stick to your guns but let the other see you talking. My hope was that Lucy and I would be talking to one dealer each at one minute to five seeing who was prepared to offer the best deal. We would never get the goods at our offer price, but we would get the best terms available. And it would be fun.

And we screwed up. We had done a slow walk past of each dealer asking if they had considered our offers (no – far too low) and we were headed off for a drink to let them stew. As a result we had only walked away from each salesman twice when one of their assistants chased us down in the market and agreed to our terms in full. Bugger.

One that we DIDN'T buy, despite the happy Lucy smile!

One that we DIDN’T buy, despite the happy Lucy smile!