It Pays to be Real

I have to admit it, I am not a very good negotiator when it comes to money. Haggling over a price or negotiating a salary puts me well out of my comfort zone. In Australia, most of the shopping takes place in the fixed price sanctuary of the shopping centre. Bargaining over the price of something didn’t come up as an issue  in my life until I went on holidays in Bali, and people told me it was expected.

One of my difficulties with bargaining goes back to Good Girl Syndrome. I want to be nice and cooperative and not offend or upset anybody in any way. Not the strongest starting point for a negotiation. I think I have had the idea that somehow it was unbecoming to question the asking price.

Thankfully my ideas about negotiating over money have started to shift due to the Masterclass series in negotiating offered by the current flood of TV shows about buying and selling. Whether its about pickers, pawn shops, abandoned storage lockers or antiques, reality TV has a lot of lessons on how stuff is valued and prices are negotiated.

One of my favourites is American Pickers. When the Pickers go freestyling, they scan backyards, farms and businesses for evidence of people who like to accumulate old stuff – cars, bikes, gas pumps, signs, old machinery. They are out to acquire collectables that they can sell for a significant mark-up in their shop. Along the way they come across some intriguing characters with amazing collections.

What I love about the show is that even though there is a certain element that is staged for TV, theres also a certain amount thats real. These guys really do love old stuff, and get a huge thrill when they find it. They have a real nack for establishing a connection with the person that they can build on to by what they are looking for.

Here are a few lessons in negotiation that I have picked up from American Pickers.

1. Make a connection. Introduce yourself warmly and make it known who you are and what you are about. People like to deal with real people who are open about what they want.

2. Display your enthusiasm. Don’t be afraid to show interest in what the person has on offer if it really excites you. This makes the other person feel respected and affirmed.

3. Get the ball rolling with a small purchase. If you want to negotiate to buy a number if items, find something you can easily agree on to establish the negotiations before moving on to the big ticket items.

4. Negotiate in bundles. If there are a few things you are interested in see if you can get a deal that covers the group. This can be used to break up a deadlock over the price on individual items.

5. Don’t be afraid to name your price. Just go ahead and name a price that feels fair and comfortable for you. Leave leeway for negotiation, but not so much that it seems opportunistic.

6. Don’t haggle over a fair price. If someone offers you a fair deal straight off, you don’t have to haggle. Accepting a fair price establishes trust.

7. Offer what its worth. If someone asks you to pay way below what something is worth, don’t be afraid to offer them more than they are asking. This also establishes trust.

8. Know the market. Be aware of the value of the items you are negotiating over, and what you can afford to charge or pay. Have a clear idea of what you want to get out of the negotiation.

9. Be open about what you can and can’t do. Don’t be afraid to show your discomfort if you feel you are being offered too much or too little. Thats the truth of it. People pick up on your gut reaction, and that influences them to shift their position.

10. Be prepared to walk away. Your biggest power in a negotiation is the genuine willingness to walk away. No hard feelings.

What is so engaging about American Pickers is the enjoyment that the pickers and the collectors both get from the process. The pickers get all excited sifting through piles of old stuff looking for treasures. The collectors, who have often invested a lot of time, money and space in their stuff, find it affirming that someone else values what they have. There is a rapport that builds out of a mutual interest. Even though they negotiate hard, each party has a respect for the process.

When its done by masters, negotiation becomes a dance of complex factors that interplay to produce a final outcome. What each party knows, wants and feels interacts in an dynamic process that moves back and forth towards a mutually satisfactory conclusion. Head and heart have to work together to find a solution that gets you what you want, but still makes sense financially. It all happens so fast, you have to be able to trust your gut to know when to say yes or no.

Having seen the masters in action, I feel like its OK to want to make a trade that works out well for both parties. In fact, having fluidity about the price and the conditions attached is probably more respectful to the needs of both parties than a fixed price system. The challenge in a negotiation is that you have to display yourself and what you are about in a way that isn’t necessary when you just pay the set price.

Now that I am setting up work on a job by job basis, rather than being an employee with fixed pay and conditions, I need to set aside my old ideas about negotiating about money and learn from the Pickers. Engage openly and enthusiastically, and be prepared to walk away. I don’t think I am going to be satisfied to just pay the ticket price on what life wants to sell me.

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