Negotiating Better by Negotiating like a Barterer

On a recent wintry weekend, for the lack of a better option, my daughters and I visited “Ridley’s Accept it or Else.” Our excitement over this museum of the odd must’ve been obvious, as the receptionist immediately offered a three-attraction combo ticket.

“And what does that include?” I inquired.

“All our weird and wacky attractions,” she said, “along with the marvelous house of mirrors and the exhilarating 4-D motion theater.”

“Are all those appropriate for a six- and three-year-old?” I probed.

“Oh yes, there’s nothing scary here.”

I should’ve known better. But on this, our first visit to Ridley’s, I wanted to show my ragamuffins a good time. So I bought it.

And I’ll admit it: We lapped up their weird and wacky attractions. From locks of Lincoln’s hair, to a shrunken head, to a T-Rex made of pop tart wrappers, we relished some of the world’s oddest oddities.

But then came the marvelous house of mirrors. A pitch-black maze of mirrors from which several world-renowned explorers have never escaped, it wasn’t so marvelous for my three-year-old. It propelled her into a state of abject fear.

And so, when we somehow escaped and approached the exhilarating 4-D motion theater, she wouldn’t even consider it. Nor could I blame her given the signs about sudden movements and sharp drops.

Appropriate for a six- and a three-year-old? The former maybe, the latter absolutely not.

In sum, none of us really enjoyed the mirrors, and none of us even tried the theater. So I was irritated and wanted money back. And my daughters’ impending hunger and extreme fatigue made me want it now.

Operating under the visceral influences of irritation, hunger, and fatigue, I must admit I adopted a negotiation style that my book explicitly criticizes: the monetary mindset. Specifically, I marched up to the receptionist, told her what I thought of her sales tactics, and demanded some money back. In so doing, I was treating this negotiation like a monetary transaction, making the unproductive assumptions that:

  • I wanted just one thing (a big rebate)
  • I was negotiating with just one person (the receptionist)
  • She wanted just the opposite (no rebate)
  • For me to win, she’d have to lose
  • Or else we’d have to compromise

“Let me call my supervisor,” said the receptionist, followed shortly after the call by, “We can’t give you any money back.”

Most people’s story stops right there. They adopt the monetary mindset, fight over a fixed pie, and march out of Ridley’s with little or nothing but frustration to show for it.

To the receptionist’s extreme credit, though, she attached another statement to the last: “But we can offer you our latest book on Ridley’s oddest oddities.”

Now, I doubt the receptionist was thinking quite so strategically, but this statement epitomizes the approach my own book actually recommends: the bartering mindset. In offering the Ridley’s book, she was treating this negotiation like bartering trade, making the much more productive assumptions that:

  • She wanted and could offer several things (e.g., my future business and the book, respectively)
  • She was negotiating with several people (my souvenir-hungry daughters in addition to myself)
  • I wanted and could offer several things too (e.g., to satisfy my daughters and visit Ridley’s again, respectively)
  • For her to succeed, I’d have to feel like a winner too
  • Which we could achieve by exchanging the book for no hard feelings about the initial scam

In sum, the receptionist compensated for her earlier sketchiness by adopting a highly productive negotiation strategy that treated the situation like bartering trade, i.e., by assuming the bartering mindset. Awakened from the visceral influences of irritation, hunger, and fatigue by her sophisticated response, I shed my own unproductive monetary mindset, accepted the book gratefully, and publicly promised my daughters to return to Ridley’s soon. And don’t think they’ll forget it.

Just a funny story to introduce my new book, The Bartering Mindset, which will help you grapple with many of life’s challenges—including the substantially more serious. I hope you’ll join me in learning to negotiate like a barterer.

Our many opportunities to mediate: And our new opportunity to learn how

Does it seem like the people all around you just can’t get along? Do you often lament everyone’s inability to relate to everyone else, which often impedes your own happiness?

If so, you’re in luck. You have many daily opportunities to mediate! Anytime you can help the people around you reconcile their differences, you have the everyday opportunity to mediate. And anytime you engage in everyday mediation, you also have the opportunity to make life negotiable—for the disagreeable parties, but also often for yourself.

Indeed, it must be your lucky day because you not only have many opportunities to mediate; you also have an excellent new book by conflict resolution experts Jeanne Brett, Stephen Goldberg, and Beatrice Blohorn-Brenneur that tells you exactly how to do so. Before considering the book, though, let’s consider just a few of our many daily opportunities to mediate and thus make life negotiable:

  1. Arguing kids. Who gets to play with the dinosaur? Who gets to sit closer to the TV? Who gets to eat the remaining sliver of birthday cake? Such are the disagreements that frequently arise among young kids, and that often call for a parental mediator, whose efforts not only pacify the kids but protect their own sanity.
  2. Factional families. The approaching holidays tend to bring families closer—physically but not always emotionally. Families frequently have factions—be it about politics, personal style, or past events and slights. An opportunity to mediate around the turkey and thereby boost everyone’s holiday cheer, perhaps?
  3. Disagreeable coworkers. We don’t always get to choose our teammates. Sometimes we’re stuck with an organizational team containing two irascible souls who mix like oil and water. But their bad blood doesn’t change our own accountability for the project deliverable. Mediating is often the only way to contain the oil spill before it poisons the well.
  4. Competing impulses. We often experience conflicts within ourselves—a struggle between want and should, for example, or a tug-of-war between work and life. Finding a way to mediate between impulses without trampling one or the other can often pave the only road to balance.
  5. Prickly contractors. Those of us who own homes know that they often require maintenance. Unfortunately, that maintenance sometimes fails to produce the desired outcome, and we as homeowners have to figure out why. Is that ugly bulge in the ceiling a result of the roofer’s leaky shingles, the painter’s shoddy patchwork, or the insulator’s clumsy footwork? Ask the roofer, and you’ll probably hear the painter or insulator. You get the picture. Mediating between protective and prickly contractors who think none of their own work may have contributed to a problem may be the only way to get your house fixed without footing the bill for a redo.

Luckily, the new book by Brett and colleagues tells you just about everything you might want to know about mediation. From what it is, to how to do it, to handling the inherent difficulties, this  book offers an easily accessible and eminently valuable resource for those of us who have to mediate—that is, for all of us. So I hope you read it, as I have. And I hope it helps to make your own life more negotiable, as it has mine.