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What’s It Worth to You?
Around the world, buying and selling means negotiating. This article asks, “Why?” then looks at deal making from a uniquely non-American perspective.
For years, I was a great negotiator and even learned to negotiate in corporate America and in higher education. I enjoyed the challenge of paying as little as I could for something or selling it for as much as I could.
Then something happened. I stopped discussing. The idea of haggling over the price of something lost its luster and before long, I became a rusty negotiator.
The turning point came after I moved to California and had my first “interview” with a member of the Highway Patrol. I was speeding and following too closely. Somehow, that ticket was the first of many I had to pay. I think the money was used to fund a ride share lane. In any case, I gave up trying to get out of them.
A decade later, after caring for my father who was suffering from Alzheimer’s then reflecting on my late parents’ habit of saving money, I asked, “Why?” Although their nest egg would support my father until he died aged 90, they lived a frugal life with less than a handful of holidays amid hard work and sacrifice.
During those years, I remember my mother’s constant encouragement to make sure I negotiated a good deal.
When a black market street vendor in Taipei tried to sell me a Patek Philippe watch for $125 in the 1980s, I negotiated even though I knew the authentic Swiss watch would cost much more.
Today, I see it differently. I ask, “What is it worth to me?”
When an Armenian artist was selling a painting of Khor Virap at the Vernisage in Armenia, I could not negotiate despite my host’s encouragement to do so. The country of my ancestors is still growing stronger as an independent republic and I wanted to support its citizens. I paid full price. It felt strange and yet liberating. Although I rarely want to own art, bringing that artist’s rendering of the monastery in the plains of Ararat home was worth it for me.
On the other hand, when a reputable tree removal service quoted $2,000 to cut down a tree next to my house, I realized that the price was not worth it to me. Instead, I told the contractor that the challenge of climbing the tree branches and cutting them myself was now more attractive and reminded me of my youth. The contractor warned me that remembering my youth from almost four decades ago could cost me a lot more if I fell out of the tree. I laughed in complete agreement. But the pull of my youth outweighed the $1,250 difference in what I was willing to pay. Despite the bad economy, it wasn’t worth it for him to have a 3 man crew drive 35 miles to our home to cut it for less. He left on good terms. Since then my husband and I have safely cut the problem branches from the tree.
Why don’t more of us buy and sell based on what it’s worth to us? Decide what is it worth to us is a way to deal with integrity. In addition, we are not in danger of offending each other because the value is what we are willing to pay for the item. If there is no common ground, there is no agreement.
I would never pay the five-figure price of a handmade Patek Philippe watch. It might be worth it for the hundreds of hours that go into making one, but that level of craftsmanship just isn’t worth it to me. I would feel much better about using that money to give a caregiver.
What is it worth to you? Start asking this and you will be surprised how much more comfortable and confident you will feel when you are trying to buy or sell something.
Enjoy this last example of a billionaire who desperately needs water.
Quality drinking water is becoming increasingly scarce in many parts of the world. Conversely, tap water flows freely at pennies a gallon in most cities.
Over the years, we’ve become accustomed to paying for bottled water. At an outdoor event, to quench our thirst, we might pay $2 for the same bottle of water we would buy for 20 cents in a case.
Would we be willing to pay more?
Again, it depends.
Far away from civilization, a billionaire’s chartered plane runs out of fuel. The pilot hastily lands in the desert between two warring countries. Days pass and search parties are unable to reach the plane given the conflict. With supplies running low and crew refusing to leave the plane, the billionaire heads into the desert in search of water. Three days go by and he is very weak and his eyes are drooping. He tries to concentrate when in the distance he sees a figure. Before long, an old man with dark leathery skin stands above him. His clothes are torn and he looks worn but strapped across his chest is a bulging leather duffel bag filled with water.
What is the value of the billionaire getting a drink of that old man’s water?
Would he discuss? I doubt it.
How much would that old man be willing to pay for a cup of life saving water? $1,000? $10,000? $100,000?
That’s why negotiation doesn’t make sense. Negotiations do not reflect the true worth or value of something between two parties coming from different places and perspectives.
We need to take responsibility and decide what value we place on the things we buy and sell. If we practice this, we will get more of the things we need instead of the things we don’t really want.
“Un-American,” you say. Maybe not. Moreover, the deal is much less stressful and more satisfying when we ask, “What is it worth to me?”
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