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September 16, 2010

Finding your negotiation style

The neighbors have been screaming all morning.

"Mamma! Why do keep asking me 'Where are you going? Who are you meeting?' Stop trying to find out everything about me!"

Muffled sounds from an older woman, and then the shrieks again.

"Maaaaamma! Leave me alone!"

Doors slam.



A car stops in the middle of a narrow street and waits. And waits and waits. Behind, a line of cars grows. Manual transmission, uphill. Not fun for those drivers. Finally, a man jumps out of his Range Rover, bounds up the hill and starts screaming.

"Who the f*ck do you think you are! What ever gave you the idea that it was ok to park your *ss in the middle of the street and keep the rest of us waiting! Move NOOOOOOW! NOOOOOW!"

The car moves.

Traffic jam: finito.


A man tells his business partner:

"Shut up!! Why do you keep butting in? BE QUIET!!!"

The partner obliges.


A merchant in a food cart screams at two tourists in a language they don't understand.

"This is the part where I tell you to GO F*CK YOURSELVES! Morons!!"

The couple, German or British, by the looks of them, wander away, confused and suspecting the merchant is upset for some reason.


Conflict resolution, Italian style.

I'm in Rome now, and I've been amazed at the amount of yelling that happens in this city. I've been here before -- spent three summers working, and I've come back on vacation a few times since then. But either I hadn't noticed, or I've forgotten, how vocal they get here.

About traffic, and interruptions, and tourists who don't understand they can't pay with a credit card (or who knows what offense that couple committed).

But yelling is one side of the coin. The other side is the soft, subtle 'arranging' Italians do. You help my daughter find work. I'll make sure you get your building permit. Not so much a quid pro quo as loose network of accords, agreements and connections.

Not that different from America, really.

When I finished my year of daily asking and did a statistical analysis of the data, I was interested in a range of practical questions. Is it better to ask impulsively or in a planned fashion? Did I fare better when I was alone or accompanied? Is asking sweetly or aggressively more effective?

(For any newcomers to this blog since then, the results and my take on them are on this page: Ask-o-logy. I'm no statistician, but Mr. A has an advanced degree in a field that lets him spin numbers like taffy. Hint: the posts are in reverse order, so scroll to the end and move up.)

One question that developed in the first few months of asking daily, first subconsciously and eventually quite overtly, was HOW it's best to ask. Of course, the situation may dictate or suggest a method, but were there some modes generally better suited to asking success than others? Here's what I found out: I was far more successful being nice than any other approach.
(more details here). And over time, my personality as an asker developed to play up that feature. Now when I ask, I innately make eye contact, take time to establish a rapport whenever that's possible, and humanize myself and the other party. It makes all the difference.

Now I'm curious about the next frontier: What's my negotiation style? Wheeler and dealer? Charmer? Problem solver? Cooperative team member? Bossy beeyatch? So far, all I know is that I'm an asker who rarely turns No's into Yesses. I can get a discount, but only if I ask and it's given to me. I rarely push back.

That's about to change.

This weekend I'm going to venture to Naples and try my hand at negotiating in one of the city's most dangerous markets. My target: pick up a fake Louis Vuitton purse. I've heard they can sell for as little as 15 euros and look like the real thing. Will I make it? Will I get robbed blind? TBD.

What about you, gentle reader? Thinking about your style as a negotiator -- in personal relationships, professional ones, the commercial and financial worlds you deal in -- what do you think you're style is? What's your greatest weakness, and what's your biggest strength?

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