There is an old Russian saying, “The best way to lose a friend is by bargaining with him.”  Those who have done so can testify how difficult it is to deal with friends or relatives.

A good example is a friend of mine who retired to Florida.  He was selling his home in New York and decided to dispose of the furnishings.  Before doing so, he offered them to his two nephews and his niece.  The relatives, married and in their late twenties, were interested in some pieces but not all.  Like others their age, they had little money.  Each dealt with the uncle in a different way.

The first used an “arm’s length” approach.  He negotiated with the uncle as though he were a stranger.  This resulted in hard feelings because the uncle, though he was fond of the nephew, resented being put into a bargaining position.  It proved uncomfortable for both of them.

The second nephew took another tack.  He said to his uncle, “You put a price on the item and I’ll pay that price.”  Oddly enough, the old man also felt uncomfortable with this seemingly fair arrangement.  The problem was how to put a value on used furniture and bric-a-brac, some of which was quite expensive, without appearing to take advantage of a family member.  The uncle was not wealthy and was torn between charging what he thought was a fair market price and letting his nephew enjoy a bargain.  It placed the uncle in an awkward position.

The niece used another approach.  After deciding which pieces of furniture she wanted, she shopped around to determine what the articles were worth.  She then placed a price on each item, explaining to the old man what she was willing to pay in terms of her budget.  After committing to purchasing the articles at the stipulated prices, she urged the old man to put them up for sale for whatever the market would bear.

In the end, the niece did best in terms of maintaining good relations and purchasing what she could at prices she could afford.  The old man was pleased because he retained the discretion to sell or not sell selected pieces to outside customers.  The niece’s approach permitted the pressures of price, needs, financial resources, friendship, generosity and the market place to reach their own level in a gracious yet businesslike way.

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