Business Negotiation July 28, 2015

Don’t Order the Fish Until You---

Once my son toured Italy. He came to a restaurant in a small town near the Mediterranean where a menu posted in the window indicated that the pricing was moderate...

Once my son toured Italy. He came to a restaurant in a small town near the Mediterranean where a menu posted in the window indicated that the pricing was moderate. That, and the fact that it was full of local patrons, led him to sit down at the table.

The waiter soon came over and told him of today’s specials. The best, he said, was a local fish that he described absolutely delicious. When the bill arrived, the special was priced at $140, far higher than the average of $40 for anything comparable on the menu.

The rule, when negotiating about anything, is don’t order the fish until you know what it costs. That, of course, sounds simple but isn’t. We do it many times when negotiating. Anxious to reach agreement and move on, we agree to something we do not fully understand.

The full cost of an agreement in terms of time, resources, people or money is never simple to assess. What is included and what is not is rarely clear. When support or warranties begin and when they end are often obscure or buried in the details or fine print. In the workplace, agreements can leave much out. They paper over sensitive areas like who will clean up after the work is done or who will repair work not good enough to pass and, for that matter, what the criteria for pass or fail really are.

The interesting thing is that the reasons why we do not ask “the price of the fish special” are much the same as why we make agreements not well understood. As for the fish, my son assumed the average price of $40 would apply to the special. He was embarrassed at asking the waiter about something as crass as price after the waiter’s raving fish review. He and the waiter were both in a hurry to get on with the meal. Holding up the food process with further questions and alternatives did not appear feasible. He hoped for the best as we all do when we think, “It will all work out I’m sure.”

Those are the mistakes we also make in negotiation. Never agree to something you do not fully understand.
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