For years, I was a superb negotiator and even taught negotiating 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 negotiating. The idea of haggling about the price of something lost its luster and soon, I became a terrible 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 funds were used to finance a ride share lane on the freeway. In any case, I stopped trying to get out of the tickets.
A decade later, after caring for my father who had Alzheimer’s then reflecting on my late parents’ habit of saving money, I asked, “Why?” Although, their nest egg would support my father until his passing at age 90, they lived a frugal life, taking a handful of vacations throughout my lifetime and working hard and sacrificing.
During those years, I remember my mother’s ongoing 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 handcrafted Swiss watch would cost far more.
Today, I view it differently. I ask, “What’s it worth to me?”
When an Armenian artist was selling a painting of Khor Virap at the Vernisage in Armenia, I couldn’t negotiate despite my host’s encouragement to do so. The country of my forebears is still growing stronger as an independent republic. I wanted to support its citizens. I paid full price. It felt strange and yet liberating. I rarely need to own art, but bringing home that artist’s rendering of the monastery in the Ararat plain was worth it to me.
Paying full price because I wanted to support the citizens of Armenia–the country of my ancestors–felt liberating. However, there are times when paying what a person asks, even if the price is right, isn’t worth it to me.
When a reputable tree removal service quoted $2,000 to cut a tree next to my house, the quoted price was far more than I wanted to pay. I told the contractor that the challenge of climbing the tree branches and cutting them myself was now more inviting and reminded me of my youth. The contractor warned me that remembering my youth from nearly four decades ago might cost me far more if I fell out of the tree. I laughed and agreed with him wholeheartedly. But the pull of my youth was greater than the $1,250 difference in what I was willing to pay. Despite the poor economy, it wasn’t worth it to him to have a 3-man crew drive 35 miles to cut the tree for less. We parted on good terms. Since then, my husband and I have safely cut the problem branches from the tree and I enjoy watching the squirrels running up and coming back down to munch on freshly picked pine cones.
Why don’t more of us buy and sell based on what it’s worth to us? Determining what something is worth to us is a way to deal with integrity. Additionally, we don’t run the risk of offending each other because the value is what we are willing to pay for the item. If there’s no common ground, there’s no deal.
I can’t imagine that I would ever pay the five-figure price of a Patek Philippe handmade watch. Despite the hundreds of hours that go into making one, that level of craftsmanship is just not worth it to me. I’d feel much better about using that money to gift a caregiver.
What’s it worth to you? Start asking this and you’ll be surprised at how much more comfortable you feel and how confident you are when you try to buy or sell something.
Remember, negotiations rarely reflect the real value or worth of something, because each party comes to the table from a different point of view.
When we take responsibility and decide what value we place on the things–what a thing or service is worth to us–we’ll end up with more of the things we need instead of things we don’t really want.
Besides, discussing price becomes a whole lot less stressful and more satisfying when we ask, “What’s it worth to me?”
Brenda Avadian, MA