Thursday, February 1

Too stressed to negotiate?

Last year, while we were on our family winter vacation, I posted here on my experience of bargaining for fish on the golden beaches of the Pacific, only to later endure the pain of post decision dissonance when I saw my fish on sale for way less in the wet markets of Fiji.

You know how it is, under some pressure to stop spoiling a precious family holiday, and since I loved the thrill of the zero sum game with the fishers there on the sand, I took to avoiding the markets where I could.

So, then came our trip to Asia this last Christmas and it was interesting to observe one of the kids deciding to no longer bargain with hawkers on the streets of ZhongShan, in China's Guangdong Province.

Kate reasoned that she had given it a good go, but that she found haggling simply too stressful.

She endlessly worried about whether she had got a bargain or been taken and it was easier just to confine herself to the few fixed price stores that had worked out that some tourists would pay more for an item, as long as the more was the same amount that others visiting the shop were also paying.

Hector, on the other hand, was embarrassing for the way he relished the hunt for the best deal on the street. He shamelessly visited all stalls extracting the best price and then purchasing from the best of the best.

Hector viewed the whole exercise as a challenge. Kate viewed it as a threat.

I just wish we had factored Kathleen O'Connor of Cornell University into our meager baggage allowance for our China trip.

In her research article Fear and Loathing in Negotiation: How Anticipatory Stress Affects Bargainers she found that people who view a negotiation as a threat are less optimistic and plan to work less hard to reach deals than those who think of the negotiation as a challenge.

Kathleen concludes those who are threatened by negotiation under perform relative to those who see it as a challenge.

But the good news? Well it's really for Kate:

'...the cognitive appraisal [that the negotiation was a threat] had no effect on outcomes when the task was purely distributive in structure, thus demonstrating that the benefits (liabilities) of a challenge (threat) appraisal were limited to situations that called for creativity and cooperation...

The growing popularity of alternatives to negotiating in the form of on-line auction sites and no-haggle car dealerships, for instance, imply that some people prefer avoiding negotiations altogether... one can only speculate that this trend is rooted, at least in part, in people’s perceptions that negotiating is stressful.'

You see Kate, buying a fake Dolce & Gabbana handbag is most certainly a distributive - rather than an integrative - exercise and hey, you did ok!

At least you didn't stoop to Hector's bargaining low - agreeing 50 yaun, then only being able to 'find' 20 yuan in his wallet and asking 'oh, will that do?' need for a translation on that occassion.

Kathleen, has Hector's technique got a fancy label?

Related Research; The Shadow of the Past: How Past Negotiation Performance Affects Future Negotiation Performance by Kathleen M. O'Connor and Josh A. Arnold

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