Tag Archives: negotiation

  • Life's Negotiable: College as Negotiation

    With the back to school season approaching, The Bartering Mindset author Brian Gunia shares how thinking about college as a negotiation can help you navigate everything from new roommates to getting help with that tough assignment. Here's how.


    People don’t typically think of college as a negotiation. Just like other aspects of life, though, it is – actually a bunch of them. And just like other aspects of life, thinking of it that way can make life negotiable.

    With the back-to-school season approaching, let’s unpack what in the world I’m talking about and why it matters. In particular, let’s consider the following five situations commonly faced by a college student and why it might help to think of them as negotiations, defined here as discussions with interdependent parties to resolve partially conflicting goals:

    1. Dividing the labor. The seemingly omnipresent group project almost automatically necessitates a discussion about who will do what. Though students might think of such discussions as purely collaborative – and hopefully they are! – they’re negotiations insofar as anyone’s preferences don’t perfectly align – and typically they don’t! Thinking of these discussions as negotiations should help you, the college student, build on points of disagreement, particularly by finding ways to ensure everyone’s at least sharing the load through tasks they find manageable or worthy of learning.

    2. Setting the rules. Anyone who’s ever lived with a roommate – or several – knows that a common room or house does not guarantee a common set of assumptions about appropriate behavior. An open discussion of the obvious flashpoints before they flash, however, should help to prevent any flashing from happening – or at least provide a common reference point when it does.

    3. Negotiating work-life balance. College students are notoriously stressed by the competing demands of work and life. But achieving work-life balance really involves negotiating thoughtfully with yourself. Thinking of it that way can prevent you from driving yourself crazy.

    4. Negotiating fair terms. Fellow professors, please forgive me. But you, the student, should consider yourself entitled to certain basic benefits from all of us (or at least our TAs). A non-exhaustive list might include an accurate syllabus, clear teaching, assistance with tough concepts, explanations of grading decisions, and referrals to additional resources if needed. (Please note the conspicuous absence of “the grade you want.”) If you’re not getting what you reasonably deserve, though, you might consider the situation a negotiation, though you might omit that term from the conversation with your professor.

    5. Requesting course assistance. The bad thing about college is that some courses seem impossible. The good thing about college is that different students consider different courses impossible. If you need some help from a particular course guru, don’t miss the opportunity to ask. By the same token, if you happen to be the course guru yourself, don’t hesitate to help. In the first case, they’ll surely make a reciprocal request later. In the second, you’ll make the request – or at least you’ll make yourself a friend or earn yourself a root beer. You might not think of such requests as negotiations. But trades like these actually lie at the heart of negotiation, as described in my negotiation book, The Bartering Mindset.

    To conclude, it’s probably reasonable to think about college as a big bundle of negotiations. Since you go to college to educate yourself anyway, why not treat your college years as one big opportunity to learn negotiation too?


    Brian C. Gunia is Associate Professor at the Carey Business School, Johns Hopkins University, and the author of The Bartering Mindset: A Mostly Forgotten Framework for Mastering Your Next Negotiation.

  • Negotiating Better by Negotiating like a Barterer

    Written by guest blogger, Brian Gunia.

    On a recent wintry weekend, for the lack of a better option, my daughters and I visited “Ridley’s Accept it or Else.” Our excitement over this museum of the odd must’ve been obvious, as the receptionist immediately offered a three-attraction combo ticket.

    “And what does that include?” I inquired.

    “All our weird and wacky attractions,” she said, “along with the marvelous house of mirrors and the exhilarating 4-D motion theater.”

    “Are all those appropriate for a six- and three-year-old?” I probed.

    “Oh yes, there’s nothing scary here.”

    I should’ve known better. But on this, our first visit to Ridley’s, I wanted to show my ragamuffins a good time. So I bought it.

    And I’ll admit it: We lapped up their weird and wacky attractions. From locks of Lincoln’s hair, to a shrunken head, to a T-Rex made of pop tart wrappers, we relished some of the world’s oddest oddities.

    But then came the marvelous house of mirrors. A pitch-black maze of mirrors from which several world-renowned explorers have never escaped, it wasn’t so marvelous for my three-year-old. It propelled her into a state of abject fear.

    And so, when we somehow escaped and approached the exhilarating 4-D motion theater, she wouldn’t even consider it. Nor could I blame her given the signs about sudden movements and sharp drops.

    Appropriate for a six- and three-year-old? The former maybe, the latter absolutely not.

    In sum, none of us really enjoyed the mirrors, and none of us even tried the theater. So I was irritated and wanted money back. And my daughters’ impending hunger and extreme fatigue made me want it now.

    Operating under the visceral influences of irritation, hunger, and fatigue, I must admit I adopted a negotiation style that my book explicitly criticizes: the monetary mindset. Specifically, I marched up to the receptionist, told her what I thought of her sales tactics, and demanded some money back. In so doing, I was treating this negotiation like a monetary transaction, making the unproductive assumptions that:

    • I wanted just one thing (a big rebate)
    • I was negotiating with just one person (the receptionist)
    • She wanted just the opposite (no rebate)
    • For me to win, she’d have to lose
    • Or else we’d have to compromise

     

    “Let me call my supervisor,” said the receptionist, followed shortly after the call by, “We can’t give you any money back.”

    Most people’s story stops right there. They adopt the monetary mindset, fight over a fixed pie, and march out of Ridley’s with little or nothing but frustration to show for it.

    To the receptionist’s extreme credit, though, she attached another statement to the last: “But we can offer you our latest book on Ridley’s oddest oddities.”

    Now, I doubt the receptionist was thinking quite so strategically, but this statement epitomizes the approach my own book actually recommends: the bartering mindset. In offering the Ridley’s book, she was treating this negotiation like bartering trade, making the much more productive assumptions that:

    • She wanted and could offer several things (e.g., my future business and the book, respectively)
    • She was negotiating with several people (my souvenir-hungry daughters in addition to myself)
    • I wanted and could offer several things too (e.g., to satisfy my daughters and visit Ridley’s again, respectively)
    • For her to succeed, I’d have to feel like a winner too
    • Which we could achieve by exchanging the book for no hard feelings about the initial scam

     

    In sum, the receptionist compensated for her earlier sketchiness by adopting a highly productive negotiation strategy that treated the situation like bartering trade, i.e., by assuming the bartering mindset. Awakened from the visceral influences of irritation, hunger, and fatigue by her sophisticated response, I shed my own unproductive monetary mindset, accepted the book gratefully, and publicly promised my daughters to return to Ridley’s soon. And don’t think they’ll forget it.

    Just a funny story to introduce my new book, The Bartering Mindset, which will help you grapple with many of life’s challenges—including the substantially more serious. I hope you’ll join me in learning to negotiate like a barterer.


    Brian C. Gunia is Associate Professor at the Carey Business School, Johns Hopkins University and the author of The Bartering Mindset: A Mostly Forgotten Framework for Mastering Your Next Negotiation.

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