Pounds and Pennies

May 26, 2024by Rajeev Hora1

Their unapologetic philosophy is straight forward, “You don’t ask, you don’t get.”

Many years back, a rather funny cartoon in an English daily became quite famous. The cartoon depicted an Indian family visiting the NASA Space centre and having a look at their latest rocket. The father is shown inquisitively asking the official in charge, “Yeh kitna deti hai?” Meaning, “What is the mileage you get from this space vehicle?”

The image universally brought a smile to the face by making fun of a national fixation, which borders on obsession at times. That being of deriving the maximum bang for the buck. Not that there is anything fundamentally wrong in striving for that in a wasteful society.

The Gujaratis being a business community, generally bear the brunt of jokes for maximizing the value for their money. But the Gujjus are not in it alone. Barring the few occasions to the contrary, most Indians would not like to miss out on striking a bargain. They say bargaining is like the tasty ‘Indian chaat’. Once you are hooked on to it, the addiction does not go away easily.

Robin has been running a garment business for years. As per him, “When I started off, I was vehemently against bargaining. In six months flat, I was on the verge of bankruptcy. At that point, changing my modus operandi was just plain Hobson’s choice. To my utter surprise, the profits almost doubled, and I recovered. And as you can see, I have not done too bad.”

“My simple realization has been that people want to feel victorious to get a mini-dopamine rush. No victory can be there if a duel is not there. That is exactly the reason why we engage you in conversation and a bit of jovial sparring. I don’t want to sound sexist, but the ladies especially revel in the face off. For them, a fixed-price approach is boring and unexciting.”

“Getting a little more than we deserve gives everyone a pseudo feeling of reward and gratification. The medieval phrase ‘Baker’s dozen’ probably emanates from that. The baker would often add an extra loaf on purchase of a standard dozen bread loaves. In Punjab also, the extra bit sought from the street-vendor has been termed as ‘Jhoonga’ over the ages.”

“We often tend to look at bargaining with tainted lenses. Actually, it is a great social connect which is absent in online shopping. Not only it is a great form of anti-depressant but also a great economy booster. Although the figures are intangible, sales in India would nose-dive if bargaining were ever banned.”

“It is not hurting anyone. So why sweat over it? The only overheads are time and energy on both sides. But that is perfectly acceptable if the end game is achieved. For some, more than the outcome, the indulgence in the process is itself rewarding.”

“Oh, in this context, this GST business has come like a Godsend. Many vendors give the goods without a GST receipt. The 18% savings on tax is nicely split between the two parties. The Govt suffers but win-win solution for the rest.”

Shanta, a very accomplished entrepreneur reflects, “In some of the Western countries, it is culturally forbidden and in fact, considered rude to ask for a discount. People just walk away politely if the price tag does not match their expectations or affordability. Not that it has prevented some of my friends to try for a discount at Harrods. Their unapologetic philosophy is straight forward, “You don’t ask, you don’t get.”

“One theory is that bargaining reflects a mutual lack of trust. In developing countries where the regulatory setup and judicial system are weak, the chances of getting ripped off are higher. The vendor does not trust that his goods will ever get sold for a sizeable profit with this ‘so-called principled’ policy and the buyer is sure that the MRP (maximum retail price) is just an opening gambit.

“‘Bargaining’ sounds a bit crude while ‘Negotiating’ is a bit more sophisticated version of the same effort. Whether you are in negotiation for a multi-billion contract or haggling with the rickshaw-puller, the fundamental principles are the same. One person wants the product or service, and the other wants to supply it. The idea is to find the sweet spot of acceptability at the earliest. Very often, this spot is defined by a state where both sides are equally unhappy.”

“Bargaining is now in our DNA”, remarks Ashutosh, a senior corporate negotiator. “At one point, I used to attribute it to colonial days impoverishment. But not anymore. In fact, my own mother still tries to bargain with her vegetable seller. She is convinced that if she does not negotiate with him, she will get cheated. That is a different matter that she does a fair amount of charity for the under privileged.”

“I find it difficult to reconcile the differential in her attitudes. But overall, my learning over the years is that your success in a trade-off is in your power to walk away from the negotiating table. For that, your BATNA must be strong.”

Intriguingly I ask, “And pray what is this new beast BATNA?”

“Oh, it is just an acronym for ‘Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement’. In simple terms, it means how strong are your Plan B, C or even D, if the deal falls flat. A strong BATNA lets you dictate terms in the mini-power scuffle. Also, it may be a good idea to do a bit of research about the other guy’s BATNA. That knowledge will provide you the additional edge during the talks.”

“In my initial years, I also fell into the bargain trap. And that too stretching it to all kinds of poor service providers who were just trying to survive or make a decent living. Till such time a youngster pointed out to me, “Uncle, why are you arguing with the car cleaner for such a petty sum?”

 He further posed a thought-provoking question to me, “Uncle, have you ever contemplated how much would you charge, if hypothetically you were asked to do the same job? Whatever amount that comes to your mind now is finally the figure which is reasonable and non-exploitative.”

“Reproached and chastened by new-gen wisdom, I made a lifetime vow to cease compulsive bargaining for mundane stuff. In a way, I inverted my accounting paradigm of life through this peace mantra:”

‘Just look after the pounds and the pennies will take care of themselves!’

Counting but not panting,
Horax (Casper)

Postscript: It is an acknowledged fact that bargaining can become a compulsive disorder without realization. Not convinced? Well, we can always negotiate on that! 🙂

First published at seekmediation.com on 26 May 24

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One comment

  • Som

    June 11, 2024 at 8:55 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article!! It has definitely provoked some thinking within me as I love bargaining


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