Stickman Readers' Submissions August 2nd, 2004

Negotiating With The Family Part 2

1) General comments (Parents/Money/Dowry)

2) Negotiating with the family

3) How to turn the situation in your favor


When I first started working, I was lucky enough to be put trough some very interesting seminars. Negotiating was one of my favorites. It did not take long to realize how many mistakes we all make due to lack of knowledge. Americans, according to my (American) teacher, are not particularly good negotiators*. Our biggest flaw is lack of patience. Not sure if it is a cultural deficiency, or just too many bad Tom Cruise movies in the formative years. We are brought up on images of the brilliant underdog miraculously pulling of some gigantic deal, in a minimal amount of time. Everything has to be fast, fast, fast, after all, the average Hollywood movie, is only about 100 minutes long. This is not the way things happen in real life, which brings us to rule number one of effective negotiating:

1) There is no such thing as a successful fast negotiation. If you forget this rule none of the others are going to save you.

Here are some other rules for success:

2) Try to figure out the target offer of the opposite team before arriving at the negotiation. Sometimes the best you can do is an educated guess, but that’s still better than nothing.

3) Leave yourself plenty of room to negotiate. If for instance you think that the real price is 3000 baht, but the seller is asking 5000 baht, a counter offer of 20 baht would probably
be considered an insult. An offer of 2800 baht doesn’t give you enough leeway to negotiate. Always leave yourself as much room as you can possibly do without seeming unreasonable.

4) Make small concessions, and far between. This would appear obvious and yet it is one of the rules most commonly sinned against. If your initial offer is 10,000 baht and two minutes later
you increase the offer to 20,000 baht you have just proved that your first offer was completely unserious. Given that fact why would your opponent take your second offer any more serious then the first one? You have also in effect proven a
complete disrespect for the other negotiator. This brings us back to rule 1: A successful negotiation can not be rushed.

5) No negotiation is successful unless both parties win. You might think you have outsmarted your opponent, but if the deal is not fair to both parties, there will almost always be problems
down the road.

6) Try to find something that can add value to the deal. Let’s say you are ordering two nice suits from a tailor on Sukhumvit road. You have decided on a nice fabric that has to
be special ordered. Everything is fine except the price is a bit higher than you are willing to pay. The tailor is not willing to come down on the price because he has to order a full roll of the expensive material. That’s when it hits
you. Perhaps the tailor would be willing to throw in an extra set of pants at no extra cost. After all the pants wear out faster than the jackets. The extra cloth is already paid for and a little extra labor is no major concern for the tailor.
A deal is made and everybody is happy. How would you come up with this solution if you were trying to negotiate the whole deal in three minutes?

7) Never rush the negotiations. “But isn’t that’s the same as rule number one?” I hear you say. Good for you, you were paying attention. Anyway, it’s
important enough to repeat.

Now let’s take a look at your negotiations:


First of all the info you give here is a bit vague, but something doesn’t add up. You seem way too eager to send the family whatever they want, with no questions asked. The reason you mention is because your wife had not been able to attend the funeral, and she was feeling very bad about it. Could it possibly be that you had something to do with her not being able to attend. Perhaps there was even a little bit of self indulgence involved, like she could have been able to get there, but you had other plans. I might be completely off base here, it’s just a hunch. If there is any truth to my assumption I recommend you revise your actions in the future. You can never gain their respect by throwing money at the problem, respect has to be earned. You are also setting a very bad precedent. What will they do the next time they need some money? Very easy; Create conflict, real or imagined.> Make walking ATM feel guilty.> Collect cash.

But let’s get back to the negotiation. Their opening bid was 40,000 baht. I have no idea what a funeral costs in Isaan but I can make a rough estimation. From what I’ve heard 100 baht a day is a common income. If we assume 300 working days in a year (much too high) we would arrive at an annual gross income of 30,000 baht. Your total contribution of 60,000 baht would thus represent about two year’s gross income for an average worker. I can not imagine any family, anywhere in the world, spending two years gross income on a funeral. Counting on your ignorance of local customs the family appropriately set their starting bid ridiculously high, expecting perhaps a counteroffer of 10,000 baht. Had you played by the rules they would have immediately come back trying to convince you that they needed more. After a long negotiation and many clever justifications on their part, they might have brought your offer up to, say, 30,000 baht. No doubt they would have felt very good about their own cleverness, and about your generosity. Unfortunately there was no counter offer on your part, just a pile of money. After a short excitement, disgust and disappointment set in. Obviously 40,000 baht means nothing to you. They should have asked for more. They feel cheated.


Another request is quickly made, and another 20,000 baht required. Once again the money arrives quickly with no questions asked. The disgust is turning into anger. They screwed up. They should have asked for 80,000 baht up front, perhaps even a cool hundred k. The amount no longer matter, they just can’t shake the feeling of having been outsmarted.

Believe it or not this is a common blunder even in major business negotiations. By the way the concessions you make after the initial offer should be gradually getting smaller, and further between, to signal that you are getting close to your limit.

Second negotiation: The family needs 6,000 baht to bless the new house:

Request denied. No doubt you are putting your foot down, but did they really get the message? One time the farang ATM forks over 60,000 baht no questions asked, next time a measly 6,000 baht is denied with no explanation. Obviously the farang is just being mean, or perhaps the ATM is broken. No problem. ATM’s only work 50% of the time anyway in Bangkok. Come back tomorrow with a different card.

Third negotiation: The family needs 8,000 baht for medical bills:

Wife uses her own savings and borrows another 2,000 baht. I believe you handled this one pretty well, gradually helping your wife learn the value of money. It probably wouldn’t have done any harm even giving her the 2,000 baht. There is a big difference between helping out in a pinch, and throwing money around like a drunken sailor.

My advice:

1) Next time the family wants something from you, treat it as a business negotiation. In other words take it seriously, take your time and do your homework. It’s not really fair to blame the Thai for our own lack of professionalism.

2) If you don’t want to be treated like a walking ATM, make sure you don’t act like one. Never use money to buy your way out of problems with the family.

3) Your friend is right, you will never be Thai. Well who knows, in a few years there might be an operation, but until then, you will never be Thai. Do you really want to be Thai though? I suggest you go back and read some of the wonderful Isaan, village life stories from Pothole or Cent. They don’t hang around begging to be accepted. They go about doing their own thing, and treat everybody they meet, with exactly the amount of respect they deserve. No more, and no less. I am sure some of the locals have a good laugh about Cent every now and then. His crazy antics, his wild business ideas, his exotic habits. Still it does seem that most of the village accepts him for the strange, but interesting, outsider that he is. Don’t be afraid to play the village idiot once in a while. You might just turn out to be the smartest fool around.

*In case anybody cares the best natural negotiators in the world are the Russians and the Dutch. That was my teachers’ opinion anyway, based on his several decades of experience in the field. I have no reason to question his judgment.

Stickman’s thoughts:

He Clinic Bangkok

Good stuff!

nana plaza