“Mediation is especially good for parties with an ongoing relationship.” This is axiomatic when it comes to mediation, right?
This weekend, I had an experience that shed new light on this old idea. I was at a sale of building materials. Although it was advertised as an auction, there were few attendees and so potential buyers simply haggled with the seller’s agent over the price of anything they wanted to purchase. While digging through boxes of tile, I had a front-row seat to the negotiations between the agent and a potential buyer over some marble.
The feints and parries were familiar to anyone who has mediated many cases.
“Well, I don’t know what these would cost,” said the buyer, trying to downplay her expertise and develop sympathy in the agent. But the agent responded, “Don’t try that dumb girl thing on me! I’ve dealt with you before. You are smart and you know what these would cost.”
“Look, I have other buyers who will give me what I am asking,” said the agent, trying to assert a BATNA. But the buyer responded, “Where? I don’t see any other buyers here!”
The agent also tried to make herself seem sympathetic, even powerless, with the plea, “The seller would have my head if I sold them for so little.” But the buyer replied, “You can do whatever you want!”
The potential buyer tried to make a small move look more attractive by changing the format of the offer to a total price, rather than a per piece price. But the agent turned the math back into price per piece.
They went back and forth on numbers with plenty of dramatic gestures and raised voices. Their eventual prices were $240 and $260.
And they both walked away from the deal over a $20 difference!
Why did these two experienced negotiators walk away from the deal? (more…)