Dec 14, 2020

Negotiating Skills Can Improve In Self-Isolation

Recounting the art of my deals

By Ed Goldman

Self-isolation has been helping me improve my negotiating skills. 

I don’t mean with the people I deal with in my work. Nor am I referring to vendors at farmers’ markets who try to convince me that a shrink-wrapped chuck steak with a Ralph’s or Raley’s label still on it is from their grass-consuming herd of semi-sustainable cows. Nor the swap-meet spielers who say the three-legged dining room table they’re selling is “a real icebreaker” for socially-distanced attendees at soirees: “Look, this end tilts down. If you’re the one who ends up sitting at that place, you’ll probably be on the floor, and close to six feet away from someone sitting on a chair, am I right?”

“Your interview notes were very tasty.” —© 2020 Edgy Pix

Even my cat, Osborn the Magnificent, can drive a pretty hard bargain—well, pretty loud bargain—when I tell him it’s time for bed or that there’s an easy solution to the seasonal soaking he’s been enduring, one that human and animal psychologists call “knowing when to come in out of the rain.”

No, my newfound ability to reach a deal is with the most obstinate customer I’ve ever encountered in my now-seven decades with the Department of Earth: C’est moi. That means “It’s me” if your French is rusty (and if he is, you should get him to come in out of the rain. Even the French aren’t more recalcitrant than my cat. This is also viable advice if your Russian or Mexican gets rusty).

My daily negotiation usually begins with the laughable agenda I write for myself the night before, sometimes with the half-hearted collaboration of my Russian pal, Smirnoff. In it, I lay out a full next-morning plan of vacuuming, mopping, dishwashing, grocery shopping, even writing the magazine article due in three days (though first, setting up the five interviews for it, which I so far neglected to do). 

By noon, I intend to respond to every text, email, tweet and Instagram that came in since last, oh, March. After 20 chin-ups and a light lunch, I’ll go pick up my wide-lapel suits and floral dress shirts at the cleaner, and also hope the Nehru jackets and flared jeans I left there in, oh, 1971 will be making a comeback. I also hope the cleaner is still at the same location—I’d heard that the owner thought “Martinizing” was a Communist plot and refused to do it, even if it was going to cost him a few customers. I also hope that he still gives S&H Green Stamps, since around the time I dropped off my cleaning I had begun saving up for a crockpot.

Yes, those are my intentions. 

Then I oversleep, posing my first negotiating challenge: Do I even bother to eat a very late breakfast or transition directly to an early lunch? Do I call it brunch, entitling me to combine the best of both meals? The parleying is tough for a few, oh, nano-seconds—then (can you believe it?!), brunch wins.

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The day zips along pretty much like that. In quick succession, I talk myself into:

  • Taking a post-brunch nap.
  • Postponing the vacuuming and mopping until my back stops aching. It doesn’t ache in the slightest at the moment, but I’m guessing that my flipping the omelet pan for brunch may cause a few sciatic sparks to fly. Why wait for that to happen? I firmly believe in preventive medicine.
  • Waiting until the sink can’t possibly handle another dish, pot or roasting pan before emptying everything into the dishwasher. This means I run the dishwasher less often, thereby reducing my carbon footprint, or something. I’ll admit that saving the planet sometimes looks like lethargy on my part but I’m willing to take that risk.
  • Remembering that grocery shopping will require me to start my car, which I haven’t done in several days (see “saving the planet,” above). I’ve also long theorized that “sell-by” dates on various foods items are just an attempt by the supermarket industry to get me to buy, buy, buy. Now, I’ll admit I ate some cottage cheese years ago that had outlived its nutritional value—making me so sick, in fact, that it was almost ‘bye, ‘bye, ‘bye—but I found out later I could have dried it and used it to mend a hole in my ceiling until I could get to the store and buy some replacement stucco. That, of course, would have necessitated my starting the car and I think we’ve covered the inadvisability of that if we care about the world we’re leaving behind for our children.
  • Calling my magazine editor to discuss an extension of my article deadline. After I make up some quasi-plausible reasons—though I confess, one involves my obstinate cat Osborn eating my interview notes—he stops me and says, “Okay, okay! Stop with the idiotic excuses! You can have an extra week.” 

I couldn’t have got away with that a year ago. I told you my negotiating skills had improved.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).