Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Win Win!

One of the goals for someone mediating transformation in a situation of conflict is to get different parties to give some ground in the hope that each side will win.

I think of this when I buy a rug or vegetables at the market where there is no fixed price. In this culture of bartering the outcome is for both buyer and seller to feel they are parting with satisfaction.

The psychology of bartering and conflict mediation is expressed so well by the Italian novelist, Umberto Eco. Baudolino in the book with the title bearing his name, is addressing a touring party that has arrived at Gallipolis:

"You should know that in our markets, at first glance, you wouldn’t want to buy anything because they ask too much, and if you immediately pay what they ask, it’s not that they take you for fools, because they already know you are fools, but they are offended because the merchant’s joy is bargaining. "

"So offer two coins when they ask ten, they’ll come down to seven, you offer three and they come down to five, you stick to three, until they give in, weeping and swearing they’ll end up homeless with all their family. At that point, go ahead and buy, but you should know that the object was worth one coin.”

“Then why should we buy?” the Poet asked.

“Because they also have a right to live, and three coins for what is worth one represents an honest trade.”

Source: Umberto Eco, Baudolino Trans. William Weaver (London: Vintage Books, 2003), 285.

Image: Bartering at the markets.