Haggling: how to beat the blokes in the bazaar
October 26, 2011 | By:

The best buyers understand the salesman, says Oliver Bennett. Here's how to play your carpet vendor using emotional intelligence

Rug Sellers by wonker

Stay souk savvy: know your top price, and don’t reveal it. {a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/wonker/1799786828/” target=”_new”}Photo by wonker{/a}

Emotional intelligence, or EI, refers to our ability to identify and control not only our emotions but other people’s. A perfect skill, then, if you intend on some holiday haggling.

The phrase, popularised in the 1980s and 90s, particularly by self-help writer Daniel Goleman, takes its cue from IQ (intelligence quotient). But how can you use emotional intelligence to approach the souk sellers?

  • Being able to recognise emotions, including our own, is a basic aspect of emotional intelligence. The vendor is the experienced one. He knows what you’re doing. So observe your deferent position, and be counter-intuitive. Your travel guide has told you: “Offer 50 per cent.” Your shopkeeper knows this. Offer ten per cent.
  • Cultivate self-awareness while also using your gut feelings to make decisions. Ask yourself: do you really want this carpet, or just the chase or a bit of theatre? Stay mindful of this while negotiating.
  • Harness your emotions to facilitate your cognitive activities: thinking and problem solving. Decide what this carpet or whatever is worth to you, and not just financially. Know your top price and if you secure it for that (or under), you’ve got value for money.
  • Don’t show enthusiasm is a tip hagglers often give. Keep a poker face. But the vendor knows what you’re doing, and can always tell from your non-verbal giveaways where your interests lie. So don’t worry too much about keeping your enthusiasm covered. Instead, don’t reveal your top price, which you have of course already established in your mind.
  • Social awareness is the ability to sense and react to others’ emotions while understanding the social network. So have that tea ritual – it’s the theatre of the deal – but recognise why it’s there. Don’t be guilt-tripped by it. On the other hand, don’t be more knowledgeable or ‘bigger’ than the vendor, or combative. That will push tempers up, and prices.
  • It’s vital to manage your emotions and, with luck and skill, those of the vendor. So harness your feelings, even negative ones, to get to the intended goal. Never express anger. Control the narrative. Take your time. Resist the temptation to quote the first price. Let the shopkeeper do that, as it establishes the field of play. Indeed, some argue that you shouldn’t offer a price at all unless you’re ready to buy at it.
  • Be alert to signs of discomfort. In some cultures the other person might ‘lose face’ in a negotiation. It may be a game to you, but in parts of China, for example, some residual honour could attach to a transaction like this. Focus on the outcome: you’re trying to find a consensual position, not to win a contest.
  • Understand emotions. Get to know when your vendor is getting pissed off with you. This is a good time to conclude – or leave.
  • Don’t be attached to the result. It would be nice to have that carpet, but does it really matter? No. Non-attachment will give you walk-away leverage. If you can’t conclude with this vendor and have to leave, fine. You’ll probably find the same item round the next corner anyway.