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The Carved Box


Lately I’ve been thinking about the power of having done something once – even better if you did it well.  Doing something once creates familiarity with the act.  It is a rehearsal.  The next time you do it, you feel confident and trust your abilities more.

I’ve been a negotiator my whole life (with family, friends, bosses, professors…).  It comes naturally to me.  It comes naturally to most people – it just gets “taught out” by parents, school, and culture.  We don’t really need to learn to be negotiators; we need to unlearn how “not to be a negotiator”!

Nothing is as exciting as negotiating for something with purpose and succeeding beyond your own expectations.

This is an account of one of my earliest and most textbook negotiations… I consciously negotiated and unconsciously used the “walk away” tactic.

Having done “the walk-away” once, successfully albeit clumsily and “by accident”, gave me the confidence to try the tactic again and to enjoy it as research.  I learned how to use it as a useful tool.

The Carved Box

When I was living in New Orleans some friends came to visit and we discovered this little store near the French Market.  It looked small from the outside but it was very deep and long – it seemed to go on and on.  It was filled with trinkets from yesteryear, like a New Orleans keepsake time capsule.

We had a great few minutes in there – laughing about this and that, like the old flash bars for Polaroid cameras that had been out of production for over a decade and kitschy souvenirs from the 1970s…this store was packed with that sort of stuff.  The further back you went, the more random it got.

It was funny, so funny that I went back with a friend about a month later.

That’s when I saw the carved box…

In the very dark back of the store, there were a few big shelves packed with broken or unwrapped merchandise crammed together and even more stuff crammed underneath them on the floor.

On the floor I saw the corner of a carved box poking out from the rubble and thought that it looked pretty good.  I figured since it was being treated like trash, it should be pretty cheap.  I was in law school and not exactly ‘rollin in dough’ so I estimated $25 or so would be fair.

When the manager (the store was run by 3 Middle Eastern men) moved it out into the aisle, I saw that it was a truly beautiful chest.

It was heavy, rough-hewn and deeply carved with giant flowers on the top and on each side.  He said that it was Brazilian and carved from some exotic wood – I can’t remember what…I didn’t care – I was smitten!

I asked him how much it was and he said $90!  Taken aback, I said that I was thinking maybe $25.  He was visibly surprised and said “No way.”  I looked at the box again and said (and it was true) that I only had $40 to spend.  He said “No way.”

There wasn’t really anything left to do at that point.  I shook his hand, thanked him for his time, and we left (I now know that there are good reasons not to linger at the scene of an “impasse” purchase negotiation of this kind).

It was a long walk to the door, so he must have had enough time to think about it.  As I opened the door, he yelled to me “Ok, ok, $40.”  I was thrilled but tried to play it cool…

He got the box and it started to rain – hard, white, monsoony New Orleans rain. We were parked far away, and I asked if we could leave the box (it was heavy) and bring the car around.  He said that it was fine, and we reached the payment phase…

His face fell when he saw my credit card.  Then he got mad! “You are paying with credit card?!”  I said yes.  He said that he thought I had cash.  Unfamiliar with the process etiquette, I said, “You didn’t ask me how I was paying.”  He grudgingly (flanked by the other two who were giving me some pretty mean looks) rang me up.

On a hunch, I decided that leaving the box there was a bad idea since it probably wouldn’t be there when we returned.

I carried the box through the pouring rain and was absolutely soaked (but happy) when we got to the car.   It must be special wood because the rain didn’t phase it!

The Carved Box

The Carved Box

It became my “hurricane box” in New Orleans (full of important things like my passport, birth certificate, data backups etc…).  Today it is in front of the fireplace in our living room.  I still love it and appreciate it every day.

It was the first time I really negotiated for something – on purpose but using tactics “accidentally”.  I didn’t know what I was doing, and it still worked!  The tactic worked because it came naturally.

Sure, there are many things you can learn to become a better negotiator, but almost as important and maybe even more important is unlearning the habits, beliefs, and mindset that keep you from being the best negotiator you can be.

The first thing Negotiation Ninja training participants and coaching clients learn is how to change the limiting beliefs and erroneous information they have about negotiation.  We clean the slate right away so that clients and training participants can learn – and put to immediate, effective use – new knowledge and skills that yield predictable, repeatable negotiation results (wins!).

Call or email Negotiation Ninja today to discover and uncover your natural negotiation abilities and turbo-charge them!

Alabama lawyers – look for upcoming CLE classes on “Introduction To Negotiation” and “The Key: Negotiation Preparation” through the Alabama Center For Dispute resolution!

Details will be posted soon!


Nancy T. Hand, JD

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • tasha September 6, 2010, 2:19 am

    Fabulous story; gorgeous chest. 🙂 tash

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