Two Bits and a Bully: My First Lesson in Negotiation
Emotionally loaded from every angle, it didn’t go well. I knew it wouldn’t. And I’ve never forgotten the feelings of failure I experienced that day. The facts: I was to make a twenty-five cent offer for a bicycle tire owned by the class bully. My dad was offering.
We tend to land on the facts as being the essence of what any negotiation is about. The facts are always easier to talk about because there is no winning or losing in coolly describing the money the schedule and the deliverables. Feelings, on the other hand, are about what making a deal or not means to all parties. Someone could lose. Someone could dominate or be dominated. Violence, either emotionally or physically, could occur. Someone might not get what they want.
I couldn’t have described the deal analytically at eight years old, my age at the time, but I did know exactly how the deal would play out—how it would feel—the moment my father told me to make the two-bit offer.
And I now know that enlightenment comes from understanding and acting on those underlying feelings.
It was a rainy, wintery Saturday. Dad was sitting in the living room looking out the window and asked, “Do you know those kids?” I did. It was Jack Tubbs and his gang. They were rolling a bicycle wheel down a steep, rocky bank over and over again to see it bounce and jump. “They’re going to ruin that tire. Here’s a quarter. Go out there and buy it from them before they wreck it,” he said digging the coin out of his pocket.
I was caught in the middle between two powers without any leverage.
I knew right then it was a fool’s mission. That Jack would use it as a chance to humiliate me in front of his gang. I took it on anyway. Why? Because I so wanted to look accomplished in Dad’s eyes. I put that coin deep in my pocket and walked slowly across the field with Dad’s eyes on my back. Living up to his expectations, at least for a few moments. The wheel bounced towards me and I grabbed it. “Hey! Hey, Teddy, hey Teddy bear let that wheel go …”
“Hey, Jack, you don’t want this old wheel would you take two-bits for it? My dad’s offering a quarter for it. Says he could use it …”
Jack’s boys gathered to watch us, “Two bits? You crazy? It’s worth way more than that and your old man is crazy, right? Yeah, we all know he was in the nut house.” Grabbing the wheel, “get out of here and give it to me. No, give it to me and give me that quarter as rent for holding it.”
I let go the wheel and ran for it with the gang on my tail, fearing death. On a dead run, I slapped the top rail and vaulted the fence hitting the front door hard, and I was in. Made it! Only then did I dare look back. The gang lost interest and was trotting back through the field like the pack they were.
Dad was nowhere to be seen. He asked for the quarter back later—he never mentioned seeing the chase. I never told.
The facts were simple: twenty-five cents for a wheel. The feelings more complicated. I was negotiating for respect from both Dad and the gang. I was caught in the middle between two powers without any leverage. I knew instinctively that the deal wouldn’t happen. I also knew that if I refused, I would immediately suffer Dad’s scorn. Even though I knew I wouldn’t get the wheel, I knew I’d avoid his instant shaming if I took up his challenge.
Although he never said so, I probably did get a little respect from dad for taking the deal on. He was a boy once. He knew what it took to deal with a group of boys that you were not a part of.
In spite of my fear, I did know, down deep, the emotional landscape of the transaction even then. So, I didn’t get the deal but got something more valuable: a little self-respect and a deep understanding of how feelings shape all negotiations for all time.
To the Point
A short list of people who are nailing it right now.
Gary Glazner — the poet’s groundbreaking work at the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project has been adapted for a new program to train medical students in the use of creative expression to improve care in patients with dementia at The University of Arizona College of Medicine.
Holly Shakya and Nicholas Christakis — UC San Diego and Yale researchers determined the surprising impact of your Facebook habits. It’s not pretty.
Megan E. Speer and Mauricio R. Delgado — researchers confirm “think happy thoughts” can help decrease the body’s response to stress.
Need more inspiration?
Check out my tip videos for one-minute lessons to boost your negotiation confidence.
What’s Your Story?
As always, I look forward to your comments and questions. Feel free to comment below or email me directly. And if you have a story to share about how you nailed it, please send it my way — if we use it in the weekly mail, you’ll receive a free one-hour coaching session with me.