Sklover’s Monday Thought: “Beware of Bargains”

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“A good rule to remember for life is that when it comes to plastic surgery and sushi, never be attracted by a bargain.”

– Graham Norton⁣

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This insightful quote reminds us of the rather odd thought that “A bargain” is often not a “bargain.” Low price does not always mean “good value.” No matter how low or high the price may be, the thing bought and purchased may still be worthless . . . as, for example, old sushi.

As someone who negotiates for a living, I am often faced with this dilemma: what is of true value, and how much is it wise to give or request to make a good deal? For example, if my client is the only person with the “magic formula” or the “solid relation” sought by everyone, I can surely raise his or her “price.”

And, even then, what elements – salary, bonus, stock, title, job security, etc. – would be most valuable for my client to seek? Most importantly, over the years of this work I’ve learned that so much of “value” depends on context.

As an example, in the retail context, in which nearly everything can be “sought and bought,” nearly everything is a commodity, or close to one. It is a context in which most things are of little essential value, and not worthy of giving up much to get. I wouldn’t likely spend time and effort to bargain too hard to get a good price on a single piece of paper, or even a whole carton of them. Chances are the “value” of a single piece of paper is close to “valueless.”

In the investment context, so much of “value” is a matter of perception, of both today’s value and next year’s value, too. Navigating in the investment context often depends on scarce information and many opinions regarding differing perceptions of (i) what is, (ii) what is not, or (iii) what may become over time, more “valuable.” As examples, it may be very valuable to know how much the price of oil will likely be next month, or next year, even five years from now.

But it is in the employment context, including decisions on an employee’s pursuing a position, or an employer’s hiring, promoting, compensating, or terminating, much of the value we “buy, trade or sell” is comprised of degrees and elements of insight, temperament, judgment, guidance, opportunity and experience. These are quite difficult to assess, yet reign supreme.

Yet these elements have little if any value outside the particular employment context in which we find ourselves negotiating. For the right position with the right opportunity, or the right “special person,” the “offering price” and the “asking price” are nearly all matters of perception.

When it comes to “invaluable” things, we must often pay near the asking price if we need them, and often, too, we can demand a very audacious “asking price” if we offer what’s viewed as “invaluable.”

In employment, there are no real “bargains.” Those who think there are – whether on one side of the negotiating table or the other – are buying “old sushi.”

Valueless, Valuable and Invaluable – keep these concepts in mind in your own employment navigation and negotiation. They are compass points to your goals.

I recently used this “old sushi or plastic surgery” quote in a seminar I led entitled “What, Where and When is Your Real Value?” and it was the subject of a great deal of discussion – and laughter – afterward. To me, that is “invaluable feedback” and means it won’t be forgotten soon afterward by the seminar participants.

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