Once upon a time, I worked for a company that had developed some cool (for the time) radar recording technology1Based upon heavy modification of U-Matic – studio, but not quite broadcast-quality – video cassette recorders that was in modest demand at the time. Having been developed for the Royal Navy (and deployed on board various ships during the Falklands campaign of 1982) others took an interest, among them the South Koreans.

Now it so happened that the South Koreans had specified that radar recording equipment be provided for some new ships, and that the systems integrator for the radar (and other) systems had overlooked this fact. I was therefore invited to Seoul at short notice to see what could be done. “What can we do about this?” turned out to mean, “What can you give us for nothing? We’ve already spent the budget.” but more on that in a moment.

I arrived in Seoul – which was then eight or nine hours ahead of UK time – and checked into the hotel where the integrator’s main team was staying, and after freshening up etc. joined them in the bar about 10pm, which was a cosy afternoon time for a body still blissfully unaware that it was no longer in the UK.

Beer was duly consumed and the conversation turned to what I was doing there. I explained, and said that “Ted”2The are BBC News™ “Quotes”, i.e. their meaning is mysteriously undetermined and may in fact never be revealed by the text that follows, in honour of the BBC’s current tendency to enquote what people say, what people “meant”, what may be “alleged” but never attributed to anyone “in particular”, as a sort-of “y’know what I mean?” orthographic wink, that some unspecific substitution has occurred or, apparently, at “random” to suggest that what is within the quotes is not entirely unrelated to the rest of the article but that the specific meaning doesn’t really matter very much. I get very annoyed by the “BBC” these days. had asked me to discuss what we could “do” about the South Korean’s readar recording needs.

There were nods of understanding. “It takes a while to get used to the way they do things, here, but you’ll be fine,” I was assured, “Just don’t arrange any meetings around midday – your body won’t know which way is up and you won’t be able to manage the meeting when it thinks it’s 4-5am. You’ll fall asleep if you’re not careful.” I took this advice seriously and enjoyed another beer or two.

Some time later, “Ted” (for it was he of the inverted quotes name) turned up, and after collapsing into a chair, gleefully announced, “Well! I’m glad you could make it – we need to move quickly on this. I’ve set up a meeting for 12:00 tomorrow.”

Not realising how significant the warning I had been given truly was, I accepted this as a fait accompli and drank more beer.

Next Day

The next day, “Ted” and “I” headed off to a meeting with the South Korean systems integrators, who, I think, were Samsung. “Ted” offered sage advice, I think, but since it was already 3am I’m not sure what it was exactly, apart from the fact that the main contact had been dealing with “westerners” so long we could no longer negotiate by playing on loss of face.

“The last time I tried to put him on the spot he just smiled and said, ‘I suppose I will lose face by this, but I’m afraid I have to reject your proposal,'” “Ted” said. “Just stick to your guns – and don’t be afraid of protracted silences: they try to get better deals by going quiet and waiting for the westerner to become so uncomfortable they blurt out a better offer just to break the silence.”

I “assured” “Ted” I would be mindful of this.

Now to cut a long story short, it did indeed happen, after much discussion of prices, requests for a discount against future business politely declined3“Well, if you would care to write me an order for another batch for delivery in two to three years I would be happy to offer a quantity discount…” and so on that the dreaded negotiating silence fell.

I was not too upset about this. I was tired of pointless argument and quite prepared to enjoy a little rest…

After some indeterminate period the South Koreans began talking again and we eventually struck a mutually satisfactory deal4Even if I did have to go through the whole mechanical negotiation process again when they tried to renegotiate the deal when they finally got around to placing the second order..

“Well done!” said “Ted” on the way back to the hotel, just as my body was getting ready to fall out of bed, “I thought you handled the silence well.”

“To be honest, it wasn’t that hard,” I confessed. “You remember that painting on the wall behind them? I started looking at it and must have fallen asleep with my eyes open because I don’t remember the silence being more than a second or two…”

And there you have it, this one weird negotiating trick: when confronted by an awkward silence into which you are expected to pour an improved offer out of sheer discomfort, just relax, enjoy the scenery and go to sleep…

… but try not to snore.

Notes   [ + ]

1.Based upon heavy modification of U-Matic – studio, but not quite broadcast-quality – video cassette recorders
2.The are BBC News™ “Quotes”, i.e. their meaning is mysteriously undetermined and may in fact never be revealed by the text that follows, in honour of the BBC’s current tendency to enquote what people say, what people “meant”, what may be “alleged” but never attributed to anyone “in particular”, as a sort-of “y’know what I mean?” orthographic wink, that some unspecific substitution has occurred or, apparently, at “random” to suggest that what is within the quotes is not entirely unrelated to the rest of the article but that the specific meaning doesn’t really matter very much. I get very annoyed by the “BBC” these days.
3.“Well, if you would care to write me an order for another batch for delivery in two to three years I would be happy to offer a quantity discount…”
4.Even if I did have to go through the whole mechanical negotiation process again when they tried to renegotiate the deal when they finally got around to placing the second order.

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