One distinguishing feature of trading activities in our local markets is bargaining.
It begins with a trader offering her product or produce for a price.
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The buyer counters it with her own offering price.
The negotiation can go on for minutes in a very interesting and cordial manner.
The trick is, no party in the bargaining exercise wants to be cheated or exploited or, to put it in business parlance, to lose out. So while the seller descends slowly, the buyer also ascends gradually, each using witty language until the two reach a common price.
Bargaining, as stated, can be exciting and friendly to the extent that it cements a bond between the two parties who begin to enjoy the services of each other.
“The cat says if I fall for you and you fall for me, it is a play,” according to an Ibo proverb. That sums up the spirit of bargaining.
Bargaining can also turn acrimonious if the parties are not accommodating or see each other’s offer or demand as too outrageous and, therefore, not even worth considering.
If this distrust is sown right from the word go, bargaining is no longer a mutual exercise but becomes antagonistic, with each party trying to attract attention outside the real business.
If for instance you go to the market to buy a quantity of tomatoes and the seller offers it at GH¢10 and you blurt out: “Am I crazy to buy this at such a ridiculous price?”, the tone has been set for a bad business negotiation.
In the same way, if after you have politely asked for a reduction, the trader retorts: “Are you from Mars? Don’t you know things are hard?”, your adrenalin will definitely flow and what could have been a mutual business transaction could turn into verbal exchanges and possibly fisticuffs.
The pattern is the same in workplace negotiations.
This time, the seller is the professional or worker who is selling his expertise or services and the buyer is the employer who is in demand of the expertise or services.
The worker places value on his or her expertise in making his or her demands, while the employer also examines his or her financial status in making an offer.
At no time should any of the parties describe the other party’s position as outrageous or unreasonable.
Of course, in extreme situations, one party could fall victim to circumstances.
If we go back to the market situation, during the period of glut, the tomato buyer may have her way because crates of tomato may be rotting away and so the seller has very little strength in the bargaining process.
The opposite happens when there is scarcity.
Here, the seller who may be the only trader selling the commodity in the market will have the bargaining chips because other customers have lined up to pay if you want to waste time.
Taking the extremes apart, bargaining recognises the symbiotic relationship between the seller and the buyer or the worker and the employer and is conducted in a manner as to be mutually beneficial to both parties.
Our labour front is boiling with a lot of demands from various public sector professionals and workers, and agitations for strike action are rife.
Whether the demands being made and the offers being given are outrageous or not, the bottom line is that there is a general mistrust in the bargaining process which is eroding confidence and mutuality.
On the table now, and which has become a national issue, is the stalemate between medical officers and the government over the former’s service conditions.
The doctors started on a note of threatening to resign en masse. That, to many, may have diluted their legitimate demands.
That does not mean one could describe their demands as outrageous. They are not wrong in placing a certain value on their services. It is for the employer, in this case the government, to also place its financial strength on the table, which would determine the trend of the negotiation process.
The two positions – threatening to resign en masse and describing their demands as outrageous – have sowed seeds of distrust and, therefore, the negotiation process has been endangered .
The political game players may take advantage of the situation to market their narrow interests, but it is unfair to put into the public domain the so-called outrageous demands of the doctors without informing the public about what the government is prepared to give to the doctors for us to judge their reasonableness.
Whatever the case, the entrenched positions will not serve the wider interest of our country.
If you relate it to the market situation, the doctors know their services are in high demand and, therefore, they hold the trump card. But they should also remember that they are rendering service to their own people and that they operate in the same economy and, therefore, cannot get everything.
It must also be stated without any ambiguity that the lifestyles of government appointees, including those without any defined roles apart from talking, are making it difficult to convince professional groups and Ghanaians generally that there is no money to meet their demands and expectations.
If the true state of the economy is not reflected in the type of vehicles we purchase for official use and the number of people we put on the payroll, then we may be in for more outrageous demands.