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Global SKILLs midweek Connect: 8/12/20 ~ PROACTive Bartering

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

Greetings and Happy Midweek!

Expanding on the subject of ‘numbers’ I began a few weeks ago, and playing a bit with cross-cultural communications, I’ve been doing some successful bartering lately which I thought might be of interest culturally, and practically. As part of Global SKILLs’ PROACTive learning strategies training, I offer insights into and strategies for navigating this type of cultural dynamic - check out the links below for more insights and information.

In West Africa, the whos, ways and hows of bartering vary enormously so it’s good to know at least the basic rules before you go to market! For example, bartering can be based on the assumption that expressed lack of initial buyer interest really means “give me a better price and we’re on our way”. Repeated buyer ‘nos’ go completely unnoticed, since they are assumed by both parties to simply be steps in making the deal. This exchange can escalate to a bit of a market-place crisis when there’s an added “you touch it, you bought it” (unspoken) rule. The problem starts if you don’t know that underlying rule and, although you don’t want the item, you touch it - it is fully expected by the vendor that you have already bought it regardless of price or the fact that you don’t want it!

In contrast to those bartering strategies (first ‘no’ leads to better offer approach, and touching something means you intend to buy it), in other places (and more like in our western culture) bartering is reduced to my ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and my ‘no’ means ‘no’ (or, a fixed price approach). This gets dicey if you are interested in the item and (being used to ‘no’ means ‘maybe yes, give me a better deal’) you start by saying ‘no’ (expecting the better offer), but the vendor takes your ‘no’ as meaning ‘no’ and walks away seeking their next potential client, leaving you without the item you did actually want.

Bartering can also be an exchange which is not really the price at all, but rather about building a business relationship or network. This goes along the lines of “Remember me? I bought tomatoes from you last week at x price, and here I am again, so how about a little better price this week and of course I’ll be back next week and maybe I’ll bring a friend!” If the merchant is ready to take that next step, the response is an easy smile, slightly better price and cadeau (or 'gift') thrown in for good measure. And so it goes…

Having lived for so long in very active bartering cultures, I find myself bringing that potential dynamic to the table in business contexts. Recent bartering successes have included me approaching two different ‘vendors’ (virtual conference sponsors) and bartering for myself a free conference registration. In one case, where I was a returning client, the vendor’s gain was a ‘next step’ relationship builder. In the other case, an expanded global network possibility I offered gained me a gracious invite to the conference as the sponsor’s guest!

A Global SKILLs PROACTive bartering perspective is it’s definitely worth a try. Have you done any lately? If so, share here or with a friend what the dynamic was and how it turned out. If not, do give it a try...have fun with it, but beware of ‘unspoken’ rules!

Until next week,


Global SKILLs LINKs ~ for more on bartering, here's a fascinating West African practice during the Ghanian Empire in the early middle ages:

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