Methods of Negotiations

There are fundamentally two ways in which you can negotiate a price. You can either bargain or set a fixed price. Bargaining induces temporary transaction costs – you might end up fighting even, as you are trying to negotiate. But in the process you and the counterparty are giving each other complete information of what you are thinking, and at every step in the process, there is some new information that is going into the price. Finally, if you do manage to strike a deal, it will turn out to be one that both of you like (ok I guess that’s a tautology). Even when there is no deal, you know you at least tried.

In a fixed price environment, on the other hand, you need to take into consideration what the other person thinks the price should be. There’s a fair bit of game theory involved and you constantly need to be guessing, about what the other person might be thinking, and probably adjust your price accordingly. There is no information flow during the course of the deal, and that can severely affect the chances of a deal happening. The consequences in terms of mental strain could be enormous in case you are really keen that the deal goes through.

Some people find the fixed price environment romantic. They think it’s romantic that one can think exactly on behalf of the counterparty and offer them a fair deal. What they fail to discount is the amount of thought process and guessing that actually goes in to the process of determining the “fair deal”. What they discount is the disappointment that has occurred in the past when they’ve been offered an unfair deal, and can do nothing about it because the price is fixed. But I guess that’s the deal about romance – you remember all the nice parts and ignore that similar conditions could lead to not-so-nice outcomes.

Bargaining, on the other hand has none of this romance. It involves short-term costs, fights even. But that’s the best way to go about it if you are keen on striking a deal. Unfortunately the romantics think it’s too unromantic (guess it’s because it’s too practical) and think that if you want a high probability of a deal, you should be willing to offer a fixed price. And the fight continues.. Or maybe not – it could even be a “take it or leave it” thing.

Punjabi Muslims

So earlier today I was reading this profile of a Harvard professor that Chan had shared on Google Reader, and I came across this name called Iqbal Dhaliwal. The name immediately rang a bell, and I realized I’d come across this name long long ago in the Competition Success Review (yes, I admit I used to read that ) when he topped the civil services exam.

So one of my hobbies is to try find out about a person’s origins and ethnicity given his/her name. Like I once figured that this colleague is of Danish descent because his surname ends with -sen while the more common spelling of that name is -son. And so I was trying to figure out where  Iqbal Dhaliwal came from. It was clear from the first name that he’s Muslim. And the last name, I thought, sounded Punjabi.

And then my thought process went something like this:

First name Muslim, last name Punjabi-sounding… So is he a Punjabi Muslim? But then, I don’t know any Punjabi Muslims. Do there exist any Punjabi Muslims at all? Hey, wait a minute, I remember reading somewhere that the majority of people in Pakistan speak Punjabi. So there must exist Punjabi Muslims. But I don’t know any.. I don’t know any Punjabi Muslims but there are lots of them in Pakistan. Yeah, I don’t know any because all of them are in Pakistan. Yes, all of them are in Pakistan, most of them at least!

I know Kannadiga Muslims, Bengali Muslims, Gujarati Muslims, Kashmiri Muslims and Muslims from UP. But I don’t know any Punjabi Muslims. Because there are no Punjabi Muslims in India. Because ALL of them went to Pakistan. Tells you how much of an impact partition had in the Punjab,  compared to anywhere else in India.

Interview length

When I interviewed for my current job four months back, I was put through over twelve hours of high-quality interviews. This includes both telephonic and face-to-face processes (on one day, I was called to the office and grilled from 1030am to 630pm) and by “high quality”, I’m referring to the standard of questions that I was asked.

All the interviews were extremely enjoyable, and I had fun solving the problems that had been thrown at me. I must mention here that the entire process was a “stud interview” – one that tried to evaluate me on my thought process rather than evaluating what I know. I’ve also been through a few “fighter interviews” – ones where the interviewer just spends time finding out your “knowledge” – and I don’t remember taking a single job so far after passing this kind of an interview.

So recently I read this post by Seth Godin that someone had shared on Google Reader, where he says that there exists just no point in having long interviews and so interviews should be kept short and to the point. That way, he says, people’s time gets wasted less and the candidate also doesn’t need to waste much time interviewing. After reading that, I was trying to put my personal experience into perspective.

One thing is that in a “stud interview”, where you throw tough problems at the candidate, one of the key “steps” in the solution process is for an insight to hit the candidate. Even if you give hints, and mark liberally for “steps”, the “cracking” of the problem usually depends upon an insight. And it isn’t fair to expect that an insight hits the candidate on each and every question, and so the way to take out this factor is by having a large number of questions. Which means the interview takes longer.

The other thing about the length of the interview is signaling. Twelve hours of hardcore problem-solving sends out a signal to the candidate with regard to the quality of the group. It gives an idea to the candidate about what it takes to get into the group. It says that every person working in the group had to go through this kind of a process and hence is likely to be of high quality.

Another thing with the “stud interview” is that it also directly gives the candidate an idea of the quality of the people interviewing. Typically, hard math-puzzle based interviews are difficult to “take” (for the interviewer). So putting the candidate through this large number of math-problem-solving interviews tells him that the large number of people interviewing him are all good enough to take this kind of an interview. And this kind of interviews are also ruthless on the interviewer – it is usually not hard for a smart candidate to see through it if he thinks the interviewer has just mugged the answer to a question without actually solving it.

All put together, when you are recruiting for a job based on “stud interviews”, it makes sense for you to take time, and make the candidate go through several rounds. It also usually helps that most of these “stud interviews” are usually fun for the candidate also. On the other hand, if you are only willing to test what the candidate knows and are not really interested in the way he thinks, then you might follow Godin’s suggestion and keep the interview short.