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What I Learned in Ghana About Negotiating

It was April 2004 during a 4:00 am meditation at a week-long Kundalini yoga retreat in Costa Rica that I had an aha moment; get a contract buyout from my marketing and PR job at BMG records and go to Ghana, West Africa for a 6-week Kundalini yoga teacher training program.

My teacher, Krishna Kaur, had announced earlier in the week that she would be doing this training program January - February 2005. When she said it, the idea didn't cross my mind even as a remote possibility.

But when aha hits, you must listen. I had no idea if or how this would unfold until…

Back at my fancy office some weeks later, I realized I was losing my mind and miserable at the job so began planning my exodus.

Family and friends thought I was crazy as I had the perfect perk-filled job -- a six-figure International VP title in the music business with an expense account, business class travel, free concerts and CDs, hanging with musicians like Etta James, Ziggy Marley, James Galway, The Chieftains, Rachael Yamagata, and Cesaria Evora, and getting to blast loud music or watch TV in my office while chilling on the couch wearing jeans. We worked hard but it was kind of a perpetual party.

The reality though was that a long and amazing 20-ish year career in entertainment marketing and PR had sucked the life out of me. I was always helping others achieve their goals and dreams, but lost myself in the process. I was tired and needed change.

Coming from a family of artists and entrepreneurs, following convention is not what I learned; so I did what was most logical… got the contract buy-out which covered me for months including health insurance and a year of unemployment checks. It's a lot easier to walk away from a job under these circumstances. Had the buy-out not happened, who knows if the need for change would have outweighed that nagging 'be responsible' voice that no doubt would have shown up.

Getting as far away as possible to reconnect with myself, recharge, and gain clarity about my life while doing the yoga training in Africa was the perfect plan.

By November 2004, I was gainfully unemployed, preparing for the almost two month journey.

There were countless revelations, lessons, and extraordinary experiences in Ghana. I fell in love with the country and the people and wanted to stay forever. Details of that I’ll share in another story, including how without warning, on day nine, I almost died from severe malaria. Minutes from dead, my life was saved by a Ghanaian Ayurvedic doctor; it forever changed me.

Back to this story…

Fearlessness comes naturally to me except when there’s a negotiation involved. My time in Ghana changed that.

This was my first developing country experience (Costa Rica is considered more ‘2nd’ world than ‘3rd’ world). I saw unspeakable poverty in Accra and while traveling outside the capital. Everything was dirt cheap to me so spending money and paying the asking price wasn’t an issue.

Four Americans and twenty-two Ghanaians took part in the training. Two of the Americans were brothers that had been raised in India. They decided to educate this Obroni (white person) as I was called there, in the art of haggling.

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‘I’ll just pay what it costs,’ I said, not wanting to be a disrespectful Obroni.

The twins said it would be disrespectful not to negotiate - it was expected and accepted, part of a strong cultural tradition that even kids learn young. So off we went to one of the outdoor markets and I watched them in action. It looked so easy until it was my turn. I was awkward and it didn’t feel like the right thing to do but I knew they knew better than me.

After some practice runs with the brothers by my side, I got the hang of it and was at ease. I graduated from their Haggle University and ventured off on my own, buying fabrics, drums, jewelry, and statues, always at the price I wanted.

When you walk into a store, or a market booth, they greet you, ‘hello my sister,’ or ‘hello, my brother’ -- a term of endearment.  After lots of back-and-forth ‘hello my sister, hello my brother’ over the weeks...

I learned there are always two sets of prices - one for the locals, and the other for tourists -- and it’s a marked difference. I learned to relax and make it fun, always being respectful. I learned the types of places you can and can’t haggle - supermarkets and pharmacies are off limits, for example. I learned that the owner will pretend he/she is not the owner and say they have to call the owner, then pretend to have a call where the fake owner says they can't lower the price. I learned you better be prepared to buy if you start to haggle. I learned that after haggling, even if you don't end up at the price you want, they never let you leave without making a sale, so if you really want something, don't cave on your bottom line price.

From learning to love the art of the haggle, here are a few tips that you can incorporate into business deal negotiations: 

Make it fun, be a little a playful

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you what… aim high

Silence is power; listen

Know your bottom line

Don’t be in a hurry

Even if desperate for the work, don’t let that show

Make sure the other person sees you know how to meet their needs

Be detached from the outcome

Be willing to walk away no matter how badly you want it

Nothing is marked in stone

And remember…

You can almost always land at the price you want.