How not to bring a negotiation to a boil

stove06301 224x300 How not to bring a negotiation to a boilI didn’t want to buy a new stove.  I admit it. We were spending a ton of money on our kitchen remodel and our old stove is fine.  Yes it may not always automatically light-up when you turn it on but that’s what matches are for.  The last thing I want to do is spend 3 or 4 or maybe $5,000 on a stove.

I’m a know-it-all.  I admit that too. All of my male family members are know-it-alls. Of course, I think I’m a know it all because I know so much about so many things.  And sometimes, I’m such an expert in something that I don’t have time or patience to listen and take in what others are saying or offering.

I’m spending a lot of my time lately thinking about people skills, analyzing peoples skills, watching others and myself as they maneuver through the intricacies of life. I’m constantly saying to my wife, “If such and such had handled that situation slightly differently, he wouldn’t have had so much conflict.

Back to the stove.  I made the mistake of saying we should go to Stove Heaven, the vintage stove restoration place and get an idea of prices. We have a 1911 Craftsman house in Los Angeles which we’ve spent the last ten years restoring and it is gorgeous.  We’re finally getting around to remodeling the kitchen, something I’ve been putting off for years because of the expense and not really being sure of what to do with it. We started this renovation about three weeks ago and it is really coming along well and I thought, at the right price, a classic stove from the 1930′s or 40′s would be a great addition.

The stoves, as it turns out, are between $3,000 for an average 1950′s model all chromed up to $15,000 for a 1910 stove fully restored.  Okay, I’m thinking, they are beautiful, we are falling in love with them but do we really want to spend say 5 grand on a stove.  Can we afford it. (notice the apparent but intentional typo of no question mark on the end of the last sentence.) As we drive away, my wife agrees, perhaps we can get pick one up on craigslist.org for cheap.

She starts searching on craigslist and finds lots of stoves of that general era.  We go to look at one about a half of a mile from our home that a couple is selling because they’re doing a kitchen remodel also. It’s not exactly what my wife wanted, the period a little newer, only one oven as opposed to two, only four burners and she wants six.

But, here’s the killer it’s been recently restored and it’s only $450!  Can you believe it, restored for 450! I say let’s buy it.

My wife ponders for a day or two, keeps looking at craigslist, finally says she doesn’t want that stove, wants a six burner with two ovens.  And she’s found one in on the other side of town that’s come out of an old house that’s being completely renovated.

We go to look at the stove.  I’m all passive aggressive acting because I wanted to buy the “sure thing” and now we’re going into arcane territory and it makes me uncomfortable. We walk into the construction site, and there sits this old crapped-out stove.  My blood runs cold. My wife, who by the way, always takes what salesmen say at face value, asks the contractor who’s selling it, how it works.  “Works, great!” he says. “Every time I came to the house, the old man, he’s now in a nursing home, he was cooking on it.  Works great!”

I hear “works great” and I think, “this guy has no idea how this stove works.  It could explode every time you light the oven for all I know.  And the stove isn’t connected so there’s not way to see if it’s working.  My gut (and years of experience buy and selling things) tells me that this is a bad choice.  Too many variables.

And then, I make the fatal mistake. “I don’t want it!” I say.  And, of course, when I come down heavy, my wife comes back with the same ferocity. “I want it!” she says. “It’s only $400, it has six burners and two ovens and it works great!”  “We don’t know that it works great,” I say.  “All this guys knows is that it gets hot. We don’t know that it works great.”  “Why would he lie?” my wife retorts.

Why would he lie? WHY WOULD HE LIE?! “I’m not saying he’s lying. I’m saying he doesn’t know.  Why would he paint a rosey picture?! BECAUSE HE WANTS TO SELL AN OLD CRAPPY STOVE!” I continue, “I don’t want any part of it. If you want it, buy it but don’t expect me to restore it or think another thing about it because this is your deal not mine.  I’M OUT OF IT!” and I storm off to the car.

My wife is not very mechanical, she doesn’t know much about how things work. I do know a lot of about mechanical things and how they work and I have very strong opinons. My wife, on the other hand, is very smart but she deals quite a bit on the emotional level and the emotional level just got skewed way out of wack because of MY reaction to this whole thing.

She gets in the car with me and asks why I don’t want the stove. “It’s going to cost $450 plus we have to pay to have it hauled to our house.  We don’t even really know that it works. Do we want it sitting in our garage for six months until we figure it out? It could cost a lot of money to get it in working order, we don’t know that.”

My wife decides to call Stove Heaven and ask the nice woman if they restore old stoves for other people and how much it would cost to restore it. $650 to take it apart, clean it up, put in new installation and get it working order.  If the thermostat is out, an additional $200 per oven, depending on what needs work.  $100 for pick-up. $100 for delivery back to your house when we’re finished. If the thermocouplers are out, an additional $100 per oven.

I do the math.  Worst case scenario: $450 plus $200 for delivery and pick up plus $650 for the restoration plus $400 thermostats plus $200 for thermocouplers. Grand total $1900.  Plus throw in an addional $300 for whatever else is wrong with it like it needs new burners or whatever. Now, worst case is $2,300.

“Do you want to spend $2,300 on a stove right now?! I know I don’t.” “It’s not $2,300.  It’s $450 if it works perfectly now.” “And what do you think the chances are of that?! About zero.  I know these things.  It will be two grand, easy.  Do you want to spend $2,000?!”

And it went down hill from there.  Long story short, she did buy the stove and we’re having it restored.

But, in retrospect, I think if I had handled this in a more sane manner, this all would have had a better outcome.  And the sane manner involves basic people skills that I always preach — observe, listen, acknowledge.

Allow me to tackle this issue again, at least in my mind and see how it might have worked out better.  First, I do know a lot about buying things, building things, making deals, running the numbers to evaluate whether something is a good deal or not.  My wife does not have that much experience with these kinds of things.  The role I should have assumed is that of the teacher, not telling her what to do but helping her, with my own knowledge and experience, to make the decision that is right for her rather than making a decision based on an argument.

Or, it a perfect world, if I had practiced what I preached, here’s how it could have gone when we first looked at the stove:

Me:   Wow, this is the stove you wanted.  Six burners. Double oven.  A little ratty but it is what you are looking for.

Wife:  Yeah, exactly. I wonder if a cookie sheet will fit length-wise in there.  I forgot to bring one.

Me:   We can measure it.  I think a cookie sheet is about 20 inches.

Wife:  Well, I could buy smaller cookie sheets.

Me:   That’s a good solution to the size issue.  You know, if it’s all in good working order, it would be a really good deal.  But, on the often chance that it’s not working perfectly, like the oven temperature is off or something, maybe we should take a minute and do a little research and find out what it might cost to have things fixed.

Wife:   But we don’t know if anything is wrong with it.  The guy said it’s working perfectly.

Me:   Yeah, it probably is but he’s a contractor.  Maybe he doesn’t know exactly well it’s working. Or maybe it has something wrong with it that he doesn’t know about.

Wife:   Hmmm, that’s true.

Me:  How could we find out more about these stoves? Like what goes wrong with them.  I wish we had an expert we could call.

Wife:   We could call the woman at Stove Heaven and ask her. She’s fixed thousands of these stoves.

Me.   That’s a great idea.  Maybe we could find out two numbers.  How much it will probably cost if it needs a basic cleaning and going through and how much a worst case scenario will cost.  If everything is wrong with it, which it’s not but just to have an idea of what we might be in for. Then we can decide.

Wife:  Why don’t you call them.  You know so much more about these things.

Me:  Maybe you should call them because you know how impatient I am and you always ask such good detailed questions (which is true).

After my wife calls Stove Heaven, she reports.

Wife:  $200 for pick up and delivery and to try it out if absolutely nothing is wrong with it.  To clean it and refurbish without any additional parts, an additional $650.  If it needs everything, an additional $600.  So, worst case including the stove and everything is $2,100.  Best case is $650 total.

Me:   Do you want a dirty stove like this?

Wife:  Maybe Teresa (the housekeeper) and I could clean it.  Save $650.

Me:   Yeah, you probably could.  But it looks like a lot of work with those awful chemicals.  And we don’t even know how to take it apart.  Might get a little messy.

Wife:  (Thinking.)  Yeah.  You’re right.  I think we should have it cleaned and everything at stove heaven.  So that would be $650 plus $450 for the stove plus $200 for the delivery. $1,300.  I don’t know.  Do you think we should spend $1,300 for a stove?

Me:  Is it what you want?

Wife:  Yeah, but I’m not sure if we should spend $1,300 right now. The kitchen remodel is costing us a fortune.  Maybe we should save that money and use the old stove right now.

Me:  It’s up to you.  I’m happy to go either way.  Your birthday is coming up next week.  Let’s make it your birthday present.

Wife:   Okay, it’s my birthday present.

And they lived happily ever after.

Of course, if it had gone this way, I could let her go with the “$1,300 is a lot right now.”

This was a far better scenario for a negotiation than the former.  We calmly discussed the facts.  It went to the same place but I wasn’t trying to manipulate her or bully her but just to get the facts out on the table and deal with them.

I could have listened, acknowledged, gently walked through it with her and we would have gotten to the same place but with a lot less hurt feelings.

Now, if I can only listen to myself next time and do it right!

Addendum.  Just got the verdict on the stove: $1975.  I was 75 bucks off of my estimate.  I do know what I’m talking about but I’m still an idiot.

read about our remodel at This Old House magazine

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