A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts

Published: Apr 03 , 2014
Author: Romana Henry

As a French speaker, I was recently despatched to the French island of La Reunion, located in the middle of the Indian Ocean close to Mauritius and Madagascar to run a course. What a place! A tropical paradise with wonderful people, beaches, sea, food, scenery, the list goes on and on.  My colleague Julien, originally from Paris but living there for the last 10 years – life’s a bitch – told me a lovely story.

A young and thrusting French sales executive was on a business trip to Madagascar and came across a native Madagascan selling coconuts at the side of the road.  His wares were lined up on top of what looked like an old surf board. The French man asked why he was selling only coconuts and the native answered, “why not?”

“Because there are so many wonderful fruits on this island which you could be selling,” was his response. “Mangoes, bananas, pineapples, avocado, oranges, lemons…… you could sell so much more; then you could buy a bicycle, put a basket on the front and ride around collecting the fruit.”

 “But why would I want to do that?  All I do is shake the tree; the coconuts fall; I catch them then I sell them: simple,” he answered.  

“Well yes, but you could make much more money if you had more to sell.”

“What for?”

“Well, then you could get yourself a stall in the big market.”

“But why would I want that?” 

“Well, then you could employ your brothers and sisters and your business would grow and grow.”

“But why would I want that?”

The French guy, by this time rather exasperated, looked at the Madagascan in his shorts, vest and flip flops, breathed deeply and said, “well because, just think, after you’ve worked really hard all week, when the weekend comes, you could go fishing!” 

“But I go fishing every day,” was the reply.

A common mistake in negotiations is making assumptions and then not testing them. The French guy assumed that the Madagascan shared the same priorities as he did, namely making money and being successful in business.  We see it all the time and it can lead to so many misunderstandings and missed opportunities.  Rather than assume you know what the other party wants, needs, likes, dislikes, can and can’t do,  why not test your assumptions by asking good negotiating questions then listening carefully to the answer and picking up any signals held within those responses -  (“difficult” does not mean “impossible” and “at the moment”, may not mean “never”).  That way, you are much more likely to make proposals which have a better chance of being accepted and you will waste much less time trying to make the other party accept something they do not want or cannot do. 

Now fishing may not be my thing; but I’m with the Madagascan when it comes to his priorities!

Romana Henry

Reunion Island, 30 March 2014


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Romana Henry

About the author:

Romana Henry
With Scotwork since 2006, a key member or the Global Account Management team I ensure our 150 consultants worldwide deliver all Scotwork material to exacting high standards by training, testing and auditing on a constant basis as well as delivering courses and consultancy around the globe.

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