Cross-Cultural Interaction

The best way to get your needs met

I recently got back from a whirlwind trip across the Middle East. Our first stop was in Jordan.

A friend of ours lives in Jordan, so he picked us up and played tour guide the entire time we were there. As we traveled around the country, I noticed an interesting trend.

Time and time again, we would begin trying to buy a good or service by asking the price. And time and time again, they would respond with “as you like.” In other words, there’s no real price; just pay what you’re comfortable with.

If we had been on our own we probably would have been completely taken advantage of. Since we had a friend with insider knowledge of the local culture, however, we stood a fighting chance. He was much more familiar with the local customs of haggling, so he took the reins during these negotiations.

He’d begin by offering a ridiculously low price. Immediately, the easy-going facade of the seller dropped. “Oh no, no!” they’d say. “That’s not enough.”

They were not, as it turned out, actually willing to accept any price.

Once they’d been called out, they gave a price, from which point we could start negotiating. But we weren’t able to start until the pretenses had been dropped.

At first this practice really bothered me. If they weren’t willing to accept any price, why did they start off by saying that they would? Why wouldn’t they just be upfront and tell how much they wanted?

I soon came to understand that this is a much more common practice across all of humanity than I’d realized.

How often do we say we’re fine with something when we’re really not? How often do we just hope someone will guess our desires, rather than actually taking the time to express them?

Growing up, we had a running semi-joke in our household – we called it the “Jewish mother syndrome.” It was based on the terrible stereotype that Jewish mothers are much more likely to try to guilt you into doing something than to ask for it outright.

Whenever a situation came up where a preference existed but wasn’t expressed, someone would invariably say with their best Jewish accent, “no no, I’ll just sit here in the dark alone.” The implication being that, just like a Jewish mother might guilt her kids into turning on the light and staying with her rather than actually asking for those things, someone in my family was trying to similarly guilt us into doing what they wanted.

This always caused a laugh in my household.

But as I made my way through Jordan, I realized how endemic it is to the entire human experience.

We all have our needs and preferences. There’s no question about that. What’s far less common is how many of us are actually willing to express those needs and preferences. We drop hints, hope for more mind readers in our lives, and get disappointed when they don’t show up.

Here’s a novel idea. What if we were actually honest and upfront about our needs?

Not pushy, not demanding. Not being insensitive to other’s needs. Simply recognizing that we also have needs, and it is acceptable – healthy, even – to express those needs. I can’t help but think that that model would bring about a whole lot more happy, healthy relationships.

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1 thought on “The best way to get your needs met

  1. Interesting how this resonated with my “sales” persona. We have prospective customers that ask us for a proposal, and we try to hone in on the right solution and price it accordingly. The customer says “we really need this, I’m not worried about the cost”. Until we present the proposal, and all of the sudden “Oh no, no, no! That’s much too high. You’ll have to do better than that!”… Training sales people to engage and converse with a customer is the most important step. If we understand their needs, we can communicate cost/value to them much more effectively.

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