A Talmudic Negotiation

A couple of months ago I was in the final stages of negotiating a deal with a large company in South Korea. This company is notorious for its tough negotiating tactics. I was invited to a meeting with the VP in charge of purchasing to discuss pricing. The session was scheduled for 1pm, but he showed up at 4pm; we went on for 5 hours, during which I was not offered any food or drinks; no breaks were taken. This was all standard procedure, part of the “atmosphere” created by these companies to put pressure on the vendors. Not pleasant, but part of the game.

But every such negotiation has its funny moments. At one point, about 3 hours into the session, I was standing next to the whiteboard trying to reconcile our differences in pricing. I was moving numbers around, doing quick calculations and generally playing around with the figures to find a way to make it work. In the heat of the moment I must have been doing things a little too quickly for them to follow properly. One of the guys in the room suddently shouted: “stop!”. I turned around and saw him holding his head between his hands. He gave me a desperate look, and said: “I can’t take it any more with you and your Talmud!”.

For a moment I was speechless. Then I just burst out laughing. They obviously knew I was Jewish and from Israel, but the last thing I expected to hear in that context was a reference to the Talmud. We all had a good laugh and after we calmed down I asked for an explanation.

It turns out that the Talmud is held in very high regard by Koreans. There are bestselling books in Korea, so I was told, that teach people how to think and negotiate better by using “Talmudic methods”. The back-and-forth of Talmudic debate is considered a sophisticated way to reach the right conclusion, so this has been translated to advice heeded to by many Koreans. It’s really all rather fascinating and it fits well within the widely-held myth (not particular to Koreans, by the way) that Jews are “intelligent” and “smart”.

After a short discussion about the Talmud – they were impressed by the fact I study it every day – we continued the negotiation and eventually reached an agreement. I guess studying Daf Yomi has helped me in more ways than one.

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