In the academic journey of a philosophy student approaching the completion of his degree, the challenge of articulating profound philosophical ideas into clear, concise language became evident. The student, Henry, faced a daunting task with an important essay on reconciling human free will with pre-determinism. During a four-hour Zoom call, he delved into a 7,000-word draft in the presence of Alistair White, a Consultant at The Gap Partnership who offered his assistance.
Henry’s essay cantered on the Hegelian dialectic; a method established by the 19th-century German philosopher Georg Hegel. This technique involves presenting a thesis and its antithesis, then resolving them with a synthesis. While Hegel used this to demonstrate intellectual prowess, negotiators have applied similar strategies throughout history, albeit in different contexts.
The strategic negotiation approach adopted by a large European retailer, as they navigated supplier-driven price hikes, reflects a nuanced understanding of market dynamics and the Hegelian dialectic principle. In 2022, retailers faced their toughest negotiations, grappling with commodity price surges and pandemic-induced operational costs. This environment coerced retailers to reconsider their negotiation tactics. For instance, the introduction of an online selling fee for suppliers may have been a calculated response to offset these challenges, particularly as retailers confronted a shift in consumer behaviour towards online shopping, which cannibalized physical store sales without reducing fixed costs.
The overall pressure on supply chains, marked by significant price increases in essential commodities, put profits at risk across the board. In such scenarios, retailers’ mastery over analytics, leveraging data from loyalty programs and customer purchases, became a powerful tool to break down costs and negotiate from a position of strength.
These tactics, seemingly creating a challenge to seek a favourable resolution, align with the Hegelian approach of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, where the synthesis aims to resolve the tension between the first two. In the contemporary context, this dialectic finds its parallel in the strategic creation of negotiation leverage through the presentation of solvable problems.
The legitimacy of these tactics remains debatable, but their identification is crucial. They typically emerge in standoffs where demands are made, and concessions are scarce. This particular retailer, with a long history of online sales, presented new costs coincidentally at a time of supplier price increases. The quick disappearance of these “problems” often reveals their true nature as negotiation tools.
Whether the retailer’s online charges were a genuine cost or a negotiating strategy remains unclear. However, it is quite possible that Hegel would be intrigued to see his dialectic being employed in modern commerce.
In a positive turn of events, Henry’s philosophical rigor earned him an A grade on his essay, and a fine bottle of wine was negotiated as a token of appreciation for the editorial assistance he received.