Guest Contributor: Nitsy Lavenda

A man walks up to the theater box office in Israel and wants to buy some tickets. “How much is a ticket?” he asks. “Thirty-five shekels,” says the ticket agent. “How much for children?” asks the man. “Same price, thirty-five shekels,” says the agent. The man starts to get agitated, “The airlines charge only half fare for children.” The ticket agent thinks for a second and says, “I’ll tell you what. You come to the movies; put the kids on an airplane.”

Such is negotiating in Israel. Israelis like to be helpful and creative, but Americans don’t always take it the way it is intended. Not understanding the Israeli business culture can make negotiating challenging. Here are some tips to help you be successful:

1. Israelis tend to be direct and are often taken to be irreverent.
While this sometimes shocks Americans, it is really the Israeli “tachlis” attitude.  When negotiating, if you are surprised by your partner’s directness, remain calm and don’t take it personally. There is no reason to get defensive, because no ill-will is intended.

2. Like in any negotiating situation, know your rights before you start negotiating.
Check out the relevant law, regulation, or policy before you begin. Be ready to substantiate these rights, rather than assume they are understood by your negotiating partner. If you are asking for something to which you are not entitled, a conciliatory tactic of expressing that you are asking for something “above and beyond” what you are entitled to, will usually work better than trying to “finagle.”

3. The language gap can create misunderstandings.
Don’t assume that because you understand Hebrew or your partner speaks English that all the nuances and subtleties carry over. When dealing with a limited vocabulary, it is likely that misunderstandings will take place. Take the time to reiterate and make crystal clear that you understand each other.

4. Israelis like to get to the bottom line quickly.
Keep it short and direct. Say what you mean; don’t expect your negotiating partner to “read between the lines.”

5. In Israel, the customer is not always right.
The Israeli public is very demanding and as such, government agencies, stores, and service providers do not necessarily take your complaint or request at face value. Threatening to “expose” the poor service you received will almost never produce the intended results. It is better to state your case in a calm and convincing manner – providing as much detail as possible, including documentation when relevant. And never exaggerate. When your credibility is damaged, you negotiating position is weakened, regardless of the justice of your case.

6. In Israel, almost everything is negotiable.
Counter-intuitively, almost the only thing not negotiable is the price of a new car (usually). Other than that, most major purchases are open to negotiation. Israelis often expect to receive a discount off of major purchases, so list prices are calculated accordingly. Feel free to negotiate for things such as furniture, houses, appliances, durable goods (other than chain stores), and many services, such as movers, plumbers, carpenters, etc. Even the price of mortgages varies between branches of the same bank. Your ability to shop and negotiate can save you significantly.

7. Read the small print
Just like in America, some deals that sound too good to be true, often are. Particularly, make sure you understand your obligations when signing an agreement and how you can back out if you change your mind later on. If you sign a “hora’at keva” (ongoing electronic bank debit) or give a credit card for payment, it is not as easy as in the US to cancel payment if you feel you are being unfairly charged.

8. A written agreement trumps anything that might be agreed to verbally.
Make sure that all terms are summarized in writing. In the words of Louis Mayer, “a verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”

9. Check other options before closing.
Particularly when shopping, you might encounter the “this is the last day of the sale” tactic. Relax. While this is intended to create some urgency in closing a sale, it is better to wait and check your options. If this is a good deal, you will almost always get the same price tomorrow.

10. Lastly, smile.
Israelis will usually be more willing to help you when you approach them by requesting assistance, rather than by demanding service.

Thank you to Nitsy Lavenda for preparing this article. Nitsy is an attorney and professional negotiator, with 20 years of experience. A bi-cultural Israeli-American, and former returning resident (and wife of a new Oleh), she has successfully negotiated on real-estate, commercial, insurance, and government- related issues. She can be reached at: [email protected] or (050) 534-9607.

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