Hone Your Business Skills …at the Swap Meet?

Frequently, the most effective learning takes place outside of the classroom. Case in point: a DePaul University business course that teaches negotiation skills via the local Swap-O-Rama, where students are tasked with getting the best deal possible for a maximum of $10.

A recent Chicago Tribune piece highlighted the flea market assignment, created by veteran business school professor Steven Briggs. Favoring real-world lessons over PowerPoint lectures, Briggs has earned the business school’s excellence in teaching award four of the last 12 years””an impressive feat, considering professors can’t win two years in a row.

Most students in Briggs’ course have never stepped foot into a flea market, and thus learn the hard way that faux-pas such as wearing $300 sunglasses make bargaining for $.50-1.00 discounts laughable, or perhaps insulting, in the vendors’ eyes.

Armed with their Swap-O-Rama purchases, students head back to the classroom and describe how they negotiated their successes and what went wrong in their failures. After analyzing their experiences, Briggs outlines key strategies in effective negotiations, an outcome defined by all sides feeling like they won. By the end of the class, students have a laundry list of tips, including: Do your research. Show restraint. Be willing to walk away. Develop rapport.

“The idea is to practice on the little stuff and then get better. We have a good time with it, but we learn from it,” Briggs said. “We then can apply the [negotiations] theory to bigger things like cars, houses, corporate mergers.”

Herb Cohen, author of “You Can Negotiate Anything” — required reading for the DePaul students — praised the flea market assignment, saying it addresses negotiation factors such as rejection, deadlines and power.

“Later on in life, these people from DePaul who have MBA degrees … will never go into a flea market, even when dragged in,” he said. “But they will use these techniques and approaches and attitudes to make big deals and save millions of dollars.”

DePaul University students learn the following theories by shopping at the Swap-O-Rama flea market:

*Everything is negotiable.

*Arrive prepared and having done research.

*Consider your appearance.

*Schmooze the other party: Make it personal.

*Don’t bargain with yourself; get the other side to make an offer.

*Be respectful.

*Be patient.

*Be willing to walk away.

Source: DePaul University Professor Steven Briggs

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