Jonathan Edwards On … Negotiation

When you read carefully, you see how this applies. From Charity and Its Fruits:

And they, also, are of a spirit and practice the very opposite of a spirit of love, who show an exorbitantly grasping and avaricious spirit, and who take every opportunity to get all they possibly can from their neighbors in their dealings with them, asking them more for for what they do for or sell to them than it is truly worth, and extorting to the utmost from them by unreasonable demands: having no regard to the value of the thing to their neighbor, but, as it were, forcing out of him all they can get for it.

And they who do these things are generally very selfish also in buying from their neighbors, grinding and pinching them down to the lowest prices, and being very backward to give what the thing purchased is really worth. Such a spirit and practice are the very opposite of a Christian spirit, and are severely reproved by the great law of love, viz., that we do to others as we would have them do to us.

In other words, “think win win” is not a modern invention. As Edwards points out, even in our commercial and business dealings, Christians are to have a view to the good of the other person. We are not to simply seek our own benefit, but are to have regard to what will be good for the other as well.

This is not anti-capitalistic, either. One of the best recent books on negotiation, Getting to Yes, makes the case that this is actually the most effective form of negotiation. It’s called thinking win-win, and it’s not only the most effective long-term (since people don’t like doing business with those that are always pinching them down to the lowest possible amount), nor only the most decent way of treating others; it’s also very Christian. 

Christians seek the good of others–not just in their personal lives (what does that even mean, anyway?), but in all realms of life, at all times.

  • Loren Pinilis

    Curious about your thoughts on this:
    What do you do when there’s an incredible disparity in the eyes of the negotiators on value? For instance, I worked at a Super 8 hotel in school. $39 rooms in the winter. In our busy season, easily $139. People would be desperate for a place to sleep and surprised that everywhere was either full or had rooms for $150 and up. People would pay us our full rate but hate it (and me by extension, it seemed) the entire time.
    My logic was that I was offering an honestly fair value for a room, regardless of whether their limited industry knowledge understood it as such. They would have never claimed there was a win-win transaction there.
    If I had lowered the price to the point where the customer was happy, the price would have most often been ridiculously low by industry standards – and thus not fair to my employers.

    I could see the same situation presenting itself in several professions – from tow-truck drivers to medical professionals. The customer may have no idea what industry value is.

    Do you think it can be a win-win transaction even if one party doesn’t realize that the transaction is reasonable?

  • Matt

    I dealt with something similar when I was a claims adjuster intern in college. People often had a view of what they should get from insurance that was far different from what was established by the contract in the event of the losses they had.

    Two thoughts here. First, those who create the policies ought to seek to be rigorously fair and generous. It’s worth remembering Proverbs 11:26: “The people curse him who holds back grain, but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it.” The idea there is concerning those who create an artificial scarcity in order to get a higher price. It’s not just wrong; people will be rightly ticked off and it will consequently backfire.

    But, second, in the situation you are talking about, the prices do seem fair. As you say, the customers didn’t understand the market conditions and what a fair price was. There was a _real_ scarcity, not an artificial one. The fact that the prices went up was actually a good thing, as it ensured that those who really, really needed a room could still get one–by paying enough. And those who are able to figure out other arrangements (more sharing, move on to the next town, etc.) are more likely to do so.

    The thing to do here, I think, is to focus on objective criteria. That’s another component of operating within a win-win framework. What is “fair” is not simply what both sides think is fair. Rather, you look at objective, independent criteria to establish what is fair. In this case, pointing out that there is a shortage of rooms in town, and every other hotel is up at $150 and above. The main thing to do, along with that, is not to present it with an attitude of “tough luck.” Sympathizing, while pointing out the cause of the high prices. And allowing the customer to hold their view that it’s still too high, if they think so, so that they still feel “heard.” That’s the thing to do in cases like that. Or, one thing to do (among many others that might also be helpful).


  • Heather Thieneman

    I have been thinking on this subject because I know people who are into “extreme” couponing. They think they are making the best use of God’s money but I have been concerned that it is actually cheating businesses by using coupons in ways that, though legal, are not how they were intended to be used and hurt the business instead of help it. I think it is often harder to see ourselves as cheating someone if, instead of being an individual, it is something more impersonal, a large business, insurance agency or government. I think much could be and much needs to be said on the subject of the line between frugality and profiting at others’ expense, because I fear this is an area we as Christians sometimes are a bad witness. I have enjoyed reading your blog and would be glad if you feel inclined to write more on this subject.

  • Matt


    Great points here. I hope to talk more about the line between “frugality and profiting at others’ expense” (well put!) and talk about this a bit even in my forthcoming book. But much more needs to be said, and I’ll keep this in mind.

    It’s important to recognize that we aren’t only stewarding “God’s money,” but also relating to people He created. Which means they are to be treated with respect and fairness and love, and the effect our actions have on _people_ is ten trillion times more important than how much money we may or may not save.

    (BTW, I’m not a fan of extreme couponing! Though I do recognize that, if it can be done fairly, it’s probably an enjoyable pastime for some.)