|How to save £250 by Bob Dignen|
Just returning from a trip to Malaysia and Australia and pondering an array of communicative and cultural experiences which are interesting to reflect upon. Various instances of negotiation stay in my mind which leave me still very curious about the nature of human transactions, particularly the motivators of human behaviour in negotiating scenarios (most of life’s situations could be classified as negotiating scenarios). So let’s stick with this. After all, if we understand the mechanisms and motivations of negotiation, we should be able to support our clients linguistically and behaviourally to achieve advantage for themselves at work and their organisations.
I arrive at check-in at Kuala Lumpur to fly on to Sydney. Check-in official for Malaysian Airlines looks at my suitcase weight and indicates that 32kgs is way over the allowed limit of 22kg. Excess baggage of £250 payable. I duly inform the official that I boarded in London Heathrow with the same said suitcase with Malaysian Airlines without an issue. No go. Excess baggage of £250 payable. But it’s the same company. In Heathrow … no go. Excess baggage of £250 payable. Emotions are beginning to kick in. Being held in check at the moment as my mind searches for a strategy to manage the situation. Tricky, huh? I’m in a weak position. The official seems to be quoting rules which they have the authority to enforce. I’m under time pressure as only 60 minutes to fly time. And what the hell can I offer in terms of a possible benefit which can encourage the person to make a concession? So what would you do? And how would we support a typical client – intermediate non-native English speaker – to manage this situation?
I could have gone for some form of bargaining-based approach using linguistic forms all too familiar to the EFL classroom (‘If I … would it be possible to …?’). I thought about this but decided not to go there. I often find that offering own solutions too quickly can make you appear over-smart … making it more likely the solution will be rejected (after all, no-one wants to feel they are being implicitly told that they are dumb). I could also have gone for some form of polite escalation to a more senior manager (‘Could I speak to the check-in manager about this?’) and invoked issues of customer service. But time was against me and there was no guarantee that involving a more senior official would help. In fact, it might make things worse as any negative decision from them would likely be final.
Guess what? I fell back on my favourite strategy in most negotiating situations: firstly, forget your target momentarily; secondly, build the relationship and, thirdly, ask coach-style questions which encourage solutions from the other person. Building the relationship meant in my mind saying things which communicated explicit respect for the other person (‘I appreciate you are just doing your job.’ and ‘I realise it’s important to manage baggage weight.’ and so on.). I also wanted to get some humour into the situation to build a platform for a positive relationship. So I enquired if I could take the suitcase on as hand luggage. Smile initiated! Good sign. Now time for the coaching question, which also appeals to the very human instinct to support fellow human beings (‘So what would you suggest I do?’). And the answer … after a little confused silence (people don’t like to say ‘I don’t know.’) … simply transfer 10 kilos from suitcase to hand luggage (I hadn’t realised I was allowed two pieces). Ridiculous? Yes! Same weight on the plane but somehow the check-in official seemed happier with this solution and even went out of her way to give me tags which authorised excess weight in the hand baggage.
My brief experience in Kuala Lumpur was a microcosm of business, namely, a transaction between people to satisfy mutual interests. Central to business success is the ability to negotiate divergent interests. In the majority of business situations, this is supported by two fundamental skills: the ability to build a positive relationship quickly and the ability to exploit questions which engage the psychology of a counterpart, whether it be the desire to help you, to appear smarter than you, to flirt with you … whatever. I saved £250 with this approach. I’m pretty sure our clients can save a lot more.
BOB DIGNEN is a director of York Associates. He specialises in intercultural skills programmes and international team seminars which he delivers to clients in Germany, Switzerland, Iceland and Sweden. He is accredited to use The International Profiler (an intercultural profiling tool) and is also an advanced practitioner of TMP (Team Management Profile – an international team profiling tool). As an author, he worked on English365 for Cambridge University Press and has written 50 ways to improve your Presentation Skills in English. He is also co-author of Developing People Internationally, a multimedia international team training resource.
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