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It’s holiday time and there is no better feeling than the prospect of a well-earned break, some icy cold ones in the sunshine and some quality time with the ones you love.
But it comes at a cost. At least getting there does. As witnessed by the start of my family holiday last weekend, a cost that made me think about the balance of power in any conflict, and how it can change just when you least expect it.
It was a familiar start. In fact, one that my family seems intent on repeating every time we go away. You have a bad night’s sleep in anticipation of what should be a straightforward logistics exercise - ‘get luggage and family into the car ready to leave for the airport by 0625’. Somehow this gets turned into something that would challenge NASA. Why don’t we have a checklist like any ascent to the moon operation? Why do we ask if everyone has their passport 12 mins AFTER we have left home and are already stranded on the Hendon Way? And who’s idea was it to book the flight with the world’s most hated airline? Oh damn, mine.
And then the fun begins. “Call us 30 minutes before arrival” states the microscopic small print on the briefing document of our chosen Meet ‘n’ Greet provider. “I’m 26 minutes out” I declare nervously. “That should be fine, I’ll do what I can”, the soon to be my arch enemy, Stuart, replies. As a professional negotiator, I am trained to recognise signals, typically small unintended communications sending messages of flexibility or in this case, monstrous ineptitude: ‘Should’ suggests not definitely and ‘Doing what I can’ might just not be enough.
However, we arrived, and shortly a friendly driver arrived to take our car off for a week’s rally driving (or as they claim, to park it in a secure lot, local to the airport). Our check-in deadline was T minus 11 minutes at the point at which I shared the news that I was flying back in a day early and they would need to change the details on the booking. At this point, I hadn’t got onto the subject of refunding the day saved. A bit of tooth sucking resulted in a call to Stuart, the Head of Ruining the Start of Everyone’s Holidays, who said that my suggested change would attract an admin fee of £20 in cash. “Let me speak to him” I insisted and assumed a pro negotiator stance. Are you seriously going to charge me £20 to shorten my parking I asked both rhetorically and incredulously? (first mistake), “that’s somewhat opportunistic isn’t it?” I continued, (light the blue touch paper), and off he went… like a rocket. A tirade that turned the friendly driver’s phone into a loudspeaker and made most of the short stay car park blush. I was quite taken back. Once the lecture about the impact of the end-of-term season had had on the Meet ‘n’ Greet industry and how offensive using that sort of language (opportunistic?) was, gave me a millisecond to interject, I pointed out to the ranting idiot that he might be from another planet. In other words, I exploited the power of the customer and took the upper hand, already considering how I might bring their business down with a Google review or two.
And then he got me. Struck me down in my arrogant and outraged stride. With 7 words. “Go and park your own car then”. T minus 3 minutes to check-in. No other options. He had me. Hook line and sinker. I knew I was beaten. I handed over a £20 note and pleaded with my eyes to the driver. Luckily, he took care of things but not without giving me the look that said, “that wasn’t cool was it?”
Emotional behaviour, point-scoring and inflammatory language are all enemies to conflict resolution including negotiation. Listening, well-chosen language and a moment to think are our friends.
I need a holiday…