Summer travel synopsis

If you’ve hit the roads or visited the airport recently, you know that the summer travel season is well underway. Thus, I thought this an opportune time to review some of the many ways negotiation research can make travels negotiable. To that end, here’s a brief synopsis of a few past posts on travel, along with links to the relevant articles (you can find more by clicking on “Travel” along the bottom right):

  1. Negotiating with hotels: Anytime we visit a hotel, we encounter many situations that would benefit from a negotiation. Some of these situations involve substandard accommodations and unacceptable living conditions, the negotiation serving to make your stay bearable. But others involve opportunities to make you and the hotel happier at the same time. This post considers the many aspects of a hotel stay rife for a negotiation.
  2. Negotiating with seatmates: Whenever we find ourselves on an airplane, sitting approximately 1 cm from someone we don’t know and often don’t want to, we have many opportunities to negotiate the terms of our ever-so-cozy adventure. From directing the overhead air to spilling into your seat, our fellow fliers give us oh-so-many opportunities to negotiate. This post points out a few of the most prominent.
  3. Airline complaints: Anytime we fly, we stand to have problems not just with our seatmates but with our carrier. Indeed, it often seems that every flight we take is slightly less pleasant. This post discusses how to negotiate the resolution of your grievances with the airline, recommending you show your cards carefully.
  4. Traffic jams as social dilemmas: Perhaps we drive to our destinations instead? If so, then we encounter a lot of other people driving there too. And everyone must be late, as everyone is cutting everyone else off, revealing their apparent disregard for the entire remainder of humanity. This post discusses driving as a social dilemma, considering some ways to solve the dilemma and thus make everyone’s drive more negotiable.
  5. Vacation preferences: Admittedly, this post is not about summer but about the winter holidays. It discusses what to do when you and your significant other want to spend the same holiday in different places. But the lesson is just as applicable to the summer months: don’t split a short period of time 50-50, leaving everyone mildly unhappy. Instead, seek out a creative way to allocate your time, leaving everyone happier in the long run.

I hope a brief review of these postings helps to remind you, while afoot on your summer adventures, that opportunities to negotiate surround around us. Indeed, they often follow us when we leave our abodes in favor of less familiar surroundings. Bon voyage!

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Delayed response: Replying to emails sluggishly but strategically

I have to admit it: I am a compulsive email replier. I feel the acute need to reply almost immediately to every email I receive. Unfortunately, this tendency is not always helpful, particularly in the context of an email negotiation. Indeed, sending a delayed reply, uncomfortable as it may be, can help negotiators in many situations claim value, thereby making life more negotiable.

So let’s examine what those situations might be. Consider the following five moments in an email negotiation that might call for a delayed reply:

  1. When they act inappropriately. It’s a hard fact of life: Negotiators sometimes act inappropriately. They make demands that are not just aggressive but uncalled for. They try to intimidate you. They break social conventions if not overt rules or laws. In these cases, a delayed response (perhaps a permanent delay) may be best, as it signals your reaction without drawing you into the downward spiral likely to ensue if you take the bait.
  2. When you want them to concede. More commonly, negotiators make requests that are not necessarily inappropriate but are also nowhere near the terms you deserve or need to reach a deal. You ask a service provider to match a $1000 discount offered by another provider and they offer a $25 gift card to the jelly-of-the-month club. In these cases, your silence may make them just uncomfortable enough to prompt an unsolicited additional concession.
  3. When you want someone else to weigh in. The email negotiations we all face in the workplace often involve multiple people. You are just one of the 12 people CC’ed on a message and eventually expected to reply. But wouldn’t it be helpful if someone else weighed in first—an ally, perhaps, or even your boss? A delayed reply can often create the space for someone else to speak first, which can often bolster your case.
  4. When you want to signal your alternatives. Particularly when you’re buying something big (e.g., a new kitchen, car, or landscaping service), you need to get multiple bids. In part, these bids help you learn and compare. In part, they help you gain leverage and convince each seller to put their best price forward. But the latter only happens if a seller suspects you’ll compare their price. Hence the need to signal that you’re obtaining multiple bids. Many sellers who send quotes and then receive delayed replies are sophisticated enough to intuit the reason.
  5. When you want to signal you’re in no particular rush. Alternatively, you might want to signal you’re in no particular rush to purchase a particular good or service. This approach is particularly useful for goods and services that most people buy in a moment of desperation—roofs, basement waterproofing solutions, and air conditioners, for example. Unlike most customers, who probably reply to such sellers within seconds, your delayed reply can convince them to cut the common sales tactics and focus on offering something competitive.

In sum, silence is aversive for many of us, in email or in person But temporary silence in the form of a delayed reply can also be wise in the context of an email negotiation, particularly for the purpose of claiming value. With that, let me silence myself…

Dissatisfactory service: Separating the person from the problem?

It happens too often: dissatisfactory service spoils an otherwise satisfactory experience. Given the ubiquity of such events, it probably makes sense to consider our reactions carefully, comparing them against the types of reactions that can make life negotiable. Let’s start by considering two real and recent experiences from my own life:

  1. Last Friday, we arrived in a pleasant and sedate local restaurant, sitting outside and awaiting our waiter’s arrival. Sadly, he didn’t show for ~20 minutes, which with kids might as well be ~20 years. And then, upon the arrival of his royal highness “Andy,” he had no particular comment on his tardiness and showed no more interest in our dinner order than the speck of dust on his shirt. Coupled with the other highlights of Andy’s service—his complete disappearance until well into the second half of the meal, the complete absence of our drink orders even at that point—it seemed pretty clear that this was a problem for which the person was largely if not wholly responsible.
  2. A few weeks back, a local painting company repainted our kitchen. The painter in charge, let’s call him Jose, had immigrated to this country and was obviously working hard to create a better life. And I’ve rarely if ever seen someone trying harder to do that. He focused intensely and exhaustively on his work, his brushwork rivaled the Impressionist masters, he even listened to music about Jesus while working. Was this guy form the same planet as the reprehensible Andy? Unfortunately, Jose made a rather pronounced mistake when moving the fridge. He didn’t lift it off the wood floor nor the staple apparently lying on top of the floor, creating a rather large gouge in the wood. Now here was a problem for which the person wasn’t particularly responsible—a simple mistake that could’ve befallen anyone, and has befallen me.

Faced with situations like these, many people respond in one of three ways:

  1. Ignore the poor service offered by either Andy or Jose, hoping the weekend will get better and the scratch will fade from conscious awareness.
  2. Chew out Andy and Jose to their respective employers if not to their faces, noting the inadequacy of both final products.
  3. Chew out Andy but ignore the scratch attributable to Jose.

Of the three, the third probably looks most appropriate. But the third is still problematic, isn’t it? Because the scratch is still there—the problem persists. So what to do? Situations like these call for a careful assessment of the relationship between the person and the problem. Are they one in the same? In Andy’s case, probably—in Jose’s, not so much. Armed with that insight, you can spend more time separating the person from the problem while dealing with the scratch. And that’s just what I did.

In Andy’s case, I lost no time in detailing his lackadaisical attitude to his manager, who lost no time in giving us a free bottle of wine and coupon, then probably lost no time in chewing out Andy. The person was the problem, so separating them was less necessary. In Jose’s case, however, I applied a very different strategy to the person—this utterly impeachable, even admirable individual who had nevertheless made a mistake. I lost no time in calling his superior, but the call started with a long-winded monologue on the many unimpeachable aspects of Jose and his work—a veritable ode to Jose. Only after establishing Jose’s credentials did I note the issue with the scratch, and only then by labeling it an honest mistake that all of us could easily make. I hope this approach protected Jose’s reputation. I know it corrected the problem, as the painting company offered to fix the floor free-of-charge.

None of this is rocket science, and I don’t pretend it is. I only raise these issues to point out that the relationship between the person and the problem deserves careful consideration when responding. Sometimes, there’s a nearly one-to-one correspondence; other times, there’s little correlation at all. The latter situations require a different strategy—actually two strategies, lest the person get confounded with the problem by your response. And you don’t want that to happen—no way, Jose!