Photo: Flickr / Cea.
Picture this: You’re an American Express cardmember who wants to upgrade her card to earn 5,000 free miles. You call the company, only to be told by the telemarketer that the offer’s only valid for new members. Most consumers would hang up, livid. But if you’re Lina Chou, the Wharton law student we meet in Stuart Diamond’s excellent handbook on negotiation strategies, ‘”Getting More,” then you’ll make the problem work in your favour. Here’s how she did it:
“She called back, asked for a supervisor, and told her the issue. She then said, ‘Could you tell me who I should talk to about American Express’ decision to change its worldwide advertising and positioning for the entire company?‘ ‘What do you mean?’ the supervisor said.
‘Well,’ Lina said, ‘it used to be that American Express had this slogan, ‘Membership has its privileges.’ But now I find that nonmembers have more privileges than members. So you must have changed your slogan to ‘American Express: Nonmembership has its privileges.”
You can guess what happened next. Chou had the new card in seconds flat.
For consumers, this scenario presents a teaching moment: How we choose to frame our problems will determine whether or not they get resolved. As Diamond points out, “one person will be more persuasive than another with the exact same facts because of framing.” So how can you improve your story?
Well, first, you need to use a collaborative tone. Make this about the two of you—you and the company—working toward a solution that will benefit you both. “What will we do if X happens? What will we tell the kids?” Using “we” sounds more persuasive than handing down what the decision should be, says Diamond.
You should also take a positive tack. The only way to shift a balance of power in your favour is to convince the other party that you’re someone worth dealing with. The more you rush ahead, the more impatient you’ll come off, and the less inclined people will be to work with you. If you’re relaxed, cooperative and in no way combative, people will be eating out of the palm of your hand.
Finally, help the person realise that the problem isn’t a them problem, but a situational problem. For example, if a couple is arguing over whether to keep a dog, and the wife says the dog keeps breaking the fence, perhaps the husband can help her see that it’s the fence that needs to be tossed out.
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