Three days ago, 6:30AM. Saigon, Vietnam. District 1.
Light breaks and the noise and craziness of the city is coming alive.
I strike out from my apartment, weave through motorbikes and pedestrians, and walk to the little restaurant a block away where I have my breakfast each day. The place serves mostly Westerners and the food costs twice as much Vietnamese food, but the portions are larger and the place is cleaner. I have a lot of work to do and plan on only eating twice today, so both meals should be large.
I order a Texas chicken omelette, black coffee, and Vietnamese iced green tea. The service is slow, and the food comes before the tea or coffee. I start to eat.
I bite down on something hard. What the hell?
As elegantly as I can, I take the thing from my mouth and it's a small metal screw. Probably from the handle of a cheap knife that came out from wear and tear.
I'd eating at this restaurant almost every day. They know me. So when the woman who owns the place showed up a bit later, she was mortified when I show her the screw. She apologizes a lot. "Sorry! So sorry...! Sorry... sorry... sorry... I'm so sorry..."
My coffee still hasn't come. I ask the girl who is serving about the coffee and tea, she remembers and goes and grabs it. I sit and have my coffee with my notebook, sketching out my plan for the day.
I call for the bill. They bring me the bill, full price.
What's that joke from the cartoons? Diner: "Waiter, there's a fly in my soup." Waiter: "I see. That will be 50 cents extra, then."
Well, they didn't charge me extra for the screw I bit into...
I take out a pen, draw a line through the price of the Texas chicken omelette, and go to pay for just the coffee and tea. That seems totally reasonable to me. You serve food with metal in it, you don't get paid for it. And I'm a regular here, they should probably do right by me so I keep coming back.
The owner woman is now indignant about me not paying. "Hmph!" she makes a noise and shakes her head. It takes all of my willpower to not start shouting at her.
I pause for a moment and think. I think to myself, "What do I want here?"
I slept 3.5 hours last night, I've got a ton of important work to do. As much as I'd love to make a scene, I don't want to jack my adrenalin and my stress hormones, then crash in a few hours from adrenalin withdrawal.
It's only a few dollars. Now normally I'm a fight-over-principles kind of guy, but I've got to prioritize real victory over moral victory here. I say, calmly, "Look. I eat here a lot. You served metal in my food. That's bad. Take the price of this one off?"
She offers $1 off. Fuck it, here's your money. I've got work to do.
It was probably the right decision, since I got all my work done and did a good job. If I refused to pay, stormed out, or started yelling, I'd have gotten my way at the expense of having my body jack up production of adrenalin and cortisol, and then crashing a while later. Normally I'd do it, but on deadline with important work and low sleep...
Still, it was kind of annoying me later. I was thinking it over in my mind. She was really apologetic - as she should be, that would have been really really bad if I'd swallowed a screw - but then was indignant 15 minutes later.
After finishing my work, I was reading Donald Trump's book, "Think Big and Kick Ass."
I came on his section about timing, and I'm reading his stories about how the timing on this deal was right or the timing on that deal was wrong.
And it strikes me - the reason timing is important isn't because the parameters of a deal or situation changes very much. Well, they do, but that's probably not the key thing that shifts in a negotiation. It's the other side's attitudes and feelings.
When she was feeling bad and contrite, if I'd said, "Hey, make this all free, yeah?" then I bet she'd say yes. Instead, she feels bad, gets over the feeling, and then she's in the mode of "customer trying not to pay me" a while later.
Reminds me of a quote by General A. A. Vandegrift, USMC - “Positions are seldom lost because they have been destroyed, but almost invariably because the leader has decided in his own mind that the position cannot be held.”
Negotiation timing, then, is probably less about external circumstances and more about emotion - having an emotional high ground. I read a comment on an article recently that the best time to ask for a raise is immediately after the head of the company gives a, "The employees here are the company's most important resource" speech.
That jives, intuitively. Of course that's a good time to do it. But why? Is it because anything has actually changed? No, it's about emotion. Timing, then, is about figuring out when you won't have the emotional low ground, and might have the high ground - that's when you want to negotiate situations.