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.
"What outcome do I want here" - Same here - especially when coming up with creative solutions to contract negotiation differences. And taking it one step further - what do they want out of this- and by framing it that way you can let your brain come up with answers which meet your needs and theirs.
Insightful post! Keep it up. I remember my horror eating at my regular place and realising the black specs weren't pepper but dozens of diced up ants :|..
Interesting post Sebastian. Its easy to assume cultural norms like "the customer is always right" will apply everywhere.
Are you planning to eat there again?
it gives to think. On MLM where they boost your emotions and then take your money. I heard you feel great being stolen..... I mean paying for value. :P
It leads me to realize I have lost many opportunities because of it. AND AM ANGRY ABOUT IT. The opportunities I am talking here are of guy trying get girl. My selfishness(?) lead to I always moving on after saying my witty saying instead watching for the reaction and acting upon of it. Big mistake.
The value of this post I am paying for with my precious time is to my estimation high (whatever that means, perhaps 1 girl a day, 365 a year....:) j/k.
Had a hell of a time at the Consulate trying to pick up a visa for longer than thirty days. I had my ducks about as lined up as I could, but it was going to come down to whether the consular official wanted to help me or not.
She didn't. Most useless human being I've encountered in a while. "So, by the rules, I'm sure I'm eligible for this visa..." - "I'm sorry, you're not." - "My friend got this same one, under these exact same circumstances, in Mongolia." - "Maybe you should go to Mongolia." - "The point is that it's the same rules there and here." - "You're an American. I'm sorry." - "Umm, right, yes, I'm American. So is my friend. I read all the rules that are available online, and I believe I'm eligible for this visa. I have the forms and money. Can you please just take the forms, the money, and put it into processing?" - "I can't do that. Next person, please." - "Excuse me, ma'am..." - "I can't help you. Next person."
That's just a snippet of the whole exchange. Man oh man, I've met some very friendly and useful and helpful consular officials and immigration officials, but I've also never seen a position with such uncalled-for amounts of arrogance. She wouldn't refer me to anyone else, wouldn't give me a copy of the rules that she's referring to (online, the website says I'm eligible) and was just a patronizing and nasty person. And I was pretty polite and friendly up until about 90% of the way through the conversation.
I run through all my options, and anything that's going to make a scene or escalate things is more likely to do harm to me than to get what I want.
I leave the Consulate, the security guard is very friendly and cool on the way out as I pick up the bag I left downstairs (thanks, that helped), and I sit down with some food and coffee.
I loved many thing about coffee. The smell, taste, texture. I loved brewing it in my Aeropress, a process that slowly warmed my body and mind for the day. The only thing I didn't like about coffee was how it made me feel. I liked the caffeine kick at the beginning of the day but the over-caffeinated jitters were no good as was the malaise. So I switched to tea.
If you lived here, were my wife, and observed me give up coffee a half-dozen times only to pick it back up you might laugh. She did. But this time I felt like I had science and psychology on my side. I realized that coffee had become an automatic response to waking and part of my morning routine. This routine consists of waking, taking the dogs outside, brewing a coffee, and opening up the computer. I hadn't realized this until I was reading The Power of Habit and thinking about the feedback loop. My cue was waking up, my routine was making coffee, and my reward was getting work done before other people in my house woke.
This is where, in some ways, the switch to tea was easy. I had to replace my coffee with tea and that lone substitution in my morning routine would be enough. I was a like a baby who had a toy which was quickly taken away and a new toy dropped in its place. I would be none the wiser. And through two weeks I'm not. I do miss the occasional caffeine kick but not enough to go back. Here's 10 things I learned along the way.