MY COMPANY’S OFFICE CLEANING LADY FELL OFF A BUS. Worse still, she broke her leg. This all happened on a Sunday in China’s capital, Beijing. Our Beijing team didn’t learn of her misfortune until the Monday morning, when we found her absent, and called to know of her whereabouts.
The National Sales Manager, Mike, happened to be travelling through Beijing at the time, and was in the office. His immediate thoughts were of her wellbeing, since social welfare was non-existent at the time. There was also no duty of care for the bus company, and so our cleaning lady was left without an income until her leg healed. Knowing this, Mike began contemplating a level of compensation, that would help the lady through the 6 months of rehabilitation. And then a man burst through the office door, with a megaphone-like voice and arms flailing.
“Hey!” said the man, speaking in Chinese, as he pointed his finger directly at the receptionist. “I’m not happy!” The receptionist was taken aback and was pleased to see that Mike had walked up from his office upon hearing the commotion.
“My wife had an accident, and now she can’t work!” continued the man, visibly angry.
“Who is this man?” asked our manager of the receptionist, as he arrived at the front desk.
“This is the husband of our cleaning lady,” replied the receptionist.
“What does he want?” continued Mike.
“What do you want?” said the receptionist, as she translated Mike’s English question into Mandarin.
“Money! I demand compensation!” shouted the husband, clearly using his tone and volume to instil fear. The receptionist translated, nervously.
“Ok,” asked Mike. “How much do you want?”
The husband was quiet for a few seconds, as he realised he had suddenly reached the critical part in the negotiation. “800 RMB! Now!”
Mike surveyed the man. Understandably the husband was upset, as any husband would be given the seriousness of the accident, however, it had been no fault of our company, and to take out one’s anger on the receptionist seemed more than unreasonable. It was simply rude.
“Ok,” replied our manager, indicating that the receptionist should translate. “Give him his 800 RMB”.
The man was visibly surprised when the receptionist began counting out the money, which was equal to about US$130, from the petty cash till. He took the money, counted it again, and then walked out of our office, inches taller than when he had arrived.
And that is where I pause my story, and ask my trainees what they thought of the husband’s aggressive negotiation style. Was his use of the stick, more effective than the carrot? I ask. Most of my Chinese trainees agree. After all, they reason, the husband got what he wanted. Right? Well, technically the husband did get what he wanted, however, if we rewind the scenario, back to when Mike was contemplating compensation, we need to ask ‘how much was he considering to pay before the angry husband arrived?’. Truth be told, it was 2000 RMB, or 320 USD. Had the husband walked in with a smile, instead of a pointed finger, he would have walked away a richer man. Of course the husband will never know this, and to all his friends, he will boast that the stick is clearly the best method to use.
And that’s the moral of the story. In any negotiation it is always better to start with the carrot. Be nice. Don’t offend, but rather get the other to empathise with you. And if that doesn’t work, then, and only then, can you drop the carrot for the stick.