It was a Friday evening, and I was looking forward to an enjoyable evening with friends. I simply had to navigate the roads safely to my intended destination. Simple enough, right?
Just when I thought I was in control of my destiny, I managed to get myself into quite a predicament. The good news is that I took away several valuable lessons from my experiences.
I left work at the normal time and wanted to get home quickly to pick up my wife and child. We intended to meet up with friends for a time of fun, fellowship, and celebration of a friend’s accomplishments. To my great shame, instead of being a safe and courteous driver who enjoyed every moment of the ride, I behaved more like a race car driver.
I took a turn too fast, and I jumped the median. Gratefully, I didn’t damage anyone else’s vehicle, property, or persons. Additionally, I was spared injury. However, my car did not fare so well.
I ruined my wheel, flattened my tire, and (as I later learned) did severe damage to my car’s front end. Fortunately, I had received a AAA membership for Christmas due to the generosity of my extended family, so I was able to have the vehicle towed without charge when the spare tire turned out to be flat and not inflatable. (Lesson learned: Check your spare periodically to make sure it holds air.)
My normal mechanic/tire shop advised me to have the vehicle towed to my house rather than to his place since he wouldn’t be able to look at it until Monday. He should have let me tow it to his place and park it since my options were rather limited at that point. He could have capitalized on my problem and desperate situation, positioning himself as the solution provider.
I decided to have the vehicle towed to my house and start first thing the next morning on pursuing the needed repairs. And I still managed to make it (quite late) to my friend’s celebration.
Gratefully, the next day I took the initiative to source my own salvaged (and steeply discounted) replacement wheel and have my normal tire shop’s competitor mount my still functional tire to that wheel.
(Note: When you give customers the opportunity to explore your competitors’ services, they might lose their sense of loyalty to you. Such was the case when I had a “wow experience” due to great customer service at the other tire shop, but that’s another story for another time.)
Regrettably, my wheel fix did not do the trick, as I discovered severe front-end damage when I tried to drive the vehicle after putting on the new wheel. I limped the car to a different trusted mechanic nearby, and he estimated the cost to be at least $600, possibly more. The drawback was that I would have to wait several weeks until he would be available to fix the vehicle. I knew he would do a good job and charge me better than a fair price, but I didn’t want to wait that long.
I decided to take the vehicle to another nearby mechanic that the tow truck driver had recommended. This mechanic gave me an initial estimate of nearly $1,600 plus tax. Although I could have let desperation get the better of me, instead I responded with the simple negotiation tactic known as “flinching.” I said, “Oh wow, I wasn’t expecting that!” Then I paused to let him respond. He seemed apologetic and almost embarrassed by the estimate. I told him that I might need to use a different mechanic and that I’d let him know.
He called early the next morning and told me he had “gotten to looking online” and managed to find the parts a bit cheaper. He had run the numbers, and he got the estimate down to $1,200. However, I told him that the other mechanic had estimated $600. The only reason I didn’t use the other mechanic was the time-frame. I was willing to pay a little more to get it done sooner, but twice the amount seemed excessive.
The mechanic told me he really didn’t think he could go lower than $1,000, and I said I’d think about it. In the course of the conversation I told him I didn’t want to inconvenience him by keeping the vehicle on his parking lot, so I could come get it the next day if I decided not to use his service. I made clear that I wanted the vehicle fixed as soon as possible but that I was not super desperate.
I called him the next day and asked if he could provide a written estimate, and he said he would be glad to do this. Having secured the estimate, I proceeded to have him fix the vehicle and he had it done by the next evening.
My primary take-away was simple: The more flexibility you have — time and options — and the more you can convince the other person of your flexibility, the more power you have in a negotiation.
Flexibility gives you walkaway power.
The $600 mechanic told me that the more expensive mechanic might drop his price, depending on how much he needed the work. Given that we had a few snowstorms accompanied by slick roads during the process, I thought he might have been less than desperate for work. Apparently, this was not the case.
In the end, I saved $600, getting the price down from about $1,600 to $1,000, by buying time and expanding my options. Time pressure, as well as desperation caused by lack of options, can sink a person’s best efforts in a negotiation situation. However creativity, assertiveness, and “negotiation consciousness” (i.e., the internalized idea that “everything is negotiable”) can help you get more and save yourself trouble and resources in a negotiation.
I was grateful to learn some valuable lessons out of the experience. Plus, I could reflect with gratitude that the damage from my stupidity was not worse. I was very blessed. All of this made the “tuition” I paid in time and money worthwhile. I will learn from my mistakes and apply the lessons in future negotiations, whether personally or in business.