Whose mind-set is it anyway?

by Annie Kaszina on November 26, 2005

In the last couple of weeks a with
another nice man has set me thinking. This man is a high-flying executive who teaches negotiation in the UK
and abroad. For some reason I told him
how I successfully negotiated a problem I was faced with while staying in Rome
recently.

I’d booked and pre-paid a room for my daughter and myself
in a modest hotel in a good area of Rome. An Italian friend checked it out ahead of time, told me it was a hole
and said that she would see I got the best room in the house.

When we arrived I was surprised to find that our best room
was next to the lift shaft, had paper peeling off the walls, a pool of water on
the floor behind the bidet, a dripping tap and a bath, without a plug, barely
bigger than the bidet. What, we
wondered, must the other rooms be like?

Late that evening I realised that this room did not fit
the description that my friend had given me: no balcony, only one window. I told the night porter I was unhappy about
it and pondered how I was going to do battle. 

In Italy there is an art to protesting successfully. Get it wrong and they’ll delight in making
sure you don’t get what you want. Having fluent Italian, as I do, won’t necessarily improve your chances.

After much thought, I decided to play the aristocratic
card: my friend is a minor Italian aristocrat, but I thought repeated references
to “The Baroness” might prove persuasive. At least it wouldn’t be antagonistic.

The next morning I swept up to reception where various
other guests were standing and started
trumpeting about “The Baroness” who had selected my room for me. The concierge was rude, but I refused to
rise to the bait and ground on, and on, about “The Baroness” until he finally
gave way. 

Was I pleased! I
felt like I’d pulled off a major feat of diplomacy and the UN would soon be
knocking on my door.

I told F. all about it, my little chest puffed up with
pride. A look of sheer amazement pass
over his face. All he said was: “I’d
have given him a tip and told him what I wanted.” F. would have, and he would, doubtless, have got exactly what he
wanted – had he ever been staying somewhere like that in the first place.

I did my best goldfish impersonation as I thought it
through. I hadn’t even thought about
tipping because… I’m a woman and I tip out of a sense of obligation. Tipping, I realised ,didn’t give me
rights or buy me influence. 
That
kind of tipping I had automatically assumed was a ‘man thing’. Does it have to be?

Then I started to look at my assumptions and F.’s. I’d learned how to handle ‘situations’ from
my mother. 

Now
my mother always anticipated conflict, went in with guns blazing and got
conflict until, after the final shoot out, she frequently, but not always,
emerged bloody but triumphant.  So I learned that getting what you want is
always a pitched battle, which she who has the most firepower wins. 

I
had broken the mould inasmuch as I had chosen to wage a bloodless campaign –
and won.  I behaved like a slightly more polished Chip off the Old
Block.  It was only when I spoke to my client that I realised there was
another way – if not several. 

Until
we stop to think clearly about a situation, we just repeat old patterns in
response to old beliefs.  Or, as in this case, even when we look for
different solutions, we still start from the old analysis.  My analysis
was that the concierge would be difficult and obstructive – which he was.
But I still didn’t have to play it his way, or worry my head about his mood.

In
the great scheme of things, this wasn’t a hugely important situation. The thing is, assumptions don’t come in
ones, they grow out of old blanket mind-sets. I’d assumed getting a room I wanted would be difficult, because the old
default mind-set had kicked in, the old “it’s going to be difficult, because
the other person has most of the power.” 

F.’s
comment made me realise that, actually, it didn’t need to be an issue. I’d been working on mother’s assumptions and
my own old ones. F.’s are much more to
my taste. 

There’s
nothing to stop me switching to them. He doesn’t have a monopoly on them and he’s a generous person who’s
happy to share his skills and knowledge. 

Have
you ever found yourself working on an assumption that made something, anything,
harder than it needed to be?

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