Recently I had the bad luck of flying through Philadelphia “We Lose Bags So You Don’t Have To” International Airport and as I waited in the gate area I witnessed an argument break out between a passenger and the gate agent. The passenger wanted to carry on his bag, the gate agent told him it was too big and he had to check it. The passenger resisted and started yelling at the gate agent, shouting, in essence, hell no you won’t check my bag! Everyone started watching. The passenger insisted his bag would fit in the overhead and the gate agent said, no, it’s too big. People stared and laughed and egged on the passenger. Neither party gave ground. Voices were raised. Screaming match ensued. Eventually security came and apprehended the guy for unruliness in the terminal. As the carry-on-bag-martyr was escorted out, I may have even heard him channel Newman from Seinfeld: “Tell the world my story.”
Bravery notwithstanding, the passenger made two obvious tactical mistakes.
First, by yelling he escalated the dispute to become a public spectacle. If people generally do not like admitting they are wrong or ceding ground in a negotiation, they hate making such an admission in a public or group setting.
Second, he did not make any concession that would allow the gate agent to claim victory and permit the bag as a carry-on. For example, he could have taken a kleenex out of the outer pocket and then said, “Ok, you’re right, so I’ve taken some stuff out so it will fit. OK?” No guarantees, but it increases his chances.
Remember, issues like this are rarely about the actual technical details as much as they are about power, status, and psychology.
Bottom Line: People hate admitting they are wrong or that they “lost.” So in stalemated negotiations give the other person an opportunity to be “right” by making a trivial concession that allows him to emotionally feel like the winner.