Make a Trivial Concession That Allows Other Person to Feel Like the Winner

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.

5 comments on “Make a Trivial Concession That Allows Other Person to Feel Like the Winner
  • Generally true. This dispute, unlike many others, could be settled more objectively. Aren’t airlines supposed to have a device/ frame to measure which bags are allowed as carry-on and which one’s aren’t? The passenger was wrong in screaming but the gate agent staff wasn’t much cleverer in not using the tools easily at her disposal. If all else fails, highly regulated industries always have “process” to save their backsides. This was one occasion where the gate agent could have cited it. Disputes, like tango, take two. As does dispute resolution.

  • All the more easy for the gate agent to ‘win’ the argument and close the discussion, isn’t it? But anywhere egos are allowed to surpass the issue, an impasse can’t be far behind.

  • I experienced a trivial concession recently at a fast-food establishment. I asked for water with the order, but requested a regular size cup instead of the tiny one-sip transparent plastic one they give for water. The cashier said the establishment can only give out regular cups with a soft drink order because they cost money to manufacture. Told her I would pay five cents for the regular cup to cover costs of it and she laughed and gave the regular cup anyways without charging for the cup.

  • Ben,

    Great post. In negotiations (or debates, fights, etc.) it’s important to step back and remember what you really want. Most everything else can be conceded.

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