Recently, I helped one of my colleagues “earn” a free suitcase by using Black Swan skills. She was staying at a hotel in Detroit for a work conference and had work materials shipped there so she could take them home to Ireland in her suitcase and save on shipping costs.
But there was a problem: She had vastly underestimated the weight and size of the materials. After struggling to cram them in her suitcase for 20 minutes with the help of a hotel staff member, she heard some dreadful words:
“Ma’am, I’m afraid it’s not going to work.”
The hotel employee suggested that she ship the items back to Ireland using a service like FedEx. Unfortunately, that would cost more than shipping the materials to Ireland in the first place, undermining her whole plan.
At this point, the employee left her room. My colleague was fuzzy with jetlag and couldn’t figure out a solution to the problem.
Then I serendipitously called her.
Upon answering the phone I could sense a tone of panic in her voice, she relayed the tale in great detail. I let the words linger before saying: “I don’t see the problem. You just need another suitcase?”
She did, but she had already spent so much money on the work materials and didn’t want to splurge on another suitcase she didn’t need.
“So?” I said. “Who said you had to buy it? You know how to get what you want, right? Just pick up the phone and find the Black Swans. Where are the empty suitcases of the world living right now? Call the people that nobody thinks of. And if you fail, I’ll buy you a suitcase myself.”
I’ll never forget her response: “Fail? FAIL? I don’t do fail.”
She leapt into action, calling the front desk and putting the Black Swan skills to work.
Front desk: How can I help you?
My colleague: (Long pause) I don’t know if you can actually help me. In fact, I’m sure you can’t. This is the craziest problem you’ve probably heard all year, and I’m about to be a huge pain in the butt. – (Accusations Audit)
Front desk: (Silence)
My colleague: (Silence) (Dynamic Silence)
Front desk: OK, what is it? I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem I couldn’t solve, and now I’m curious. What’s the issue, ma’am?
My colleague: I don’t want to waste your time. Are you sure?
Front desk: Now I really want to know! Tell me!
My colleague: OK. So before I tell you, I want to ask whether it’s a crazy idea that people might leave suitcases in the hotel lost and found? (Calibrated Question)
Front desk: No, not crazy at all. In fact, we did have a few, but I just did a giant clearout yesterday, so our lost and found is totally empty.
My colleague: (Long silence as she stares off into space despondently)
Front desk: Wait, you need a suitcase?
My colleague: Yes. I bought 100 pounds of work materials but only have 50 pounds of space in my suitcase, and I don’t have any other way of getting them back to Ireland.
Front desk: Oh, yes! My colleague just told me about you. He just came back from your room, right?
My colleague: Yes. And I’m really stuck. Can you help me?
Front desk: Now, let’s see. What can we do to get a suitcase? Where can we look?
For the next 30 minutes, my colleague and the front desk worker brainstormed ways to find a suitcase. Unfortunately, they couldn’t come up with a solution.
“You’re a rock star,” my colleague said to the employee. “Even if I never get a suitcase, I’ll always remember our time together. Thank you for trying to help me.”
After this, my colleague went to an evening event for work. A couple of hours later, she returned to her hotel room and saw a blinking light on the phone indicating a message.
“Good evening, this is reception. I am calling with a message from hotel security. We got you a suitcase. Please let me know if we can bring it to your room.”
A few minutes later, the front desk worker arrived with a $400 Calvin Klein suitcase. She had scoured the hotel looking for one.
“I got one for you!”
Problem solved—just like that.
Using Negotiation Skills to Earn a Free Suitcase: The Takeaways
When you use negotiation skills in everyday situations like this, it’s easier to achieve your desired outcomes. Here are some takeaways to keep in mind as you prepare to mimic my colleague’s success in the future:
There’s tremendous value in coaching.
My colleague was already familiar with the Black Swan skills, but it didn’t occur to her to use them until I encouraged her. Coaching puts someone in your corner and helps you believe in yourself.
Mindset is crucial.
At first, my colleague felt stuck and defeated. After we chatted, my coaching helped her see the light. From that point forward, she was determined to get a suitcase.
Using all the skills makes the process easier.
The Black Swan skills work best together in tandem. During this ordeal, my colleague used a lot of them: the Accusation Audit®, Calibrated Questions™, Labels™, Mirrors™, and Dynamic Silence™. They’re designed to work together.
Getting low-stakes practice is essential.
Chris Voss always says that the Black Swan skills are perishable. You need to practice them regularly if you want to be sharp when it matters most. This whole vignette is a real-world example of low-stakes practice, which is essential to becoming a world-class negotiator.
With this experience under her belt, my colleague will be prepared to get better outcomes when the stakes are highest.