Sunday, April 5, 2009

Schmoozin Something for Free

The Story
During the course of my undergrad, I did gain some skills at getting something for nothing, and I was decent at getting things from for-profit companies for free. At various times, I managed to get free:
  • pies from Denny's
  • upgrades at restaurants
  • cell phone accessories
I’ve also gotten a lot of fees waived. As I received these freebies, I didn’t have to put a lot of effort into convincing my counterpart and I always figured I was likable and a good talker. I felt others wanted to give me things because I was good at showing them they had nothing to lose and that it was a way to make their company look good.

One day I had a lot of pressure. At a beach-side amusement park, about 20 friends from Dixie State College asked me to get us all free-ride on one amusement that nobody was patronizing at the time. I had pride on the line and I really wanted to show off.

I approached the lone employee, who looked bored, and immediately went into this story about us not having much money, being poor college students, and that we’d really like to ride his ride. I showed him how it didn’t matter because the company wasn’t losing money. My thinking was he was bored and would be fine with it because it was something to do. Instead, he told me no.

I didn’t argue with him, just walked through my logic again and did a little begging and he said, "Do you have any more excuses?" I returned to my friends, a little embarrassed but realizing nothing was lost, and told them let's go do something else.

The Takeaways
Desire or Incentives
In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie teaches principles about the desires of others: "Arouse in the other person an eager want," "Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest." I did neither of these. Instead I told him about our problems. This worker had no incentive to give us a complimentary ride.

I didn't have a lot of incentive to offer him, but I can think of a few small ones:
  • have a girl talk to him instead of myself
  • make him feel important (another Carnegie principle)"If I could have done this sincerely without seeming like a mooch, he may have just wanted us to stay around longer
  • talked with him for a while enough to become friends. We could have even invited him to hang out later.
In this situation, nothing but paying the fare would have guaranteed success, but I could have done more than hope a sympathetic ear would give a handout.

Step to His Side
ON page 52 of Getting Past No, William Ury suggests you look at the other person's point of view to see the existing barriers; and to understand why others are behaving the way they do. Above, I speculate about potential strategies that could help me to give a free ride for my friends. If I actually asked him why he said "no," I may have been able to come up with a better strategy. A few more seconds of questioning would definitely have worked better than the summarization of previous reasoning I had given him.

One other item that stands out to me is I have a Caucasian appearance, and this individual looked to be of Latin decent. Without delving too far into stereotypes, I’ve come to think this person probably thought of me as an exploitive, arrogant rich-kid (despite the fact that I do not have the fashion sense to pull that off). Had I discovered that issue by asking questions, I may have been able to prove to him that I've had to earn everything in my life and was hoping for a favor that I would return to someone in a similar situation one day.

Next Time?
I do still ask for freebies, but usually just a small upgrade to items I am already paying for. I try to be as friendly as I can be, and give people a chance to talk--Carnegie points out that people like to be listened too. Instead of setting out on a mission to get something free, I would approach him in an attempt to make a friend. If my new friend would give me something, great, if not, I would not argue or apply too much pressure other than trying to resolve any concerns I could discover.

In this situation, my BATNA was to move on, so I would not bank too much self-esteem on whether or not I mooched something. The most important technique to negotiating freebies is persistence in asking for many things--boasting about your few successes and forgetting the many failures.

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