The power of “IF”


I’m feeling slightly proud of myself today.  I consciously used the word “IF” to transform what could have been 10 hours of purgatory into something much more acceptable.

It happened on my flight from London to San Francisco.  I booked my economy seat  months ago and did my usual thing of  reserving a decent aisle seat with full legroom (28D on a 747, in case you’re interested.  There is no galley or toilet behind the bulkhead, and the next section is Business Class, so it is also comparatively peaceful and free of traffic.)

When I got to my seat there was a stressed looking young chap pulling things out of a rucksack, the contents of which were all over my seat.  It turned out he and his newly wed wife and 2 year old daughter were also travelling. When he realised it was my seat he immediately launched into what must have been a pre-rehearsed request, which went something like this:

“As you can see, we have a young child, and are travelling together.  However British Airways have separated us, and I am in the middle seat of the row behind.  Would you mind swapping so we can sit together?”

Oh dear.  He is making the fact that he did not check in early enough to sit together into my problem, and asking me to forfeit my carefully planned seat for what was in effect one of the worst on the flight, so that he could sit with his wife and help manage the child.  The helpful and empathetic man in me wanted to say yes, but my logical brain was telling me I didn’t want to and there was no reason why their problem should become mine.  I decided to practice what I have preached in other Blogs and use the word “IF” in order to extract a concession in return and collaborate with them.

“I’m not going to give up my seat for that one, because as you can see it has lots of legroom and I chose it months ago for that reason.  However, IF you can persuade BA to find me an alternative seat with equal legroom, I’d be happy to assist you.”

He’s eating a BANANA, which is another great negotiation tool

The monkey which he has tried to put on my shoulder is now squarely back on his.  He has to do the legwork, and meanwhile I can take my seat and wait for things to pan out.

10 minutes into the flight the Cabin Services Director came and offered me a seat in Premium Economy with even more legroom, which I gladly accepted.  Smiles and thank you’s from all involved, and I ended up with a peaceful flight and not having a 2 year old climbing up and down my leg for 10 hours.

It takes Accommodators like me who prefer to give others’ needs more priority than mine a lot of energy and what feels like ice cold determination to stick with logic and principle in these situations, but every time I do it seems to pay off.  It makes me wonder why it’s taken me so long to work this out, and why it doesn’t yet come instinctively.  Maybe it will eventually, but meanwhile I just have to remember to do a Strategic Pause and remind myself not to go with my instinct.

Photo © Stuart Corlett – Fotolia.com

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About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at www.hownot2.com
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45 Responses to The power of “IF”

  1. What is it about dispensing advice being so much easier than taking that same advice? Every time I go astray, my hubby looks at me and calls me a “fraud” because if only my blog readers could see me, say, check in luggage when I’ve preached “Never check in luggage!” and it brings me right back to reality! So I loved LOVED the genius you exercised in this little scenario … I will remember it because we travel a lot! Thanks Michael!

    Like

    • Thanks Farnoosh. Yes, like hairdressers always have the worst haircuts, we who dole out our advice don’t always take it ourselves. This was a proud moment for me because of being able to do it in the heat of the moment! IF IF IF IF IF. My new mantra.

      Like

  2. The power of this is it (as you stated in the second post) it puts the problem back where it belogns–and then the person whose problem it is knows what to do to solve it (get me a seat with similar legroom) –and is highly motivated to do so.

    Brilliant. Shared!

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  3. Wow! I can really appreciate this story because I, too, am a planner. My instinct would have also been a yes or no answer and I would have been miserable. I’m glad you resisted the temptation, came up with a new strategy, and were rewarded for it. I’m going to try this, if I can remember! Thanks.
    Lisa

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  4. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words says:

    what a great turn-around !
    if is the smallest word in language that takes up the most space and time….
    I will have to remember that seat number !
    Great post
    )0(
    maryrose

    Like

  5. Very Refreshing… I would not have wanted to give up my seat either and wouldn’t have but might have felt guilty until reading this post. I do love the IF… I will have to remember that, I am sure the IF will make me more logical in such a case. 🙂

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  6. I just found your blog, and I’m so glad I did. You give wonderful advice. I was recently on a ten-hour flight from London to Vancouver and chose an aisle seat myself because of my long legs. I saw this incident occcur to someone a few seats up from me, yet they didnt react the way you did. They should have taken your advice 🙂

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  7. Reblogged this on LifeRevelation and commented:
    The focus of my writing has always been about how the small things in life are truly transformational. I think this post by Michael Brown serves as excellent proof.
    Be encouraged!

    Like

  8. Andrew Thompson says:

    Great article!

    Like

  9. Michael,
    I found this post on David’s blog, and I am so glad that I did. It is terrific! I am a therapist and help others everyday with negotiation and problem solving – and I really learned something here. I would have probably given up my seat and been resentful the entire flight, even though I often try to educate people about not making others’ problems their own. Thank you for this!

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    • Hi Kristin. Yes, before I got relocated I was weighing up which was worse: sitting there feeling a bit embarassed about not solving their problem, or feeling resentful and a bit ashamed of myself for not having asserted my rights. I concluded embarassed was better than ashamed!

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  10. I love this post. Well done, Michael!

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  11. Hi Michael, I saw your post from David’s blog, great story and a lesson learned for me. Thank you!

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  12. gregblencoe says:

    Michael,

    I read your post on David’s blog. Thanks for sharing this story. You handled the situation really well!

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  13. Reblogged this on Lead.Learn.Live. and commented:
    I would have caved. I HAVE caved over and over and over again in similar situations. This was a terrific story. And a learning moment for me. Thank you Michael for another excellent post.

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    • David, thanks so much for the reblog. What can I say? You made my day, for sure.

      Wish me luck on the return journey (I have 28D booked again!) I must be a glutton for punishment. Or perhaps I just want to build that “IF” muscle a bit more 🙂

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      • Hold your ground Michael. Or adopt your strategy mentioned below. Noise cancelling headphones and blanket. And ignore the tapping on your shoulder. 🙂

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      • David, that really made me laugh. And cringe at the thought at the same time. The shoulder tap from Dad. That may require a whole new armoury of solutions! Ignore, Fake Dead, Respond and Escalate, Defer to Attendant and complain of Intimidation……what else?

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  14. Michael, this was a great story. I would have likely conceded without the “IF” statement and grumbled to myself the entire way. I learned something here. Thank you for sharing.

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    • Hi David

      It’s funny how this one seems to have resonated with people. I suppose it is a situation we can all relate to, and certainly airports and airplanes are pretty good hotbeds for conflict. They always get my stress levels up anyway, when it is much harder to use all the Conscious Competence tools we can access when we are feeling calm and in control.

      The funny thing is, I have the same seat booked for the return flight! I wonder how this one will shape up. At least this time my ‘IF” tool will be at the ready in my pocket. If it fails and I find myself in a stress situation I am going to put on my noise cancelling headphones and bury myself in my blanket, so that the daggers from the husband sitting behind me can’t get me!!!

      Michael Brown

      +44 (0)7595 927563

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  15. Cara says:

    Hello Mr. Brown – I stumbled upon this timely commentary as I was searching for something to console me after a very uncomfortable situation I experienced over the weekend. Flying back from a Hawaii vacation, I had continuously searched for a better seat and finally at pre check-in, found one. The corner seat behind the bulk head had opened up, where I could easily get up and move during the long flight back to Los Angeles. I thoughtfully considered if the extra charges were worth it and decided to upgrade. One last look at palm trees before I entered the plane to turn and find a gentleman in my seat who had already set up camp. He was sitting next to his wife, who was holding a child on her lap. He said to me, “Look, our family would like to sit together and so will you take my seat in 21F?” I did not want to sit in 21F and said no. He became quite loud and bullied me, “Unbelievable!” and shouting, “She said NO!” and “There is no difference in the leg room- no difference.” He did this over and over, publicly humiliating me as if I did something wrong by wanting to sit in my seat. The flight attendant was standing there and did nothing but essentially glare at me – I assume she thought I should move to 21F so the family could sit together. Normally, I would have accommodated this request, but I paid for this seat change and was looking forward to sitting in this seat for the long flight. He kept shouting and eventually convinced the teenager in the middle seat of 21 row to move next to me so his wife could sit next to him. He continued to bully me. He had shoved all of his baggage in the compartment above me and kept opening it and getting things out and slamming it. I had to ask permission to store my bags in first class since there was no room near me. This meant that I did not have access to any of my things during the flight. I was very stressed out by this man’s behavior. What should have been a positive end to a vacation I desperately needed, turned into over 5 hours of emotional torture. It is not my fault that the man and his wife did not arrange to have their seats together before entering the cabin. I talked to the wife and explained, and she said, “I don’t want you to feel bad about this.” I said, “I don’t feel bad because I was charged extra for the seat.” I was glad that I did not cave in and change seats – but I am a conflict avoider. On the other hand, I would have been better off to endure 5 hours of physical discomfort versus psychological stress. I didn’t know if I should just let it go – after all, I would never see this man again – or complain. I decided to write Delta late last night. This morning, they apologized profusely and gave me some air miles to compensate for my uncomfortable experience. I wish that I had known of your advice before this happened – the power of “if” – now, I know. Thank you for sharing your story and now I have bookmarked your blog to read again!

    Like

    • Hello Cara

      Wow, thanks for sharing your experience. Sorry to hear of your distress. I doubt the Delta Air Miles made much difference, but at least you know they acknowledge that you were in the right. Not that they need to, as you knew that already. You overcame your conflict preference for Avoiding by saying no, and well done for that. I think I would have asked the flight attendant to get involved to sort out the aggressive behaviour of the husband, as he was causing distress not only to you but, I suspect, other passengers as well.

      Thanks for finding my post, (how on earth did you do that?), and I hope it helps in some way next time!

      Michael

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  16. Naomi Chavez Peters says:

    LIKE!!!!

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  17. Tracy says:

    I loved this…..it also works for those among us who would chuckle and say NO to the request :).

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    • Yes, Tracy, there are people like you for whom this is a lot easier!! I can hear it now: ” I don’t think so!” or words to that effect. So you are saying that Competers can use ‘IF’ to be more Collaborative if I understand you correctly?

      Michael Brown

      +44 (0)7595 927563

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  18. christinapd says:

    Hi Michael, what a great story and so true. It’s something which took me years to do and I don’t always remember to put it into practice, probably because I wasn’t consciously aware of the power of “if” until you explained it so well! Thanks for a great article and highlighting a powerful assertiveness tool which I will now remember much more frequently! – Christina.

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    • Thanks so much Christina. It’s funny how simple little techniques like this are so helpful in dealing with unplanned “incidents”, when you don’t have time to sit and think them through.

      Michael Brown

      +44 (0)7595 927563

      Read my Blog

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  19. Colin says:

    Good Morning Michael, first class post, loved it. I would probably accepted the request, (like you being an accommodator, and as it happens a tall person too), and ended up feeling somewhat aggrieved. As you say, you had pre-booked and he was saying that BA had separated them. So taking that monkey off your shoulders and giving it to them, a great response and a perfect ending. Just pleased that it was sorted, as it could have been an interesting flight in your original seat! Thank you for sharing, certainly one for me to use in future. Colin

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    • Hi Colin. Thanks so much for your comment. It’s taken me all these years to really be able to access these tools, even though I train people in them all the time. It was instructive sitting in my original seat wondering whether I had done enough for this to work itself out. The mother had not said a word to me, and the little girl was being troublesome, so I was beginning to wonder whether in fact a seat in the row behind, whilst less comfortable, would be less “tense” and less disturbed. However I kept reminding myself that I had done well to assert myself, and if nothing else it was a learning experience for me! Good thing BA came to the rescue before I backed down (otherwise I would have not been Blogging about it!)

      Michael Brown

      +44 (0)7595 927563

      Read my Blog

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      • Colin says:

        In the bigger picture, it is about exploring all the options, so you too could have gone and tried to resolve the situation. It is also about the manner in which you were assertive, as to a passive person, an assertive person can be seen as agrressive. Also, spending ten hours sitting next to someone who is not happy with you, etc., etc., is not the best formulae for a flight. Sometimes we react, so responding from a place of consideration, is often better. Trouble is being able to consider all the options quickly can be difficult. Colin

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