Think Win-Win, Especially With a Five-Year-Old and His Birthday

Jeff Graham

We interrupted my five-year-old son’s birthday dinner so that a potential buyer could look at the rental we’re living in. The agent that’s selling our place and his assistant pressured us into saying yes. My wife and I both came out of the interaction pretty convinced that we had lost a battle on behalf of our family, and our son, and were really upset. It was a classic win/lose scenario… or was it?

In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey insists that there’s no such thing as a win/lose in any negotiation. It’s either a win/win, or a lose/lose. If it’s the case that both sides come out of a negotiation with a win, then it’s a true win/win.

On the flip side, if only one side “wins” a negotiation, the losing side is likely to resent the other side, and it will adversely impair any future dealings… making it a lose/lose.

Using Covey's criteria, this was definitely a lose/lose.

My suspicion is that the agent and his assistant figured that we weren’t sufficiently motivated to help them sell the place we’re in, and that they needed to play hardball with us. The previous day they had asked to come in and take photos of our house, and I told them a few hours before the photos were to be taken that the house was not really in a state to be photographed.

However, I did tell them but that we had a Canon 60D and good skills, and that we could easily do them ourselves after we had a chance to clean the house. I even offered to post them to Flickr for him to download so that they could save the trip to our house.

I also told him that the day after was bad, since we were celebrating the birthday of our five-year-old son, Ethan, and that the house would be decorated.

He left this response on our Voice-mail:

This does not work well for me... I don't even know what Flickr is, or how you send photos like that. I need to be able to consistently do my job... This is affecting me quite a bit where I can't show the property at certain times, and now I can't do this because you're having a birthday?”

Barely holding my composure, I phoned him back and told him that it was pointless to take photos while the house wasn't tidy, and we both agreed it would be unacceptable to do anything during son’s birthday party - not to mention that it would be weird to do photos or showings with decorations up.

I told him that if the photos from us were no good, that he could come in another day and get what he needed when we were ready. He then agreed to steer clear of the birthday, and agreed that it would be OK for us to take the photos after all (I worked for a time as a reporter / photographer).

In an effort to explain ourselves, I had told this agent that the last four months have been the hardest of our lives, and that seemingly small things like showings were actually really hard for us right now.

I also related that in November my pregnant wife broke her fibula falling down the stairs. After seven grueling weeks of recovery (and intense morning sickness) she then came down with Pneumonia just days after getting out of her walking cast. I also pointed out that we have three little kids (Ethan is our oldest) and a five-month-old Golden Retriever, who all tend to make a bit of a mess.

It’s just where we’re at. We’re not trying to be difficult, it’s just hard for us right now to get the house ready to show and photograph.”

“Well I have kids too,” he says… as my jaw drops. “This is really affecting me, and hindering my ability to do my job and conduct my business. People are asking me why I have a listing online without any photos, and asking me what kind of business I run.”

I then told him that it wasn't my decision to post the house before taking the photos, but that as a show of goodwill, we'd do our best to help.

After getting off the phone we cleaned, took the photos ourselves, and promptly emailed them to the agent (not to Flickr). The photos were subsequently posted to the agent’s website and looked great. After this show of good faith, we figured we bought ourselves some goodwill with this agent... Well, apparently not.

The agent phoned my Landlord to tell him that we were being un-cooperative. Our landlord then called to leave messages for me at home and at work to express his concerns (I have no idea what this agent said to him, but I have never heard my Landlord so worked up).

The agent's assistant then phoned my wife, and “inform her” that there was a showing scheduled for 5:00 during my son’s birthday dinner. Bewildered, my wife phoned me and said we should go out for dinner instead of having Pizza at home, and I begrudgingly agreed.

So this agent and his assistant won, right? Well, not really. When you’re obviously on the losing end of things, like we were, you start to resent the process and the business you’re dealing with. I know lots of young families in our area, and I will tell them all to steer clear of this agent.

Also, heading into this process we were motivated to help our landlord sell – he was letting us out of our lease early so we could buy a place. We wanted to reciprocate his generosity, but now we’re kind of hung up on having a really negative experience, and our motivation and goodwill has been pretty much drained.

So now we’re all in a losing situation, and owe a five-year-old boy a big apology:

Sorry Ethan, now is a great time to ask Daddy for a trip to Disneyland, or a Pony. And yes, you can have all the tokens you want at Castle Fun Park.