Sun Tzu’s book, The Art of War, written more than 2,000 years ago is one of the world’s most famous books on strategy. While Tzu was writing for generals in the army, the fundamentals of his wisdom can help you overcome even the most stubborn airline representative.
Advice from The Art of War can turn you into a negotiating ninja and ultimately a warrior who wins battles without fighting.
“Use Anger to Throw Them Into Disarray.”
A recent study from Stanford University demonstrated that being slightly agitated can help you get your way in negotiations but getting too angry had the opposite effect. Airline personnel see really stressed out people everyday so chances are they you won’t be the first person they’ve seen that day complaining about extreme flight delays. Be firm not crazed.
“Cause Division Among Them.”
Don’t attack the person behind the counter – they aren’t who you’re fighting with, it’s the airline you need to deal with. Using confrontational words like “you do this” will only put you in a tense standoff. Rather, hone your stress to improve your travels and get the airline representative to work with you to get your way with the airline. You’re more likely to succeed if the person behind the ticket counter is by your side.
“…Even if You Are Winning, If You Continue For a Long Time It Will Dull Your Forces…”
While it’s important to be persistent and not to give up, don’t belabor a point into the ground. Doing so can quickly make the person behind the counter regret ever trying to help you in the first place. Any people behind you in line certainly won’t appreciate it either. Get straight to the point and lay everything out as simply as you can to fight the airlines effectively.
“…Overcome Others’ Forces Without Battle…”
The power of reciprocity is a powerful motivator and you can use it to make your experience at the ticket counter a pleasant and fruitful one. Start off with a simple question or request, then let the representative know they’re doing a good job and you’d like to tell their supervisor. They’ll be more motivated to help you out since this technique makes them feel indebted to you and resistant to being a disappointment.
“Even Though You Are Competent, Appear to Be Incompetent.”
There’s no need to act like an idiot but sometimes being seemingly ignorant can be to your advantage. Keep your mouth shut if you get the opportunity to hop an earlier flight or get an upgrade later and don’t be a know-it-all. Silence can put subtle pressure on a stubborn airline representative. It’s also not the best idea to volunteer some information (i.e. like when you miss a flight for no good reason).
“Those Who Know When to Fight and When Not to Fight Are Victorious.”
This piece of advice is for those of you who lose you cool easily and argue with everyone – even those staff who are trying to help you. Remember, you want to work with the airline agent and make them feel inclined to help you. Know who and when to put up a good argument is a big part of that. Know when to fight the airlines. A flight that’s an hour late isn’t a good reason to argue and if there’s nothing to gain by complaining – don’t waste your breath.
“Using Order to Deal with Disorder, Using Calm to Deal with The Clamorous, Is Mastering the Heart.”
Accept the circumstances, come up with a strategy to resolve what you can, and reduce your flight delay stress so that you aren’t a raging maniac when you walk up to the ticket counter. Besides there are at least 3 fun things to do at the airport if your flight gets canceled.
“Matters Are Dealt with Strictly at Headquarters.”
Go to the top of the command structure as fast as you need to address your concerns. Find someone with the authority to do what you need and keep going up the chain of command as long as you have to.
“Conflict Without Fighting is the Greatest Victory.”
Use everything to your advantage and find vulnerabilities in the other side. You may need to put a bit of frustration across the counter to resolve whatever issues you may have but you don’t always have to fight tooth and nail. If you travel enough you’ll get plenty of experience complaining at the ticket counter. Look at each instance as an opportunity to refine your skill as a traveling warrior.
[photos by: Emerging Birder, mellyjean, lewishamdreamer, blently, Jeff Bauche, ToniVC, b3ni, Richard Holen]
EDITED [8/27]: You can also see this post on The Consumerist.
Insightful article. I have never seen a really angry person succeed at an airport queue yet firm controlled discussion seems to succeed well.
I found this book to have so much relevant information about the world today both locally and globally. I guess some wisdom is timeless.
Yeah, many people miss the point about the The Art of War; I was at a Borders once trying to find a copy of this text for a good friend and (long story short) they had it in the Business texts section. So off I go to the business texts section, and lo and behold, there is a (weaselly marketing type) guy in a business suit and he was holding a copy of “Sun Tzu’s Art of War for Business Execs”.
After locating the copy I was looking for I picked up the one that the wasel had been holding, and flipped through it. Wow, Sun Tzu would probably cry seeing what this “author” had done with his treatise on warfare.
The Art of War is not just a collection of strategic advise, it is the definitive work (and has been for around 3000 years) on the Mindset of Warfare. The idea behind this “book” is that by relating the things that the victors in war have done, Sun Tzu is attempting to describe the mindset and motivation of the victor.
This is still taught in military schools the world over, including to all Special Operations groups in the US.
This is the first time I have seen someone offer advice based on something in The Art of War (not related in any way to actual warfare) that made sense, and was able to actually capture the spirit of the text.
Well done sir.
What really got me thinking was seeing The Art of War in marketing and business sections. It’s really not a business book in the literal sense since much of it is very specific to warfare.
After reading it I felt that so much of the advice could be applied to the little battles we all face from time to time. It’s important to have a strategy before going up to the ticket counter in the first place, otherwise you’re just an angry customer who will likely end up ignored.
I’m really honored that you felt I could do some justice to the Sun Tzu’s ideas and appreciate the kind words.
My favorite is: Never get in the way of an army returning home.
Sounds like good advice for airline staff!
Anil, regarding the “NLPZine” trackback above:
The owner of that site stole my content and posted it, word-for-word, as his or her own. I’m not sure why my article didn’t trackback to you.
Thanks for the article; it was wonderful.
Link to the original article at NLPhilia
Hi Michael, thanks for letting me know. I had left you a comment there – not sure if you saw it or not but would like to thank you again for the link and the kind words. I removed the old trackback and here’s a link to your original post:
It’s been a long time since I’ve read this book but I like your approach to it. Goes to show how great of an author Sun Tzu was that his information is still relevant today, and can even be used to help us at the ticket counter!
Some of the best advice is the oldest and The Art of War goes far beyond it’s meaning. I’m glad I was able to combine the two somehow, I really enjoyed this book. I first saw it (in Turkish) on my grandfather’s bookshelf when I was very little and want to read as soon as I could reach it 🙂
Here’s an additional tip for folks traveling to Japan: To get angry (in the US or more generally a Western sense) is often considered very childish. One is better served to be profoundly apologetic even sad about the situation, regardless if the issue is not your fault. Remain insistent on finding a solution together and use language to build solidarity against this concern/issue.
It often takes time and you may feel you are going to miss your flight, etc., but experience has shown me that it’s more important to resolve the issue to maintain the relationship (customer to employee/company) and that the issue won’t be allowed to compound (missed flight, etc.).
Fascinating – thank you for the cultural perspective; an important factor in any negotiation.
Is the yellow clock for sale?
Unfortunately not that I know of, it’s a large wall mounted clock.