I have just returned from holiday and one of the joys of a holiday is having lots of time to read. This holiday, one of the books I read was ‘A Street Cat named Bob’. It’s an uplifting and sometimes challenging book about a recovering drug addict – James Bowen, the author, and his cat, Bob whom he finds in the lobby of his building and whom he helps to recover from neglect and befriends. Having Bob gives James a reason for overcoming his heroin habit and he manages to get a job selling the ‘Big Issue’ in London – he had previously been a busker. Bob, on a lead, accompanies him on the bus every day to his selling pitch and James tells stories of how the cat seems to attract attention and to loosen the change in the pockets of many passers-by. On his journey to fame (yes, he is quite famous: 100,000 Facebook followers now!) Bob attracts many admirers. Some of the customers would like to offer Bob a home but James, seeing him now as part of his family, won’t entertain giving him up. James tells the story of how one of his regular Big Issue buyers, a lady, offered money to buy Bob. James refused these repeated and increasing offers until one day the lady offered him £1000 for Bob. James still had no intention of selling his feline friend but this time, he didn’t refuse. He asked the lady if she had any children – ‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘Two’. ‘So,’ said James, ‘and how much would you like to sell your youngest to me for?’ The lady was horrified and hurried off.
Now, although I am reasonably confident that I am right when I say that I don’t think James Bowen had ever been taught to negotiate, I can say that he did cope with the lady in a way that all negotiators could be proud of. When a simple ‘no’ was not enough to deter the lady, James used a technique which proved so effective – he put a price on the demand. He said the equivalent of ‘Bob is as precious to me as a child so if you will sell me your child I will sell you Bob’. Of course, the response is one of repugnance – what an outrageous thing to say! But the truth is that James simply asked the lady to do something as outrageous as he felt she was asking of him. He does also say in the book that he and Bob never saw the lady again. So putting an equal price on an unreasonable demand had a better outcome for James and Bob than simply saying ‘no’ had previously. It’s the only negotiating learning point I noted in the book but there is a lot about compassion, persistence and love in there, so read it anyway!