A mate of mine recently visited New York on business and found himself with a spare half day or so, needing to be filled. It being February, the joys of Central Park were lost on him so, after a moment’s thought, he took himself off to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there to see their collection of JMW Turner’s paintings in gallery 808. It’s on the second floor; a bit of a hike from the front door if we are going to be honest, but there we are. He’d seen the film (Mr Turner; worth a look if you haven’t seen it) and he was determined to see three of the great man’s paintings that hitherto had escaped his first-hand study.
Climb the stairs to the top; swing a quick left through gallery 690 (drawings and prints) and 850 (photographs) – both easy on the eye, but not what my chum was after; follow the signs through galleries 800, 801, 802, 803, 804, 805, 806 and 807 (all European paintings), until he finally came upon gallery 808. It had been a long and arduous journey past some admittedly eye-catching works of art but, by this time, our hero’s appetite for non-Turner paintings had been sated; now, he wanted to see a painting or three by the great man himself. He was now, as sportspeople would have it, in the zone for Turner.
It was shut. Nearby, there stood a security chap, so he approached him and asked him the score. “It’s shut,” said the security chap.
“I can see that,” said my friend. “Why is it shut?”
The security chap - and here, I don’t want to be in any way rude, nor indeed do I want to appear judgmental – thought about this for quite a long time. “Because it is,” he replied.
So my pal asked what he would need to do to get it un-shut.
There was a pause and some significant shuffling of feet before the security guard admitted that this was a question the answer to which was above his paygrade. To be very fair to the security guard, those were not the terms in which he phrased his reply, but my pal got the message.
So he looked for an information point. Now, at this point, it would be tempting to tell you that my pal was a 100% genius and that he headed straight to either gallery 176 or back to gallery 800. He’s not though; he’s a total numpty and he went all the way back down the stairs to the one at the entrance. By this time he was knackered and had lost the will to live, so he said to the person behind the desk, “Look mate, my name’s Leonard (I’ve made that bit up to protect the innocent/ guilty/ really bright person/ numpty). I’m from England,” he continued, “and I’ve come all this way to find that the three paintings I really wanted to see are in a gallery that is currently shut. Please would you open the gallery so that I can see the paintings I have come all this way to see?”
So here’s what happened next. They did.
Negotiators sometimes forget that the best way to get what they want is to ask for it.