How Asking Three Questions Got Me Around the Globe...Just On Time

How Asking Three Questions Got Me Around the Globe...Just On Time

Last Friday I was in Kigali, Rwanda where I led a day-long negotiation workshop for local professionals.

It was an amazing trip, and I almost didn't make it.

Here's what happened.

My departing flight was delayed by two hours. The airline booked me on a connecting flight that would have had me arriving LATE Friday afternoon. I would have missed the entire workshop.


After five months of careful planning and coordinating with the hosting team in Rwanda, I couldn't let this happen. I couldn't let me miss the workshop.

Push had come to shove. It was time to negotiate.

Asking three key questions got me around the globe just on time. You too can ask these questions to make change happen in sticky situations.

1. What if nothing has gone wrong, and there's another option I just don't know yet?

First, I approached the ticketing agent at the check-in counter.

Intentionally, I chose a calm and neutral, but firm tone of voice. Why? Because it was 100% possible nothing had gone wrong, and the agent was my key to a solution I just didn't know yet. I made eye contact and did not beg, blame, or blow up.

"Hi, my name is Jamie, and I really wish you can help me...I must arrive at Kigali by no later than Friday morning to attend an important business meeting. What other option do I have?"

There was nothing he could do, the agent said. He gave me a customer service number to call.

Okay. Breathe.

One step closer to the solution. Luckily, I had plenty of time before the departure. Nothing had gone wrong.

When I called customer service, however, the rep said I should talk to the ticketing agent.

Instead of getting furious, I got curious, "That's interesting, because the ticketing agent told me YOU would be able to help me. What's gone wrong here?"

He said, "Okay, let me look into this for you." After a long pause, he reconfirmed there was no other option.

So I used a phrase that has proven to get me through and get a resolution with customer service reps:

2. "It seems there's nothing you can do to help. Is there someone else who might be able to help?"

Instead of blowing up, I calmly stated the observation and made a request.

This isn't manipulation. This is calling out the elephant in the room. This is a subtle but effective call to his duty and responsibility to help as a customer service rep.

The service rep immediately connected me to his manager (The other time when I used this, the service rep found a solution she hadn't yet thought of.)

At the end, the manager presented me with this binary choice: Either cancel the entire trip and rebook with a different airline OR take a longer but faster route, with an extra layover in Mumbai, India.

If I took the extra layover, then I'd arrive at Kigali 8am Friday morning. ONE HOUR before the scheduled workshop.

I quickly googled other flight options. But it wasn't a hard decision to make when I asked this question:

3. What's the best possible solution for everyone involved?

I thought about the amazing and talented people I so looked forward to meeting and teaching in Rwanda. I badly wanted to honor my commitment to show up to present on Friday morning.

I considered the fact that booking a new flight with a different airline would be twice as expensive (or about 4 times the average annual income of a Rwandan). The hosting team had mentioned getting the approval of the finance team took time, which was quickly running out.

Then I asked what's the worst that could happen to me? It was FEAR. Fear of yet another delay. Fear of being tired. Fear of jet lag.

I can handle fear.

Then I asked what's the best that can happen? I get there right on time. I have a great story to tell.

So I took the extra layover. Everything after departure went smoothly, including arriving at Kigali 8am on Friday morning and getting to the workshop venue RIGHT ON TIME.

Nothing had gone wrong.

People helped me.

It was the best solution for the amazing and talented people I met in Rwanda, for the hosting team, and for me.

Next time you find yourself in a sticky situation (or tempted to get mad at the customer rep), ask these three questions:

1. What if nothing has gone wrong, and there's a solution I just don't know yet?
2."It seems there's nothing you can help me. Is there someone else who might be able to help?"
3. What's the best possible solution for everyone involved?

Onwards and upwards,


P.S. Would you like some help growing your negotiation muscle, so that NO MATTER WHAT happened, you tap into the POWER inside of you to RESPOND and CREATE best possible solutions? Most people look to circumstances to generate confidence. This never works. It leaves them powerless and frustrated, because circumstances are beyond their control. I can help you develop a WINNING MINDSET that enable YOU to discover solutions to problems, negotiate in the best interest of everyone, and become the leader you know you can be. Interested? If so, I welcome you to complete this quick formand I'll be in touch.

What Holds You Back?

What Holds You Back?