In the film “The Princess Bride”, Inigo Montoya, a despondent yet valiant swordsman sworn to avenge his father’s murder, joins an equally valiant adventurer named Westley in his quest to rescue Buttercup, Westley’s childhood sweetheart, from an evil king.  After many adventures, Inigo and Westley, joined by Fezzik, the Giant, successfully enter the king’s palace.  While Westley is busy rescuing Buttercup, Inigo encounters the six-fingered man who murdered his father.  In order to fortify himself so that he can recover from a terrible wound and enact his revenge, he repeats the following: “My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.”  With each repetition, Inigo grows stronger, more confident, unwavering in his path.

I do not encourage revenge.  However, Inigo Montoya’s approach offers an important skill that you can add to your negotiation tool kit.  Find your message and stick to it.  (Click on the title for more)

I recently worked with a woman, let’s call her Meredith, who needed to fire a client.  Meredith is a stay-at-home mom who decided to do childcare in her home to supplement her family’s income.  A long-time friend, who was returning to work after her six-week maternity leave, asked for help with babysitting and Meredith agreed.  This long-time friend had suffered terrible losses in her past and Meredith felt sorry for her.  So she agreed to babysit her friend’s child for a fraction of what she would normally charge.

After a few weeks, problems developed with the arrangement.  Meredith’s friend began waiting longer and longer to pick up her baby.  Eventually, Meredith was caring for her friend’s child for up to fourteen hours a day.  When Meredith’s friend did arrive, she would stay at Meredith’s house for up to an hour, chatting about her day.  While Meredith enjoyed talking with her friend, she preferred to spend that time with her own children, whom she found herself neglecting as she cared for an infant.  The final straw was when her friend came to pick up her baby on a Friday evening and very casually told Meredith that she did not have the money to pay her for that week.

Meredith was furious but felt terribly conflicted about firing her friend.  She was concerned about what her friend would think of her and would say about her.  She still felt sorry for her friend, who was raising her child as a single parent while her husband worked overseas.  However, she was angry and frustrated because she felt that her friend was taking advantage of her.  Meredith was also certain that she could no longer continue to care for an infant; she preferred to care for children who were closer to her own children’s ages so that she could include her own children in their daily activities. Spending time with her own children was a primary interest for her.  However she knew that her friend would argue with her and she was afraid that she would cave in to her friend’s pleas.

That is when I told Meredith about the Inigo Montoya effect.  When you’ve made a decision, find your message and stick with it.  Meredith’s message was “I am sorry but I won’t be offering infant childcare any longer.  I need to spend more time with my own kids.  I am concerned that I have not been giving them enough attention.  I will be caring for children who are older so I can spend more time with my own kids.”

Meredith repeated her message over and over again until she could say it with utter conviction.  Practicing her message allowed her to gain comfort saying it and helped her think through the content of the message.  While it was the lack of payment that had pushed her past feeling sorry for her friend and spurred her to act on behalf of her own needs and interests, Meredith did truly feel that she could not ignore her interest in being a primary influence in her children’s lives and her need to care for older children in order to address that interest. She recognized that berating her friend about the lack of payment would only bring her secondary gain.  That is, while she would feel some momentary satisfaction from lashing out at her friend, doing that would not resolve the real issue and would ignite an argument, something she wanted to avoid.  She also took responsibility for agreeing to the arrangement in the first place.  She chose to focus on articulating her needs and interests and practiced her message so that she could do so without being swayed or distracted.

Before having a difficult conversation, decide what you need to say, make your message brief and to the point, and practice. Also, review this blog about how to say no.  You’ll thank yourself for it.