A longtime close friend left me a voicemail a couple months ago. “Hey, do you want to go to the Vikings game on Sunday?” I’ve been a Minnesota Vikings fan my whole life, especially when they’re doing well. At that point in the season, the Vikes were 4 – 0. It was time for me to get on the bandwagon. Also, the Vikings are playing in a brand new, $1 billion stadium this year, and I hadn’t yet set foot in it, though I’d seen it being built, and was excited to experience it. So when I heard my friend’s message, my first impulse was to say yes.
But as I thought more about it, I realized my friend probably wasn’t offering to pay for my ticket; and those tickets are expensive. And even if he were planning to cover the tickets (maybe they’d been gift to him), then I’d feel obligated to pay for parking and buy all the food for both of us at the game – still expensive. So I decided that no, I’d rather watch the game on TV.
So I called my friend and left him a voicemail saying, “Wow, you’re offering to cover the game and parking and food and everything?! Yes! I’d love to! Thank you so much!”
He called back shortly after, getting me in person this time, and I said, “Really? You’re offering to pay for the ticket and everything else?”
He said, “Yes!”
I said, “Wow!”
He said, “By the way, on an unrelated note. . . can I have $158?”
For just an instant, until I realized what he was doing, I was thinking, “This is great, my friend is treating me to the expensive Vikings game, how nice, what a great friendship we have!” And when he asked for the $158, I thought, “Well, of course! I’m happy to help out my friend! “ For just that moment, I was experiencing the joy of receiving a generous gift, while also glad to have the opportunity to be generous to my friend. It was pure giving in all directions, and it felt wonderful.
Then I got it. Of course, he was asking me to pay for my ticket. All of a sudden it became clear that this was the same transaction I had decided I wasn’t interested in. But for that moment, when I thought we were both making gifts to each other, I experienced what transformative mediation clients sometimes experience. The exact same transaction, depending on how it’s reached, can feel like a connecting, humanizing, joyful interaction, or it can feel like a mediocre deal for both sides. The mutual gifts were delightful. But as a mere transaction, I would have been paying too much for an afternoon’s entertainment, and my friend, despite his efforts at acquiring the tickets, would be receiving only the same amount he had paid.
While getting to Yes can be an important accomplishment, how you get there can make all the difference. And often, unless there’s a way to get there that feels good to everyone, No is a better answer.