When we negotiate in business, we’ve been conditioned to get what we want, even at the expense of the other guy not getting anything.

Last weekend, I went on an errand to buy nasi ayam for lunch. I got in my car and drove to my favourite nasi ayam shop. It is always the busiest shop on its row, always drawing a big crowd. This isn’t a surprise. The shop makes really delicious Hainanese nasi ayam.

However, when I got there, I realised that there was a little commotion in front of the shop. There were a lot of people standing in the front; not the usual queue, but more like milling around, hands-on-hips kind of thing. The auntie selling nasi ayam looked flustered.

I also noticed that there was no steamed or roasted chicken hung anywhere in sight. That was strange. Instead, everyone was looking at a big covered pot in the small kitchen at the back of the shop.

The auntie looked at my curious face and said, matter-of-factly, “Ayam belum masak”.

She wasn’t happy, and I knew why. In the many years that I have been a customer, never once have I had to wait for the chicken to be ready. The shop was run with such precision that customers always got their food in no time. Something must have happened.

As I was on a tight schedule, I went to the rojak shop next door and looked at the menu. Before I could say anything, the shop owner hovered over me with a smile and said, “Tak tau apa jadi sama dia”, gesturing to the shop next door.

I believe he then actually started sniggering to himself. Of course, he was happy. He was getting the customers who didn’t want to wait for the famous chicken rice. He was extra busy that day.

I felt a pang in my heart upon hearing his remark. Something didn’t feel right. But, I ordered one rojak anyway. As I stood there waiting for my food, the entire scenario started sinking in and I began to sense what was troubling me.

What got me was that the rojak guy was laughing at his neighbour’s problems. He wasn’t concerned, nor did he even attempt to show any concern. All he did was laugh at someone else’s troubles, smug that his own kitchen was working fine.

I felt even more dismayed as I have seen this scene play out many times in everyday life.

Someone in the office makes a mistake and someone else will laugh behind his back, revelling in the misfortune of his colleague. Someone you have been envious of for a long time is faced with issues, and you quietly laugh at him.

Dengki is the Malay word for this behaviour. It is one of mankind’s worst traits. We love for the successful guy to fall down so we can laugh at him and feel good about ourselves.

I was also disturbed that the rojak guy seemed to have forgotten that he has always benefited from his neighbour’s great product. He never realised that he has always been riding on the popularity and spillover effect from the nasi ayam shop.

Heck, I only tried his rojak because it was next to my favourite nasi ayam shop.

Mr Rojak Guy didn’t realise that if the nasi ayam shop did not deliver and customers stopped coming, he would be affected, too. If I were him, I’d be scrambling to help the golden goose (or, in this case, golden ayam) get the kitchen running so that everyone will keep coming to the area. And, I will reap the benefits, too.

Once again, this is all too familiar in everyday life. We always seem to think that winning means someone wins and someone loses, when in fact, the best win of all is when everyone wins.

When we negotiate in business, we’ve been conditioned to get what we want, even at the expense of the other guy not getting anything. At the risk of sounding New Agey, the best negotiation, truly, is when both parties win.

You might think that you’re a great negotiator because you creamed the other guy, but in fact, you just lost. Because, no way will that guy or whoever he talks to, will ever want to do a deal with you any more. Short-term gain, but in the long term, no more business.

Suddenly, I was snapped out of my dream state when the auntie said: “Ayam siap!”

And, the world was right again.

Ahmad Izham Omar works in the production of TV, film and music content, and gets panicky trying to figure out his next tweet

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