I’m going to Hong Kong next week, which is a big deal to me — I’m not one of those guys who’s constantly jetting off for a quick trip to Japan or Brunei. Getting my airline ticket just now reminded me of two things.

First, of course: King Kong. I know there’s no relation, and that King Kong was fiction, while Hong Kong is very real, and home to the most expensive real estate in the world. (Funny what the threat of a little Communist takeover will do to prices. Boy, were the naysayers wrong, at least so far.) What I love most about King Kong is the time I spent with producer Dino DeLaurentiis as he filmed the remake, which he billed as — and to me it was the ultimate lesson in chutzpah — “the most original motion picture event of all time.” Hey, listen: the best defense is a strong offense.

The second thing this airline ticket reminded me of: Australia, the closest I think I’ve ever been to Hong Kong (although these things are deceptive — did you know Bermuda is closer to Boston than New York?). It was a long time ago, and my baby cousin was running a good chunk of Pan Am. (Pan Am cratered, but not my baby cousin. He went on to run Hyatt’s marketing, then United Airlines’, then captained a cruise line, now runs Vail Resorts. His name is Adam Aron. He was close to taking a top spot with Ramada Inns once when he realized that his name, backwards, spelled: No Ramada.)

The point is, Adam called one day out of the blue, when I was a lowly financial writer (much as I am now) and asked, with the kind of tone in his voice one would use when one had a royal straight flush, so confident was he of success: “How would you like a first-class round-trip ticket to Australia on Pan American World Airways, plus a week at a luxury hotel in return for making a breakfast speech?”

I didn’t think of this as a negotiation — this was my baby cousin, whom I love dearly.

“Gosh,” I said honestly, being less than the intrepid adventurer. “I don’t know anybody in Australia.” I wasn’t declining, by any means, just mulling over what it would be like to go half way around the world alone.

“OK,” said my cousin, before I really had a chance to decide, “how about two first-class round-trip tickets?”

“Now you’re talking.” I said happily. But it gets even a little better.

As the date of the trip and my breakfast speech approached, Adam called to say that my visit was generating a good bit of enthusiasm (either things were very dull Down Under, or else they were confusing me with someone else) and to ask whether, on top of the breakfast speech, I’d be willing to have lunch that same day with Pan Am’s Sydney station manager and a couple dozen of the airline’s best customers.

Obviously, I had to say yes. But . . . well, I’m a little shy by nature (no, really), and my idea had been to do this one breakfast speech and then go off and see kangaroos. So I paused a split second.

Had I said “yeah, sure” and sighed a bit, that would have been that. Instead, I sighed a bit first. Then, just as the “yeah, sure” was forming on my lips — the back of my tongue was already touching the roof of my mouth — Adam said, “OK, I’ll throw in a first-class round-trip U.S. ticket.”

Which goes to show two things. First, Pan Am had a lot of empty seats back then, so the cost of all this to the airline was maybe $300 in extra meals and fuel. My speeches may not be great, but if George Bush is worth $80,000 on the lecture circuit, I’m worth $300. Second, the smartest thing you can do in a negotiation is often to keep your mouth shut. A kiss may be just a kiss, but a sigh — well, a sigh can be worth $2,200.

 

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