After reaching an agreement on responsibilities and salary, the vice president (VP) said to a general manager (GM) candidate, “Well, I think we understand each other, but I’ll need to check this out with the president.”
A few days later the VP said to the candidate, “The president is OK with most of our agreement but wants you to be responsible for warranty settlements. He also thought that we were about five percent too high on the salary.”
This is an example of a negotiation “dirty trick.” The GM candidate negotiated in good faith with the VP believing that the VP had decision-making authority.
The candidate faces the following options: (1) accept the revised offer, (2) reject the offer, or (3) continue negotiating.
Option 1 is too soft. Option 2 is too hard. Option 3, continue negotiating, might include such responses as:
“You gave me the impression this was your decision. Now, you say you did not have the authority? How do you expect me to accept that? Here are some other options we could look at . . .”
The intent is for the GM to identify the VP’s behavior and continue seeking options that are reasonable.
“Leadership is not as glamorous as it appears,” said a frustrated Vinh.
After six years as a very productive and popular employee, management promoted Vinh to lead his department. Employees were very pleased because they liked him.
Several weeks after Vinh’s promotion, some external surprises shocked the company. A new competitor, with state-of-the art service, invaded Vinh’s territory. An unexpected governmental regulation choked some formerly, seamless processes. To cope, Vinh asked his team to adjust.
“Some of my former friends got mad at me,” Vinh recalled. “I explained to them why we had to change but they could not understand. My friends shunned me. The work environment seemed hostile. I dreaded my job.”
Apple founder, Steve Jobs, once said if you want to be a leader and win, you must give up the right to be liked. Winning leaders have to make tough decisions. Even though a team may eventually be better off because of a leader’s decision–no matter, someone will always be unhappy.
Normal people leading normal lives can seek both comfort and popularity. Leaders must give up both and strive to win. As Jobs said, “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader; sell ice cream.
“I am frustrated!” a manager said.
“What is the issue?” I asked.
“We are implementing a significant software upgrade. Every week, I meet with the project team to discuss issues and challenges. Toward the end of each meeting, I make a big point about schedule and ask each team member to ensure me that we are on schedule.”
“Let me guess,” I said. “All along, your team has confidently reported that they are on schedule. But as the deadline approached, team members started describing “unexpected” occurrences and began asking for more time.”
While managers anguish over messaging and rumors, researchers Triandis and Gelfand report that upward communication contains more distortions than other directions.
While dealing with upward communication about complicated matters may be akin to wrestling with an eel, some managers erect unnecessary barriers by reacting negatively when they get bad news. Employees sense this quickly and often stretch the data to avoid riling their leaders.
So what is the cure? First, always treat employees with dignity and respect. Second, when mistakes do occur, conduct an autopsy but avoid blame. Third, drill down with question after question after question. Insist on data, documentation and other support.
“As I was walking into the office,” commented a manager, “out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Cade (a long-time team member) entering through another door. I’m sure Cade saw me, but I pretended that I didn’t see him and hurried off.”
The manager feared that Cade was frustrated and communication would likely be unpleasant.
At the end of the previous day, a customer and Cade got into a snit about a delivery issue. After the encounter, Cade criticized his manager to several peers. “I should never have had to deal with this. The boss misled the customer and I’m expected to clean it up.”
The manager admitted, “I was concerned about the customer but I had other commitments and just did not want to deal with Cade at that moment.”
Awkward encounters are challenges for most us. We know we need to have a candid conversation. We rationalize our decision to postpone as in, “I had other things to deal with.” “That’s not how I wanted to start my day.” “I thought I should let things cool down a bit.”
So when the voice in your head shouts, “retreat,” it is likely a signal that you should charge into the fray.
A vendor explained, “I have a customer who always insists on haggling over price.”
“How do you deal with that?” I asked.
“I simply add about ten percent at the beginning. We exchange messages, do our little dance, and I agree to knock off eight or ten percent. Eventually the customer agrees, with a sense of satisfaction I’m sure, gained from haranguing me into submission.”
After reviewing negotiation research, Georgetown University professor Jeremy Yip and others concluded that gratitude and forgiveness in competitive relationships can be costly.
As in the example above, aggressive stances with competitors are more beneficial. Understand there may be some unnecessary posturing and babbling. It’s not personal. Leave room for compromise. Aggressors expect this.
Competitive negotiators will likely see grateful, cooperative negotiators as naive–opportunities to be plucked. Cooperatives often get their feelings hurt and strive to avoid the sordid mess. Many stalled negotiations are of this mix.
Whatever the approach, both parties must eventually see the final agreement as beneficial. It is delusional for one party to see him/herself as smart enough, big enough or bad enough to consistently take advantage of another party.
Ascham admitted, “As I was driving to work, I knew I needed to talk to Reginald. He has an ego as big as the parking lot.”
Reginald, an employee with excellent work skills, sometimes produced excellent work– sometimes not. Last week, Reginald disappointed his team with a sloppy analysis on a critical issue. When questioned, Reginald became defensive, blamed others and stated, “I don’t think this is important anyway.”
Ascham said, “When I arrived at work, Reginald was on my mind; but I decided to respond to a couple of emails. It took longer than I intended. Then I got a call from the vice-president asking for a status update.”
Mid-day approached and Ascham had still not contacted Reginald. “I intended to stop by after lunch but decided to go back to my office and update a couple of proposals,” Ascham said.
Just prior to leaving work, Ascham finally stopped by and had the awkward conversation with Reginald. “If I had taken care of this first,” Ascham said, “I would not have worried about it all day.”
Mark Twain said that if the first thing you do each day is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that this is probably the worst thing that will happen to you.
“I am exasperated,” proclaimed Jamison, “I’ve bent over backwards to help Jerry. He shows no appreciation.”
“Is Jerry a good employee?” I asked.
“He has good skills but if he does not like a task, he starts griping and does just enough to get by.”
Jerry was friendly and nice when Jamison became his manager. But after about three weeks, Jerry began coming in a late. When Jamison approached Jerry about his attendance, Jerry responded rudely, “We’ve been working too much overtime lately. Why are you on my back?”
Jerry is a bullying employee. He saw that Jamison was a kind, caring manager and perhaps vulnerable. Jerry first endeared himself to Jamison (an effort to cause Jamison guilt feelings). Later Jerry tested Jamison with rude behaviors.
While Jamison was compassionate and well meaning, Jerry saw him as vulnerable and he escalated his defiant behaviors.
Maybe it is the “law of the jungle,” but aggressive employees seek out leaders who may be vulnerable and they test them with inappropriate but acceptable behaviors. Appeasing and patient leaders may actually encourage increased employee aggression.
When dealing with predatory animals, school-yard bullies, or aggressive employees, one must respond confidently and firmly to avoid becoming prey.