It’s a slight spin on a classic negotiation game, but how it unfolds can make all the difference to your team.
It happened a few weeks ago when a particularly penny wise customer told Nancy what she intended to pay for some of our great goods and services. Now, mind you, she did not say what she would pay and wait for a response, she merely told Nancy that she’d take this and that for this and that price.
Now, to be clear, negotiation isn’t in our company DNA. I’m a journalist by training, not an auctioneer. Thus, knowing just about everyone would take me to the cleaners, I opted not to make the trip. We’d price things fairly and let folks buy what they wanted. Playing “Let’s Make a Deal” takes time anyway, time much better spent doing real work.
Until, perhaps not surprisingly, a few days later when my phone began to ring. And here is where the variation on that classic game of, “Let me go talk to my manager,” turned into, “I’m going to talk to your manager.” Obviously not content to take no for an answer, Shelia (let’s call her) was going to take things to the top and get what she wanted.
When I called Shelia back, she took pretty much the same tack she’d taken with Nancy, telling me how much she was going to pay:
“My budget is already tight, but if you do these things for me, we’re going to do a lot more together next year. So you’ll do these things for me,” she said.
“Well, you know, we’ll have to see what we can do. We can only do what we can do and, beyond that, there’s not much that can be done,” I mumbled in some noncommittal nonsense.
“Come on Anthony, you’re going to do this thing for me,” Shelia said.
“Listen, you’ve got a tight budget and I’ve got bills to pay and a payroll to meet, so we’ve all got things on our mind,” I said.
“Ok, so just let Nancy know we’re good and we’ll be in touch,” Shelia said, hanging up.
Of course, my first call was to Nancy, to whom I recounted as much of the call as I could remember.
“So, to be clear, we are where we were before. I didn’t make any deal,” I told her.
“Good. I was afraid you were going to say you did, and I was going to be so mad,” she laughed.
But I tell you, undercutting the stand Nancy had taken on my behalf, and on behalf of the company, would have been no laughing matter. I am sure Shelia wasn’t the first person to go over someone’s head when unable to get what she wanted. And I am sure in many of those cases, folks like Shelia have been successful. That’s because there’s something tempting in a leader saying yes in this scenario — in showing you have the power to grant what had formerly been withheld. It’s much more of a rush than holding the line. But if you take this route, I guarantee you underestimate the damage you will have done to your relationship with your employee and their morale. You will have just taken the dynamic of “me and you against the world,” and transformed it into, “you really just embarrassed me, and don’t expect me to ever feel quite the same about this job again.”
Whether you want to give discounts, negotiate or allow your employees some freedom of action is up to you, but if you send them to the front lines with an understanding about when to stand firm, you can’t reveal yourself to be spineless, even if you think better of your original marching orders.
Being a leader means setting an example folks will follow, and few will go into battle behind a general who surrenders the second it’s more convenient than fighting.