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Feeling hot, hot, hot - in Commercial Conflict

The historic temperatures we are currently experiencing in the UK are having a monumental effect on schools, transport and peoples’ mental and physical wellbeing. It takes me back to my own experiences of people raising the temperature, both literally and metaphorically in commercial conflict.

I’ve experienced long drawn-out discussions in the heat of Indonesia, the sometimes exotic food choices over dinner in China and the infamous evening-before ‘parties’ in Western Siberia (where the alcohol flows freely the night before the negotiation) – to mention just a few.

Of course, closer to home people aren’t immune to making others’ lives a little bit more uncomfortable on purpose before a negotiation. There’s the old favourites of keeping you waiting for ages in reception; finding out when your return flight is so they can draw things out - pushing the final deal to the eleventh hour; giving you the older smaller chair; not offering you a tea/coffee on a cold day whilst they sip away from their steaming cup. You may well have your own favourite – I’d love to hear about it!

So, what’s this all about? Well in a nutshell, it’s about power, control and pressure: power (I have more than you), control (I’m taking the lead here and the best thing you can do is go with it) and pressure (I’m going to unsettle you and you’ll make a mistake, in my favour).

If you think you’re about to walk into this sort of ambush, here’s four things to consider:

Plan, Plan, Plan - A, B and C

Make sure that you have a plan before the meeting and set some realistic, achievable objectives. Often the people trying to trip you up can become so fixated by the ‘game’ they lose sight of what’s really important – keep focussed on your objectives, despite the antics in front of you. Maintain flexibility, have some alternative strategies available if Plan A doesn’t work.

Use your opening statement

If the other side wants to try and dominate the discussions, the likelihood is they’ll want to go first with their opening statement. That’s OK, somebody has to. However, don’t get sucked into immediately addressing all the points they’ve just made. Still deliver your own opening statement – then assess the issues, any new information and what you want to achieve by the end of the meeting. If it’s useful, clarify the two positions and highlight the areas of similarity and difference.

Don’t be in a rush

Nothing ever goes completely to plan – there’s the old adage that a plan remains intact only until first engagement with the other side. New information will always come out, and you’ll need time to process this and consider what the consequences might be. Question, clarify and repeat if you need to. If it’s something major, an adjournment or time out might be necessary. The important thing is to offer a considered, reasoned response in line with your objectives.

Never give things away

Sometimes people don’t behave as well as you'd expect when you negotiate with them. More often than not it’s because this behaviour has worked for them in the past. If you give things away, people won’t value the concession you’ve just made – they’ll recognise the freebie and get greedy (they’ll just want more!). Don’t reward bad behaviour – trade with them rather than just give things.

After the negotiation, make sure you review the deal (or no deal), the negotiating behaviour used and the effectiveness. Think about what you might want to change next time you’re in a similar situation.

Oh, and if there is no deal and they behaved really badly – would you really want to work with these people across the lifetime of the deal? I don’t think I would.

I hope you manage to keep cool in these challenging temperatures. This is Britain of course! Before you know it we’ll be on to complaining of some other seasonal oddities in the very British way that we do!

Sam Macbeth, 19th July 2022

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