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I'm just not interested!

This is something we’ve all heard at some time or another from other people.


Unlike the title, I’m always interested in the areas of difficulty that people have in their commercial conflicts and negotiations. The top three issues that I get to hear regularly are as follows:


Dealing with aggressive counterparts.

Handling people who keep saying ‘No’.

Overcoming a situation where the other side is just ‘not interested’.


Whilst there are no silver bullets, the good news is that there are potential antidotes for all the above problems.


The nature of the ‘not interested’ issue is easier to understand than you might think. Let's turn the phrase around i.e., how can we create interest from the other side? It then very quickly becomes apparent that you need to have things the other side wants i.e. positives (benefits/opportunities) or things they may wish to avoid i.e. negatives (losses/consequences). Now it’s the cumulative value of the positives and negatives that we can apply to the situation versus the cumulative value of positives and negatives that they can apply, that determines who has more power between the two parties. Interestingly, recent research has shown that people are more affected by issues which have a negative impact on them – i.e., things they may lose out on (FOMO) e.g. money, health, and happiness rather than things that have a positive effect…


This brings me to recent events at Alstom - the train builder in Derby, where the company recently stated that 1,300 manufacturing jobs were at risk, due to ‘no meaningful workload until the middle of 2026’. In recent times, governments have been reluctant to get directly involved with businesses and the market forces that affect them. In some ways it’s understandable – uncomfortable questions tend to get asked about the best use of public money, the government’s level of expertise in the sector and how their actions might set a precedent going forward.


Mark Harper, the UK Transport Secretary, posted an open letter last week that offered some clues as to why there might be sufficient ‘interest’ for some level of involvement from the government concerning this problem. In his letter, he encouraged Alstom to continue investing in the Derby site. He referred to confirmed orders which still need to be completed by Alstom, including HS2 (a UK high-speed rail link) – a project for which the government has endured a lot of cost and criticism for many years. Added to this, these events are occurring in an industry which in recent years has been beset by many problems, causing pain for members of the public. Then there’s the small matter of a general election that will occur at some point in the UK this year. The sum total of these potential negative biases would seem to be enough to generate some ‘interest’ for the UK government to offer a bit more than encouragement.


Indeed, only this week Alstom made it public that there are now "intense discussions" with the government and Transport for London about an order for additional trains for the Elizabeth Line. It appears that this additional work may have been made possible by the triggering of a clause in an existing contract between the two parties. In conclusion, it appears that the government have calculated that it is in their interest to actively help the Derby site stay afloat. The alternative of doing nothing means 1300 job losses which might realise the full potential of the negative implications mentioned earlier.


The next time conflict is introduced into your commercial discussions because the other side says that they’re just not interested, take another look at your proposition – are there any additional upsides to generate commitment from them and/or are there any more downsides that might encourage them not to disengage with you?


If the answer is ‘No’ there’s nothing new, as a former colleague of mine once used to say,’ you might need to see if you can find a way to persuade them instead’ – we can help you with that too!

Sam Macbeth, 18th April 2024

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