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Why not to be a 'perfectionist' in commercial conflict

An interesting article in BBC news this week suggested that in business, ‘Perfectionism can hold women back' ( Without the benefit of in-depth research, I can’t say that one group of people is afflicted more than another by this. I do however think that it can affect us all to some degree.

I’ve watched many different people plan for both real life and simulated commercial conflict and it’s clear to me that too much perfectionism can have a detrimental effect on the quality of deals that get done.

Some people spend a lot of planning time trying to assess all the potential ‘moves’ they might make in response to all the possible issues that could get raised and the range of their subsequent responses.

Moves x issues x responses = a lot of required thinking time!

This of course refers to the ‘known/unknown’ issues never mind the ‘unknown’/unknown’ ones!

I’m a huge fan of planning, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes we have to accept that whilst we can (and should) do our best, we can’t and won’t know everything that’s going on with the other side (accepting our imperfection) until we engage with them.

As renowned Prussian Field Marshal ‘Helmuth von Moltke the Elder’ put it ‘No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.’ Now, think ‘other party’ rather than ‘hostile force’ from a commercial conflict perspective. The message is clear, things will always change (even more so in the present day).

Failure to accept this truism, can lead to increased introspection and rigidity (e.g. ‘I’ve already covered all the bases’) with a resultant lack of empathy, potentially missing out on vital clues. I once heard a former colleague tell a tale of a meeting between a retailer and supplier where the supplier was so paranoid about the issue of low pricing, he refused to discuss the matter on four separate occasions when asked by the retailer. Needless to say, there was no deal. It would have been interesting to hear the retailer’s comments rather than automatically assuming the worst!

Sometimes we have to ‘let go of the rope’ and accept our imperfect knowledge. Maybe we need to welcome the ‘corridor of uncertainty’ when it arrives in our conversations, actively and openly exploring it – we may well find an unexpected commercial conflict solution with little or no cost. Sometimes imperfection can add value.

Sam Macbeth 21st May 2021

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