View from the FishBowl - Negotiation Series: Don’t let it get personal
About the Author: William Fisher, a partner at Treetop Ventures in Omaha, is a regular guest contributor to Silicon Prairie News. In his series, View from the FishBowl, Fisher calls on his experience as a business executive and technology investor to lend his advice to entrepreneurs in the Silicon Prairie.
Fisher has served as a director for several prominent public companies and private firms, and he currently serves on the boards of Prism Technologies, Lodo Software and FTNI. To read his full bio, including a listing of companies he has been involved with, visit treetopventures.com.
Contact Fisher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Negotiation Series: To read past posts in this series, see: "View from the FishBowl - Negotiation Series".
Photo by Captain Victor via Flickr
Can you imagine how the politicians could have negotiated on the appropriate "best thing" for the people if it didn’t get emotional? I know … I know … politics without emotion is some sort of an paradox. However, wouldn’t it be exceptional if this were the case? Just saying …
My experience in the business world says that you aren't rational once you let it get personal. You don't think straight; you aren't able to sort the issues the way you should. Of course, if the other person makes it personal, it can be an advantage in some but not all cases. Sometimes the "personal" side of the argument avoids solid logic, and therefore a deal is negated because the offer or the acceptance can"t be sorted on a logical and purely business basis.
I have seen it manifest itself in various manners. Sometimes it is more subtle than others. I always try to step back from any situation where it doesn't appear to be a logical argument and see if I can spot something in the battle that is personal from either my side or the other side. Everyone has biases; it isn’t always real clear how they manifest themselves in a negotiation.
It goes without saying that it is hard to distance yourself from your personal likes and dislikes; however, it is something that you need to try to do. It isn't personal; it's just business needs to be more than a saying when you use it.
Now, I am human and therefore have personal prejudices that come to play in my thought processes. I particularly don’t care for people who talk down to others — not sure why that makes them feel superior when clearly they aren't. It is just a character flaw. I also don’t like people who are "wishy-washy" — give your word and follow through as opposed to giving your word "maybe."
The story of "Mr. Important"
One of my favorite people and I were neck deep in negotiating the purchase of a company from a larger parent company. It was a lengthy and involved negotiation, and the person they named to handle the negotiation was difficult to pin down. One day, it was an agreement on this point; the next day, it was backtracking on that point with an ask for more. It was wearing my favorite person (our company lawyer) out!
We were near the end of what was a four-month extended negotiation, and few points remained and we had one day to complete them before the Christmas holidays. That morning, Mr. Important (my nice nickname for him) opened the meeting by asking me whether I would do him a favor and change his flight to California that he was on today until first thing in the morning (denoting that it was going to take all day to negotiate these few final points and he was way too busy to call the airline). This was kicking off a meeting of a half dozen people (including inside and outside counsel for both firms, etc). Cheerfully, I said sure and left the room.
About mid-morning, Mr. Important decided to "back track" on a previous commitment and my good friend and legal counsel blew up. He said that wasn't professional; however, Mr. Important said he didn't care and that was his stand. Either we give up on the issue or it won't get done. (This happens all the time; it is never that binary). I was called in to discuss it and hear the position from the other side. Although it wasn't right, I agreed that we would accept if it was the last issue. (We would table it, and if it was the last open issue, I would agree).
My friend asked for a break and went back to the coffee room to get a refill. I could see he was upset. I went back there, and it was just the two of us. I told him to not let it bother him. However, clearly, he was upset. He said that it wasn't right. It wasn't professional. It just wasn’t something that this person should have done, and we shouldn't accept it. (Side bar: both of us knew that we wanted to get this deal done, and this wasn't a major issue; it was the principle of the thing.) I knew he would calm down and go back and professionally work it out. However, I knew he needed a little bump.
I leaned over and whispered to him. "He doesn't have a seat on the flight in the morning," and then just grinned. It was enough. He went back and got it done and we got a few calls that next day (Christmas Eve) telling us that they didn't have his reservation. Still not sure how long it took him to get back to California. I can't say I am proud that I let my personal feelings get involved in the battle; however, I still feel good about that to this day and wonder if it even occurred to him that when I left the meeting that morning, all I did was call and cancel his flight.
As Grandma used to say… "Do as I say and not as I do."