Leadership Barometer 13 Negotiate Well

August 27, 2019

I’m sure you realize that we all negotiate every day of our lives.  From the moment the Doctor slapped you on the bottom and you started to cry, you started to negotiate.

Some people envision that to negotiate means to sit across a small table at a car dealer.  Of course, that is, but the principles of negotiation are in play in pretty much everything you do.

This is especially true for leaders. The most important test of a leader is how well he or she does at influencing other people to do what needs to be done. In this brief article I will describe my fix on how you can tell the level of your negotiating skill. It is one of my favorite measures for the quality of leadership.

Negotiate Well

Most leaders exist in a kind of sandwich. They report to someone at a higher level and also supervise other people at lower levels in the organization. Great leaders are experts at negotiating the needs of both groups.

They interpret the needs of the organization from above to the people below in a way that makes most of them understand and appreciate the policies of the larger group.

Simultaneously great leaders advocate well for the needs of individuals reporting to them to levels above in the organization. It is this give and take role that requires constant attention and skill at negotiating well.

Effective negotiating is a science. You can take graduate level courses on this topic or there are numerous books and seminars outlining the various stratagems. You can study the tactics and countermeasures for months and still not be very skilled at negotiating well.

A key attitude for successful negotiations is to recognize that the best ones are where the parties seek out solutions that work for both of them.  Too many leaders seek ways to win in negotiations at the expense of the other party.  That implies that the other party loses.

The best negotiators keep working to find solutions that work to the advantage of both sides.  It is always possible to find ways to have both parties better off.

The most important ingredient for effective negotiating within an organization is credibility. Leaders who are believable to their people and to upper management have more success at negotiating needs in both directions effectively.

So, how does a leader become credible? Here are some tips that can help. (I apologize in advance for the clichés in this list. I decided that using the vernacular is the best way to convey this information succinctly.)

1. Be consistent – people need to know what you stand for, and you need to communicate your own values clearly.
2. Show respect for opinions contrary to yours – other opinions are as valid as yours, and you can frequently find a common middle ground for win-win solutions. This avoids unnecessary acrimony.
3. Shoot straight –speak your truth plainly and without a lot of spin. Get a reputation for telling the unvarnished truth, but do it with compassion. Do not try to snow people – people at all levels have the ability to smell BS very quickly.
4. Listen more than you talk – keep that ratio as much as possible because you are not the fountain of all knowledge. You just might learn something important.
5. Be open and transparent – share as much information as you can as early as possible.
6. Get your facts right – don’t get emotional and bring in a lot of half truths to the argument.
7. Don’t be fooled by the vocal minority – make sure you test to find out if what you are hearing is really shared broadly. Often there are one or two individuals who like to speak for the whole group, and yet they do not share the sentiments of everyone.
8. Don’t panic – there are “Chicken Littles” who go around shouting “The sky is falling” every day. It gets tiresome, and people tune you out eventually.
9. Ask a lot of questions – Socratic and hypothetical questions are more effective methods of negotiating points than making absolute statements of your position.
10. Build Trust: Admit when you are wrong – sometimes you will be.
11. Know when to back off –pressing a losing point to the point of exhaustion is not a good strategy.
12. Give other people the most credit – often the smart thing to do is not claim victory, even if you are victorious.
13. Keep your powder dry for future encounters – there is rarely a final battle in organizations, so don’t burn bridges behind you.
14. Smile – be gracious and courteous always. If you act like a friend, it is hard for people to view you as an enemy.

These are some of the rules to build credibility. If you are familiar with these and practice them regularly, you are probably very effective at negotiating within your organization.

Once you are highly credible, the tactics and countermeasures of conventional negotiating are much more effective.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.


8 “Be-Attitudes” of Holding People Accountable

June 12, 2011

A frequent refrain of top managers is that “we need to do a better job of holding people accountable.” Accountability seems to be the mantra for organizational get well programs these days. I can agree with this in part, and yet there is an aspect of accountability that feels to me like a cop out.

The key to leadership is to create an environment whereby people do the best they can because they want to do it. When employees know it is clearly in their best interest to give their maximum discretionary effort to the organization, managers don’t have to crack the whip as often. Imagine working in an environment where people do the right things not because they are expected, but because it is in their best interest. In that atmosphere, holding people accountable would nearly always be a positive occurrence rather than negative. How refreshing!

It is the actions, attitudes, and intentions of leaders, not the rank and file, that make the environment of either reinforcement or punishment the habitual medication for individual performance issues. Let’s examine 8 attitudes or behaviors of leaders that can foster a culture where holding people accountable is a precursor to a feeling of celebration instead of a sentence to the dungeon.

Be clear about your expectations – It happens every day. The boss says, “You did not file the documents correctly by client; you totally messed up.” Then, the assistant says, “You never told me to file them by client, so I used my initiative and filed them by date because that is what they taught us in Record Retention.” Holding people accountable when the instructions are vague is like beating an untethered horse for wandering off the path to eat grass.

Be sure of your facts – I learned a painful lesson about this early in my career. I gave my administrative assistant a letter to type for a customer. When I got it back, the letter was full of obvious errors. I immediately held her accountable for the sloppy work and called her into a small conference room to let her know of my disappointment. When I told her about the errors, she said, “Well if you had taken the time to notice the initials on the bottom of the letter, you would have seen that I farmed that work out to Alice because I was busy with other things. I did not type that letter.” Gulp. I tried to cover with, “I am glad, because your work is usually higher quality than that,” but the irrevocable damage had been done. If you are going to accuse someone of sloppy work, make sure it was done by that person.

Be timely – If there is an issue with performance versus stated expectations, bring the matter up immediately. If you wait for a couple days before trying to bring up the issue, it just tends to cloud and confuse the person who did not meet expectations. If a boss says, “You did not answer the phone in the proper way last week,” how is the employee supposed to even remember the incident?

Be Kind – Always apply the Golden Rule liberally. If you had a lapse in performance, justified or not, how would you want to get the information? Keep in mind that some people are more defensive than others, so if you like your feedback “straight from the shoulder,” tone it down when dealing with a particularly sensitive individual.

Be Consistent – If you are a stickler for certain behaviors, make sure you apply the discipline consistently. Coming down hard on Mike for being late for work can seem unfair if you habitually let Mary waltz in 45 minutes after the start of the shift. Always avoid the appearance of playing favorites. Recognize that, as a human being, you do have differences in your attitudes toward people, but when holding people accountable, you must apply the same standards across the board.

Be Discrete – Embarrassing a person in public will create a black mark that will live for a long time. If there is an issue of performance, share the matter with the individual privately and in a way that upholds the dignity of the person. This issue also refers to the Golden Rule.

Be Gracious – Forgiving a person who has failed to deliver on expectations is sometimes a way to set up better performance in the future. Get help for individuals who need training or behavior modification. A leader needs to be mindful of his or her personal contribution to the problem through past actions, like not dealing with a problem when it is small. If the current infraction is a habitual problem or one born out of laziness, greed, or revenge, then stronger measures are needed. People cannot be allowed to continually fail to meet expectations. The corrective measures will be based on the severity and longevity of the problem. One caveat: gracious behavior cannot be faked, so be sure you are calm and have dealt with your own emotions before speaking to the employee.

Be Balanced – This is an incredibly important concept. There is nothing written on a stone tablet that says all forms of accountability must be negative. In fact, I love it when someone holds me accountable for all the wonderful things I have done along the way. If we view accountability as both a positive and a corrective concept, then we can remove much of the stigma associated with the word. When I hear a top manager say, “We need to hold our people accountable,” I assure you that it means negative feedback in most cases. This is an easy thing to change by simply modifying our pattern of feedback.

Holding people accountable is a great concept if it is used in a consistent, kind, and thoughtful way. Try changing the notion of accountability in your work area to incorporate the 8 “Be-Attitudes” above, and you will have a significant improvement in your culture.