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What Happens When You Negotiate with the Wrong Person

Before you open any negotiation, you need to ask yourself if you are talking to the right person / right team. Sometimes negotiations will get down to the wire and the other party will say something along the lines of: “Oh, I need to escalate to get final approval.” To be fair, it is one thing to know from the outset that the negotiation execise was a preliminary activity, but it is another to be caught by surprise by the news that it’s not over.

Proactive negotiators do their homework. They spend time assessing their needs and wants, speculating on the potential needs and wants of the other party, and mapping the negotiation zone–that is, the area of possible agreement. However, negotiators won’t get far if they are not talking to someone who can sign an agreement.

The drawbacks to negotiating with the wrong person are:

1. You waste time & energy. If the negotiation ends up being an exercise in futility, you have lost time you will not be able to get back. It is important to know as early as possible in the process what the parameters of the negotiation are–including who has the final sign-off.

2. You show your cards. If you discuss too much with the “wrong person” what your ultimate intentions are, you may reveal too much about your position and what you’re willing to accept. The “wrong person” likely has a relationship with the “right person” and may share information that might put you in a position of having to concede key points.

3. You tarnish your credibility. If you unwittingly spend a great deal of time and resources on courting the “wrong person,” you may appear to to be inexperienced or naive.If you unwittingly spend a great deal of time and resources on courting the “wrong person,” you may appear to to be inexperienced or naive.

4. You may inadvertently disclose confidential information. Negotiations can tread on areas that in normal circumstances you or your employer might prefer to keep under wraps. If this is a concern, you may have to negotiate the parameters of the discussion.

5. You risk making an enemy. Lastly, you may unknowingly alienate the “right person”–that is, the one who has the authority to make a decision by giving someone else your time and attention. However, how the “right person” views the matter is dependent on the context, past practice, and their relationship with the “wrong person.” You want to be careful not to give the impression that you disregard the position or authority of the “right person.”

It’s not always easy to know you are dealing with the “right person” when organizations have varying structures and policies. There are few core questions to help you determine if you communicating with the right person.

  1. Do they know the issues? Are they familiar with the context of the negotiations? Can they reasonably discuss all aspects of the deal with you?
  2. Do they have the power to sign an agreement? As noted above, sometimes the negotiated agreement is a football that has to be kicked to the next level for approval–and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but all parties need to know the score at the outset. Know who has the power to sign-off on the agreement.
  3. Can they deliver on an agreement? Does this person / team have the organizational know-how to deliver on the agreement within the specified time frame?

When you are sure you are dealing with the “right person”–your negotiation is off to a great start.


Leading Teams: It’s a Balancing Act

In engaging your team the first question you must ask yourself is what you want your team to accomplish.  Sometimes making a simple academic distinction helps to focus this issue.  Do you want your team to be primarily concerned with implementation? Or, do you want your team to be creative and innovative?

The challenge is to find the balance point. If you lead your team too tightly, you run the risk of creating insularity and inflexibility. If you lead your team too loosely, the team can fall into the trap of perpetual creativity, but accomplish nothing.  Your objective as the team leader is not to swing too hard at either extreme.



Do You Read Weak Signals? Sometimes It’s Not a Scream; It’s a Whisper

We live in a world of signals. There are innumerable bits of information that float around us every day. We see and hear things that are relayed via media—the internet, television, books, magazines, trade journals and even radio. We pick up snatches of conversation in the check-out line or on the street or in the hallway. We receive emails and scan message boards. Some information that enters our orbit has more immediate value, and some information may not be relevant now, but may have important implications in the future. This type of information is indicative of a weak signal—that something is happening. Entrepreneurs take the time to speculate and engage in deeper analysis of that “something” before deciding to act (or not).

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By CGP Grey (VLA 4893505508) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsBy CGP Grey (VLA 4893505508) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Don’t Process Things to Death

Most meetings in organizational life follow a script. Everyone plays their part and says their lines. Someone–the department head, VP, or dean–calls a meeting. His immediate direct report feels that if too many issues are raised, nothing will get done. The administrative director is willing to have the meeting, but wants to specify parameters, set a time limit, and start with the agenda in place. The others invited to the meeting understand the broad agenda, but they have their own agendas and issues. Unfortunately, the meeting chair is too facilitative. After forty minutes, it becomes clear that the agenda has long since crashed and burned. Everyone wants to put their issues on the table, and the discussion degenerates into several smaller, simultaneous conversations. The meeting chair tries to wrest back control, but doesn’t want to be abrupt; others try to help him focus the discussion, to no avail. After two hours, the meeting ends with an agreement to meet again.

Dialogue is celebrated today. As corporations move further away from traditional, directive leadership, innovation team leaders and organization members find themselves spending a lot of time in some kind of dialogue–processing ideas, brainstorming, and engaging in continuous open discussion. Virtual and real meetings are the modus operandi of organizational life. Certainly the internet, webinars, and video conferencing haven’t diminished the need for meetings, but have increased it.

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Great Leaders Have Agenda Moving Skills

The major leadership challenge is to lead innovation and change. In that sense, leaders need to move ideas through the maze of the organization. In today’s organizations, with multiple businesses, numerous teams, and changing expectations, leaders need to figure out how they can overcome resistance and get support for their ideas. Indeed, a good idea is not enough. Without the capacity to get others behind your agenda, you’re not really leading. The problem is that super-heroic characteristics, grand personality, and shining charisma are not going to drive ideas through the organization. Successful leaders are agenda movers who engage in the micro-political skills of execution to get people on their side and keep them there.

Agenda movers know that their good idea, no matter how brilliant, is not enough and they need to actively win others to their side. To accomplish this, they develop four key competencies: to anticipate where others are coming from, to mobilize others around their ideas, get the buy-in, and finally to go the sustain momentum and go the distance to get things done.

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