Login  |  Register  |  Search

Negotiation Tip # 4: It Is Their Story

Negotiation Tip # 4: It Is Their Story
Pat Dickson - Mon May 28, 2012 @ 03:07PM
Comments: 0

Once again, at the risk of being redundant, I begin with the reminder we have two ears and one mouth. When we negotiate with an adversary, or any party for that matter, Silence and Listening are golden. Our words are not. When at the bargaining table, always remember: It is Their Story!

One of the reasons for this postulated axiom is my opinion your adversary does not care about your side of the story. Your story does not matter to him one iota. Only his story matters. He has never learned the reason he has two ears and one mouth. This is to your advantage. By letting it all be about him and his story, you can win what really matters. Results. He can have being right all he wants, as long as his being right costs you as little real money and reputation as possible. In fact, by being a humble listener, and letting him tell his story, you may win some Friendship.

You have a right to challenge my position herein. And I admit I am stating an opinion based only on years of anecdotal evidence and experience. My only defense will be to give one example of an incident where making it their story benefited my client:

Jim the Mason called. He was frantic. 

"Pat, my job over at the Tri-Plaza is finished! I just got a letter saying I owed $25,000 in liquidated damages! I can't pay that! The nerve! %$*^%#@!!!"

And then Jim told his story. It took about 30 minutes. Most of his issues and facts had nothing to do with his problem. It was all about what this or that subcontractor had done to stall his work, how the Contractor's PM was a jerk and always smelled like booze, and how there were a million OSHA safety violations going on. Long story short, the Contractor had threatened him with $25,000 in liquidated damages as a pass through of the Contractor's own liquidated damages. Jim was late because some specialty brick subcontractor, XTC Bricks, had failed to make timely delivery. Without these bricks, Jim was dead in the water.   

Jim finished his story and caught his breath.

"Jim, will you scan email me the letter?"

"You'll call them? Dave the PM is a real piece of work. He wrote the &%@*$ letter."

"He's the one that smells like booze?"

"Yeah. Do you think I'll have to pay the 25 grand?"

"Not that much. We'll see what we can do."

I called Dave and made sure he didn't have another lawyer on the case and that he could work directly with me on the matter. He said yes, he wasn't afraid of no lawyer. Rather than get into any details on the phone, I offered an invitation. With cheer in his voice, Dave agreed to meet me after work, down at a local watering hole. Before we got into any discussion of Dave's nasty letter to Jim, I got the beer flowing, my treat. He talked all about how the project was a real killer, how everything was going wrong, and how none of the subcontractors knew what they were doing. No one followed the critical path, did their paperwork right, followed protocol, wore their badges, and they even parked in undesignated areas... I just listened, and listened. It was a good story. I liked Dave. He was passionate about work and life.

After putting down his third draft Dave confided in me and gave me assurance, out of nowhere. I'd asked for nothing. I'd just listened. He offered:

"Don't worry about the $25,000. I sent the same letter to all the subs. In this situation none of them can be blamed for the entire delay, but our contract has them all on the hook for everything. Two of them already offered $5,000 to settle their parts. We really just want one more sub to cough up another $5,000 and we'll cover the rest. The Owner just isn't going to back down on the LDs. We figure $10k or less is our fair share. We aren't perfect angels on this project either."

"I can see how this hasn't been an easy job. We got a taste of what you're dealing with when Jim didn't get his bricks from XTC. I wish there was something we could do to go after those guys for that last $5,000."

Dave's eyes lit up and he spent the next 20 minutes talking about another project he'd been on where XTC Bricks had failed to deliver. It had crushed his project margins for numerous reasons. The worst part of it was Dave didn't get his bonus that year because he'd missed his profitability goals by only a hair. If not for XTC's failure, he'd have been $10,000 richer and Christmas would have been a lot nicer. Actually, the very worst part of it all was the owner of XTC was now the husband of Dave's ex-wife. Listening to that bitter story took another 40 minutes and cost another four draft beers.

A few hours later, Dave and I man hugged and went our separate ways. Before we'd said goodbye, we'd agreed to write and co-sign a letter demanding a final settlement of $10,000 from XTC. In a few days XTC wrote a check for exactly that amount.

My client Jim paid Dave's bar tab and not a penny of the originally demanded liquidated damages. Dave now works for Jim, and so far hasn't missed a single profitability target.

Negotiation Tip # 5

Comments: 0