Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Dissent, disagreement, compromise and consensus 30 – the jobs and careers context 29

This is my 30th installment to a series on negotiating in a professional context, starting with the more individually focused side of that as found in jobs and careers, and going from there to consider the workplace and its business-supportive negotiations (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 484 and following for Parts 1-29.)

I have been working my way through a to-address topics list since Part 25 that addresses a succession of workplace challenges and opportunities that can and often do arise when working for a business for any significant period of time. And my goal for this posting is to continue that process, here focusing in its Point 5. To put what is to come here in clearer context, I begin by repeating this list as a whole, with parenthetical references as to where I have already discussed its Points 1-4:

1. Changes in tasks assigned, and resources that would at least nominally be available for them: timeline allowances and work hour requirements definitely included there (see Part 25 and Part 26),
2. Salary and overall compensation changes (see Part 27),
3. Overall longer-term workplace and job responsibility changes and constraints box issues as change might challenge or enable you’re reaching your more personally individualized goals there (see Part 28),
4. Promotions and lateral moves (see Part 29),
5. Dealing with difficult people,
6. And negotiating possible downsizings and business-wide events that might lead to them. I add this example last on this list because navigating this type of challenge as effectively as possible, calls for skills in dealing with all of the other issues on this list and more, and with real emphasis on Plan B preparation and planning, and on its execution too as touched upon in Part 23.

I initially mentioned Plan B approaches to jobs and careers planning and execution in that list in the context of its last, sixth entry. But this basic due diligence, and yes … risk management-aware jobs and careers approach can be just as important for consideration here in an explicitly Point 5 context too. So I begin this posting’s discussion by offering systematically organized references regarding Plan B thinking and execution, and about working with difficult people in general, as a starting point for what is to follow here:

• Finding Your Best Practices Plan B When Your Job Search Isn’t Working, as can be found at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development as postings 56-72, and
• Should I Stay or Should I Go?, as can be found at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 as postings 416-458.

I focused on a job search context in my above-cited Plan B series, highlighting this basic jobs and careers approach in terms that would perhaps more directly relate to Parts 2-12 of this series. But the flexibility of thought and action that that series discusses, and that Plan B approaches are built from in general, apply here too. And when you apply them in this type of context, where you are already working with a business that you would prefer to stay with, the negotiations options and processes of this series become particularly important there.

With that noted, I cite in particular, Part 2: interpersonal conflict and related challenges of my Stay or Go series here, though I in fact raise the issues of difficult, or at least potentially difficult people in other installments in that series too. Positing that series’ narrative in terms pursued in this series, best practices for working with difficult, challenging people are all about finding ways to forestall conflict where possible, where that can mean preventing at least avoidable difficulties from arising. And barring that possibility, it is about limiting and diffusing conflict and finding ways to constructively work with those difficult people where possible. And Plan B approaches enter into all of this, forming a third basic possibility for dealing with circumstances where such favorable resolutions might not in fact be possible.

That noted, let’s start addressing this complex of issues from the beginning and with the fundamentals:

• Really think through and understand what you seek to achieve here, and for your goals and your priorities and for what you would acceptably be willing to offer in exchange for achieving at least your core requirements there.
• And get to know and understand the people you work with, and seek to at least catch glimpses of the world around them as they see it, and certainly when they are at work. What do they seek to do and what do they seek to avoid? Where do they see opportunity and challenge? What are their goals and where can you see possible conflicts or congruences of interest as they might arise between you and them?
• Think of this as background preparation work for when you specifically have to negotiate an agreement with one or more of these people. The more clearly you have thought through your own position on matters of importance to you, the more clearly you can articulate it and present it. And the more clearly you understand the people who you work with, and certainly gatekeepers and stakeholders who you might have to gain some measure of support from, the more easily and effectively you can negotiate mutually acceptable agreements with them.

The key to effective negotiating is in understanding the people you would negotiate with, and any third parties who they might have to accommodate as they argue what would ostensibly be their case. And with that I add a new layer of complexity to this. Sometimes, the driving force behind the positions and the demands that you hear from the other side of a negotiating table, come from people who are not even in the room, who the people you are meeting with have to answer to.

That noted, if you know and understand something of who is involved in this, and perhaps from behind the scenes, and you know and understand them and the people you are actually meeting with, and if you can understand these people well enough to be able to predict how they might raise and promote their positions when negotiating, and how they would likely respond to you and your positions, the better off you will be.

What terms: what wording do these people use when discussing matters, and certainly where their preferences, needs and priorities are concerned? What are their hot button words and phrases that might elicit more of an emotional response than anything else, and a negative one at that?

• Know and understand the people you need to communicate with and particularly when and as you need to negotiate with them, with all of the establishment of common grounds that this can call for.
• And use the terms and phrasings that they would find more comfortable where possible, avoiding options that would raise extra, avoidable complications for you in this.

And with that noted as background for how I would address Point 5 itself, I ask an at least seemingly simple, basic question:

• What does “difficult people” mean?

For purposes of this discussion, I would argue that this means people who:

• You have, and are likely to have need to negotiate with and on at least some issues that are of significant importance to you,
• But who you are also likely to come into disagreement with over those issues, or even outright conflict if you cannot effectively negotiate a common ground with them,
• And where navigating your way to that point of agreement with them, would be difficult at the very least – and even particularly difficult.

Sometimes this means you’re needing to negotiate more effective and equitable ways of working with people who do not see value or significance in others in general, or their issues. But more often than not this means they’re not seeing areas of overlap where they would benefit, or at least not lose if they were to agree to anything that they would see as making a concession to you.

• Are they concerned that if they give ground to you in some way that might create a precedent that would somehow come back as a problem for them later on?
• Do they take a zero-sum approach where anything short of a total victory for them is a loss for them and any victory for someone else must be a loss for them too?
• Turning back to consider outside influencers here again, do they see themselves as being fundamentally blocked from making any concessions, and even ones they would otherwise agree to, because of outside pressures from other parties (e.g. their own supervisor and direct in line boss there, or with that pressure coming from other powerfully placed stakeholders?)

The goal in working with difficult people is to find ways to present your case, in ways that would bring them to see what you want to get done as offering value to them too, and in ways that they could favorably present to anyone else who they have to answer to as well, if needed. Or at least, your goal here would be to create grounds for these stakeholders gaining to value for themselves, and to see themselves as gaining such value, later from favors owed that will be repaid, and under conditions that would make them be willing to “pay it forward” for you.

• Do you have potential allies here, who could help argue your case for you,
• And either directly or from how they might influence outside decision makers who the people who you meet with would have to secure approval and agreement from: the involved parties who are outside of the room but still crucially involved in this as already noted here in this posting?
• Who are these negotiations enablers and how could you best negotiate their supporting you, or at least not hindering your efforts here? In this, sometimes remaining neutral can be supportive too.

Stepping back from the specifics as I have been discussing them here: all of the approaches and tactics that I have just raised here, and more that would be thought through and attempted might fail. You always have to start out and proceed from there with a very real additional outcomes possibility in mind: the prospect that all of your negotiation efforts might not work and no matter how you approach them or prepare for them or seek to carry them out. And this means you’re thinking through and preparing for a possible best alternative to negotiated agreement and a Plan B option that would at least reasonably work for you.

To be clear here, I am assuming that you have at least thought of and considered all viable negotiating approaches and tactics here, that might in principle help you to reach an agreement that would work for you. So for example, can you find an alternative to having to deal with a particularly difficult stakeholder who you would more normally seek to negotiate with here, due to their position or title, but who you do not see as being amenable to any offer or suggestion, no matter how presented? You have at least considered that too. (Note: If you do want to try this type of work-around here, do so first if at all possible so you do not avoidably put yourself in a position of burning future bridges by insulting and challenging that stakeholder with a probably public declaration that you are explicitly going around them, when working with them does not meet your satisfaction. If you try negotiating with someone and that falls through and you turn to others to bypass them, this will only create lasting animosity and resentment and from all parties involved in this – and even when and if they were responsible for the vast majority of the problems that you had with them in your attempt to negotiate with them in the first place.)

• But what happens if you do try negotiating with such a difficult individual and then find out this could not have worked and certainly with them,
• Or if circumstances are such that you have no choice but to work with them on this and even when you know up-front that your chances of success with them are slim at best?
• Then what is your best fall-back non-negotiated position?

The entire thrust of this posting can be summarized with a single piece of advice: think through what you seek to achieve, and how the people who you need to negotiate with on that will perceive matters and act. And do so with an open mind and both when thinking through your own position and how you would best present it, and when thinking through the options and tools that you have as you present and argue your case. And be prepared to be flexible and at all stages of this – and with the possibility of having to pursue a Plan B, best alternative to negotiated agreement alternative too.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment, starting with a more detailed discussion of Plan B options as they arise in this type of context. And with that laid out I will turn to and begin to discuss the above-repeated Point 6 of the to-address list that I have been working my way through here. In anticipation of that line of discussion to come, this series installment and the next to come are going to be particularly pertinent for that.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Page 4 to my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, and also see its Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3. And you can also find this series at Social Networking and Business 2 and also see its Page 1 for related material.

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