What to Do When You're Stuck



Use impasse to make a new deal

Once again my client was stuck. Arguments about her continued employment with her company in the midst of a C-suite reorganization were going nowhere. She wanted X and the company wanted Y. She had her extremely good reasons and they had theirs.

I hate being stuck.

Then I remembered the simplest description of stuckness.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Which led to look up the research demonstrating that it’s nearly impossible to change other people’s minds. As Fast Company notes in Trying to Change Someone’s Mind is Hopeless,

When we see other people acting in ways that don’t make a lot of sense, our knee-jerk reaction is to try to change their minds–to convince them to do something differently. Implicitly or explicitly, we assume that the cause of poor behavior is a lack of information, inadequate incentives, or sloppy decision-making. Understandably, we work on persuading them to do the right thing.

It rarely works. We argue until we’re blue in the face, but our colleagues or loved ones stick to their bad habits.

“Bad habits” are not simply chronic tardiness, eating too much or exercising too little. They’re business habits as well. Like refusing to acknowledge the flaws of our own reasoning, our disinclination to admit we’re wrong, and, our desire to avoid discussing the dangers of what what once seemed like extremely good plans.

the Alternative

I’ve talked about my casual conflict resolution mentor Lou Meisinger before. He was and is a big muckety- muck of business experience having been General Counsel to Walt Disney, then a renowned entertainment lawyer, Judge and, today, a much in demand mediator.

We were about to give a joint presentation on settling lawsuits to lawyers at Sony Pictures Entertainment when Lou casually observed that “the best way to break negotiation impasse is to transform it into an opportunity to make a different deal.”

My client had a narrow window to close her deal and all that was happening was a lot of supposedly persuasive argumentation on both sides. Listen, I was a gunslinger of persuasion for twenty-five years. In court, in settlement conferences, in mediations, over the telephone and in corporate and legal offices throughout the country and all over the world.

What did that get my clients? Years . . . sometimes literally decades . . . of court proceedings until eventually someone’s client shouted ENOUGH and everybody came to the settlement table with the idea of problem solving rather than slinging legal stones at one another.

So I finally said to my client that arguing wasn’t going to get her what she wanted. Recalling Lou’s excellent advice, I said “lets use this as an opportunity to make a different deal. Let’s offer your soon-to-be former employer a consulting contract to ease the transition.”

The different deal isn’t always one your bargaining partner will accept, but offering one dramatically changes the conversation from an argument to an exercise in problem solving.

“I don’t know if this is the solution,” you might say, “but let me run it up the flag-pole. I’m really interested in hearing your thoughts.”

Dong this also allows you to add a little ingratiation (honey not vinegar) to the conversation..

“You know this field better than I do” or “you’ve got connections I don’t” or “you’ve been in this industry long enough to have better ideas than I do about how we can crack this problem for everyone’s benefit.”

Don’t Split the Pie

Make a dozen more

I’ve been saying for a long time that when women can’t figure out the fairest way to split a pie, they don’t tend to fight about it. They just make more pies. I was making this point to another client recently because two divisions of the same company were fighting over her. A good thing, you’d think. But she was afraid if she said “no” to Division A where the more powerful executive worked, she’d be demoted, ostracized, sent off the the Siberia of her industry.

“Let’s suggest succession planning,” I said, after every other suggestion was met with understandable skepticism. “What happens two years from now when they both want you again?” I asked. “I’m spit-balling here but maybe you could ask for a quarter time reduction of your current duties to help someone else take the position that Strongman A said only you could do. Then there will be two of you. At a minimum, it will redirect the conversation from the impasse to a different topic with the potential of solving even greater problems than the one about splitting you in half.”

Neither of these negotiations has completed. But I believe the result in both will be better than the stuck place they now sit in.

Stay tuned. I’ll report back, successful or not. Because every negotiation is an opportunity to learn how to do it more effectively, efficiently and economically the next time. That’s how She Negotiates rolls.

If you’re interested in some of that for yourself, try our introductory Hundred Buck Hour. We’ll quickly assess your situation, give you some good ideas how to solve your present dilemma and discuss ways in which we can continue to help you if the half hour doesn’t resolve your impasse. And if you don’t feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth, we’ll refund your fee. Does it get any better than that?

Victoria PynchonComment