Not only does each of us have failings, there are always people around to tell us how imperfect we are.  That’s why the “garbage on the lawn” response works as it does.

Recall for a moment the team we put together to develop our invention of a lifetime: the better mousetrap. Now, time has passed.  The project has gone modestly well except in one important respect.  Design engineering is six months behind schedule and holding up others on the team in getting their work done.  The inexpensive computer chip device necessary to snap shut the trap has not performed properly.  Engineering has completed a new design they feel will solve the problem.  The new trap will be ready for full testing and production in four months at an additional cost to complete of $300,000.

At a special meeting, engineering has just completed a carefully prepared presentation and invited team questions.  Unfortunately, everyone is skeptical of the engineering solution and forecast because this is the third time their design has failed.  Most doubt that this fourth approach will work and believe that added costs will exceed $600,000 rather than $300,000 and take much longer to complete than four months.

No sooner is the new plan presented by engineering than a dissenting voice is heard.  That voice is from the head of team quality control and testing.  Her people have suffered from most of the past engineering errors.  She is not about to let her doubts go unheard.

The head of testing responds to the presentation by saying, “Frankly, I think you’ve got it wrong again. This is your fourth try at a good design.  Your first three failed miserably.  Now, here we go again.  I don’t know what to do. Last time you promised to complete the work by June.  I hired three lab techs to do the testing and data collection. I’ve wasted a lot of time and money.”

How do you think the head of engineering felt about his new design and schedule after hearing this response?  He became unsure of his presentation.  What he had experienced is what we in negotiation call the “garbage on the lawn” response.  Such a response reduces our aspiration and confidence level.  It prepares us for retreat and saps our energy.

“Garbage on the lawn” is commonly used by buyers to reduce a seller’s proposed price. Early in the talks these negative remarks remind the salesperson about everything their company failed to do in the past year.  The hapless salesperson is ready to reduce their price so they will retain the unhappy buyer’s business.  Internally in most organizations there is a lot of “garbage dumping” every day.  Relationships suffer.

The best way to handle “garbage on the lawn” is not to succumb to its implications: that you have failed before, are likely to fail again and now must pay a price for it.  Preparation for this onslaught is necessary.  Make a list of all that went well and actions taken above ordinary expectations.  Too often what we do well day after day is taken for granted and forgotten.  Don’t let that happen when negotiating with anyone in your organization.

It’s well to remember that those who throw the garbage often bear a measure of responsibility for what went wrong in the past.  History is rarely clear about such matters as fault and responsibility.  The less we go into the past the better when it comes to faultfinding in negotiation.

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