Business Negotiation January 21, 2014

Physical and Environmental Intimidators

Several years ago I read about a strange labor negotiation.   Usually, when labor talks begin the opposing parties are cordial to one another...

Several years ago I read about a strange labor negotiation.  Usually, when labor talks begin the opposing parties are cordial to one another.  They don’t want to complicate matters by starting out on a bad footing.

Not so this time.  The negotiation opened with each party sitting opposite the other across a large table.  After the management team leader had outlined his opening position, the labor representative, a big, tough-looking man, suddenly reached across the table, grabbed the management representative by the collar and yanked the shorter man out of his seat.  The management negotiator turned pale.  He was scared to death by the ferocity of the attack.  Still shaking, he ran from the room and refused to go back.

Management promptly protested the union.  The union apologized but kept the tough looking man at the table.  A new team leader was drafted by management to replace the first one.  When the tough labor man was asked later why he did it, he said that he’d resented the guy since their last negotiation because he’s acted so high and mighty with his big words.

The newspaper did not describe how the negotiation came out but I would guess it was like the old question, “How do you negotiate with an elephant?”  Answer: “Very carefully.” The replacement was probably on his toes in what he said and did.  I doubt if he or his team were as assertive as they normally might have been.

I am not suggesting this as a viable negotiating approach.  It isn’t.  Yet I believe it is harder to negotiate against people who look tough or against those who considerably taller than you.  I once read a study that found successful executives to be taller and heavier than their peers.

Fatigue and discomfort also influence results.  I have seen people reach an agreement simply because they were sick and tired of talking and not getting enough sleep.  These inconveniences made it easier for them to accept the deal offered.

Speaking of discomfort, there is one negotiation I’ll never forget.  After our team got there on a Saturday, we learned the air conditioning had been routinely shut off for the weekend.  None of the windows opened.  We dragged on through the day and part of the evening but the building maintenance people never showed up to turn on the air conditioning. It was like negotiating for ten hours in a steam bath.  Was the lack of air conditioning a deliberate tactic on their part?  To this day I think so.  They seemed to enjoy our discomfort but didn’t make a show of it.

In retrospect, it’s obvious what we should have done.  Had we demanded better treatment, we probably would have gotten it.  We should have moved talks to a hotel conference room and made them pay for it.  Whenever you find yourself intimidated by physical or environmental factors, fight the tendency to go along.  In business as in life you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.  If you don’t demand relief, you won’t get it.
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