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Competitive Stances Breed Competitive Stances

Robin Copland
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A friend of mine is a specialist clothes manufacturer – I do not want to say more than that for fear of identifying him - who, when he opened his factory thirty years ago, was fairly desperate to get one or two big clients to underwrite his business in the first few unsteady years.  Fortunately for him, he found a few, one of whom was and is a well-known high street retailer in the UK.

Now, this company has exacting standards.  I used to be in the hotel business and I well remember that we hosted their annual staff dinner one year.  Two or three weeks before the function, the head of HR arrived completely unannounced demanding to “inspect the hotel kitchens”; this, mind you, during an 800-guest Burns supper service.  The hotel’s executive chef, perhaps more from the Gordon Ramsay than the Michel Roux school of management, told him robustly where he might like to park his “inspection” – much to the amusement of all present, it has to be said.

Anyhow, back to my friend, who was treated in a similarly cavalier fashion by said retailer.  Factory inspections were commonplace; late changes to previously agreed orders; payment held up for some minor administrative error that, needless to say, was not brought to his attention until late in the payment cycle; returned goods for no good reason.  Those of you who deal with these kinds of customers may recognise the symptoms.

None of this sat well with my friend and, to be fair, you do not take the kinds of risks that he took if you don’t have a bit of a backbone.  He simmered and bided his time.  His one ambition eventually was to get rid of his troublesome customer.  Come the day that he felt able, he took great delight in travelling to their office in the South of England, unannounced, and told his contact in no uncertain terms that he was done with them and that they could look elsewhere for supplies for the next season.  No cajoling or threats from them had any effect on him; the boot was firmly on the other foot.

Was this sensible negotiating behaviour?  He cheerfully admits not, but was he satisfied?  You bet he was!

Negotiators need to beware.  If they bully their opposite numbers and negotiate aggressively, they may win in the short term, but, in the long term, they may lose a valuable partner.

Competitive stances breed competitive stances.

Robin Copland

Robin Copland
More by Robin Copland:
Clean Breaks
Unilateral Disarmament
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