Over Christmas I was struck by the number of trees in full blossom around my neighbourhood in London – yes, the weather was very mild, but in mid-winter, it was still quite a surprise to see such a sign of Spring so abundant.
This week, the return of two familiar things brought this back to mind – the cold snap we’re currently embracing, or enduring depending on your point of view, and teaching my first course of 2024. On the first of those, the cold front rushing into the south of the UK reintroduced an almost comforting certainty about the time of year and what we ought to expect from it. Messaging wise, unmistakable – it’s very cold indeed, don’t forget your scarf, hat and gloves. The second, observing teams negotiate the conflict situations we give them was a timely reminder about how varied the ways in which what can be definitive to one party can be interpreted entirely differently by the other. It struck me that while I was surprised by the blossom I noticed at Christmas – because it was late December and the arrival of blossom on trees usually heralds the warming effects of Spring – all the trees were doing was responding to the stimulus around them, which of course was the ambient temperature.
In a similar way, what we believe we are transmitting to our negotiating counterparts as clearly and simply as possible can sometimes result in the entirely unexpected. When I was working in magazine publishing some years back, one of the existential challenges of the job was managing decline, as the then-nascent digital media encroached upon print audiences with ever-increasing voracity. This required regular conversations with suppliers about ever-decreasing volumes, and rarely involved good news. So, on one occasion where our team had hit upon a successful niche around supplements and special editions, I had the rare opportunity to talk with our printer about good news – wonderful! So I carefully planned how to introduce this incentive, wanting to use the leverage it gave us wisely. “We’re looking at the potential to publish special editions of the title and I’ve some ideas on what we’d target as a realistic cost for those” I opened, expecting an enthusiastic and excited response to what I thought was a clear proposition. The bitter disappointment I faced from our printer was, therefore a surprise – but much like the blossoming tree in December, it transpired that their response was based on the ambient temperature. Our printer, looking at the steady decline in circulation, had taken the statement not as good news of separate and additional business, but as confirming that we would be replacing the weekly publication with a monthly or even quarterly title instead.
I hadn’t taken the temperature before sharing my news – doing so may have helped me reframe the proposition in a way that would have given me the leverage I sought. It’s always in a negotiator’s interests to be able to see the world through the eyes of those they are making deals with – take the time to ensure you can, and you’re very likely to trade much more effectively.