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A quiet word?

Published: Jul 11 , 2019
Author: Alan Smith

Matt Hancock, the Tory MP made a telling point in parliament recently.

Anyone who has to deal with people who have a very different personality dependant on whether you meet them one to one, or in a public format will recognise the situation.

Hancock was describing his opposing shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth in the house during an exchange on health policy. He said, and I don’t quote but paraphrase, that Ashworth in private was so nice, that when he got in front of the house had to get spikey to prove to his bosses that he was really on their side.

I have to say I have experienced both sides of the fence when it comes to choosing the format and place for my negotiations.

I once had a client who behaved a bit like Ashworth is accused of. He was a nice and collaborative as pie when we met face to face but turned into a showboating bully in front of his colleagues. He loved to show off and demonstrate how powerful he was. It got so bad that one of my team refused to go to meetings when this chaps’ colleagues would be in tow.

Another client would be fine in a format when they thought they were being observed (either by their own team or mine) but get them one to one and they switched into Hannibal Lector on a day when he fancied a nice Chianti and some F-F-Fava beans.

I remember once receiving a call from this client, who proceeded to rant uncontrollably. I told them that it would be useful for my colleagues to hear his concerns and informed them that I would put them on speaker phone as I was in the boardroom.

They immediately calmed down (or at least appeared to do so). I was actually alone in my office, but they didn’t need to know that.

As we all know that when we are negotiating, we are dealing with conflict. Conflict is an ugly word, so you might want to call it a disagreement, skirmish or divergence of view. But it does deal with differences, which many people find awkward.

If you want to get philosophical about it, Sartre suggests that because life has no intrinsic meaning, we attach our own significance as to who we are and what we do. Therefore, when someone disagrees with us, we see that as a challenge to our own existence. Hell is other people.

Certainly, is on a packed London underground during the heat of June.

I would suggest that when dealing with conflict, we think about trying to take as much heat out of the discussion as possible. That may mean trying to control the environment.

I am a big fan (rather like Steve Jobs was) of going for a walk to talk things out. There is a whole method of therapy that suggests walking and talking creates a relaxed environment, which also stimulates creativity, essential for the packaging of creative deals.

Pick your place to negotiate and recognise yourself for what you are. Might help.


Alan Smith

About the author:

Alan Smith
My background is marketing and advertising. After graduating in Economics I entered the agency world to become, at 28, MD of London's largest independent below-the-line marketing provider.

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