Do I always have to negotiate?


Every now and then, I have a conversation with one of the leaders I work with who is frustrated with a lack of compliance and accountability in their company. The leader will say something like this: “I told them exactly what I wanted. I explained the reason we needed to do it that way and I am still not seeing the results I want. What is the problem?”

When I point out that perhaps they need to allow folks to weigh in so that they can buy in, I frequently hear a sigh and expressions of more frustration. “Well, that’s just a waste of time,” they might say. Or, “Sometimes I am open to feedback. But sometimes there is a reason I want it done a certain way. I don’t want to waste time in meetings trying to convince everyone to just do it.”

At the other end of the spectrum is the leader who constantly strives for consensus. What I hear from this leader goes something like this: “When I want to implement a change, I ask everyone to weigh in. Then, if there is disagreement, we all meet and discuss it until we agree. If we don’t agree, we don’t do it.”

While there is certainly a place for each of these approaches, there is also a third option: negotiate. The leader who chooses to negotiate begins by understanding where “they” are coming from and what is important to “them,” so that they can turn the discussion into a “we.”

While all three approaches lead to a “yes,” the meaning of that yes can fall anywhere within the following five levels of agreement:

1. Acknowledge the idea
2. See value
3. Buy in
4. Qualified yes
5. Commitment

In my experience, except in an emergency, the first leader I described — the “dictator” — frequently gets only to level 1; thus, the reason for non-compliance. The second leader described — the “consensus builder” — may get to level 2 and 3 occasionally. More often, they either get to the point of watered-down action or no action at all. On the other hand, the third leader — a “true negotiator” — is likely to reach level 5 most often. This approach, like that of the consensus builder, admittedly takes more time at the front end.

Therefore, the questions to ask in each situation are: Is this an emergency? If so, dictate. If this is not an emergency, how important is it to reach true commitment?

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