The Road to Divorce
“10% off and we´re friends.” That was the exact phrase a friend of mine used when negotiating the price of a tailor-made suit. It made me smile, and I thought to myself, “That was a cheap trick.” But later, this Hong Kong memory returned on another continent.
My client and I were considering a potential project. Not the first one together, the process was familiar to both of us. We had identified the needs, met a few times, even discussed details at length over the phone. The sky was blue, not a trace of cloud anywhere.
And then, without warning, the sky darkened. Everybody at the client side was too busy. The scope of what was to be delivered grew far beyond the time available. Dates did not suit. And yes, from a certain moment on, price was mentioned at each and every contact.
Have you ever experienced this, the tense quiet before the battle over price? Gradually, it was harder and harder to get through to the person in charge, and silences stretched longer and longer. In fact, till today, there still has been no progress. The project is likely dead.
But my question is this: should I have given a discount to get the project started? Should I have used the same “10% off and we´re friends” tactic that helped my friend acquire a beautiful tailor-made suit?
I believe it would have been a mistake. You see, you don´t fix relationships by undercutting substance. When we´re afraid of losing the relationship, we give in to demands too early. Accepting unreasonable timelines or budget constraints will leave us feeling hurt, dissatisfied, or even used, which can tempt us to cut corners and provide an inferior product. Even our best, most honest efforts may be inadequate in the face of impossible conditions. The final result will be poor for both sides.
To sum up, think on two levels: keep relationships and negotiating substance separate. And show respect by allowing the other party to do this also.
Write out the substantive issues (money, terms, conditions, etc.) and search for the remedies in those areas. Then write out the relationship issues (emotions, lack of trust, different cultural backgrounds, etc.) and think of different solutions there.
Do whatever possible to keep the substance of the negotiation clean. Price discounts as relationship mediators only place you on the road to divorce.