Getting to yes

It's easy enough to come up with a rational argument and hope that others will see the light, but sometimes it feels more like the only way to find alignment is with witchcraft under a full moon.  And if you're on a timeline, well, good luck.

No one likes feeling under pressure. If you're trying to get something approved quickly and there's any whiff of doubt in the air, simply call it a day and move on. You'd rather not come off as pushy or lose credibility.

I had a situation last week where I felt like I had gotten a really good deal on a vendor contract, and was very excited to move it forward, confident our organization would be able to move quickly on securing it.

We'd spent a few weeks in an evaluation period, and had data and anecdotes to back it all up. The engineers and senior engineers running the evaluation were all onboard, excited about the productivity to be gained.

A senior executive joined the sales call and was visibly surprised at the original announced estimate; to be fair, it was significantly more than I was prepared for. We wrapped up the call, and that was that. But I still had reason to believe that I could get this number to where I wanted it to be. A few more calls and several hours later, I rang the executive with the good news.

The vendor had come down in price, but in addition to the caveats of the deal, they were looking for a quick signature by the end of the day. My enthusiasm was showing as I explained how I had been able to bring down this number so significantly. I didn't realize it at the time, but my enthusiasm was actually hurting my credibility.

I thought that all I would need to do is explain how it all came to be, and that's that – we'd get it done. What I didn't realize is that it doesn't matter how well something can be rationalized – the actual details of what happened were not part of "business as usual", and when things stand out, they raise suspicion.

When things raise suspicion, then folks are uneasy, and will need extra time to get turn it over. Coupled with an impending deadline, and it's game over. Already feeling under pressure, knowing they wouldn't have the time to do their own due diligence before the signing.

By introducing elements of the deal that the executives were unfamiliar with, I was creating cognitive dissonance, and creating more opportunities to simply shut it down in the face of the deadline.

The term cognitive dissonance is used to describe the mental discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes.

It's hard not to take something personally when you're personally invested. It's important to realize that when things do not go your way, it doesn't mean that folks do not trust you, or that they have lost their confidence in you. It's quite simple: if there is dissonance at play, then it is significantly difficult to take someones word for it. The brain is trying to resolve the dissonance, and it's taxing.

Things I can do differently next time:

  • Set better expectations with key stakeholders out of the gate – share ballpark numbers with stakeholders as early as possible.
  • Share the cost/analysis proposal as early as possible, before final numbers are in.
  • Don't share the original numbers if they are significantly outside of established bounds. Instead, negotiate to the price that you need them to be, and then simply include only the negotiated number in the cost/analysis proposal.
  • Discuss the deal or discount if folks are curious, but present a neutral take on it, stick with the facts.

More generally, I think I'm learning to speculate less in front of others. As a lateral thinker, I enjoy connecting dots when developing a mental model. It's fun and exciting. But it's not as obvious to others, and it may raise concern with folks who carry a more conservative outlook.

Similarly, enthusiasm and optimism are easy to view with skepticism when it comes to any sort of argument or analysis. Present a neutral front when discussing the details, and only share what matters to others; let them drive with the questioning. Come prepared and keep your cards close.

This is definitely a challenge for me. I tend to be optimistic when working with people, which is one of my primary activities.

Edit: I should also take this opportunity to mention how much I enjoyed Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas. Not only an excellent book on change management, but a great example of organizing insights into repeatable and teachable tactics.