Mentor Mornings: Negotiating with Bullies

Have you ever found yourself negotiating with a bully? I sure have. It’s always uncomfortable. It’s best to just avoid bullies but sometimes you can’t avoid them.

So bring your own bully story and we’ll share our experiences and some techniques for getting what you need when you’re in the hot seat.

Here’s a story for you… .

Lawyer, Litigator, Bully

Once, a law firm commissioned us to design their stationery. The firm was headed by a celebrated litigator who had developed a fearsome and intimidating courtroom style that he famously used in his business dealings as well.

In an unusual twist, their internal marketing group was entrusted with buying and managing the printing of the new stationery to save money. It was a large print order, over six figures in cost. We protested as it’s unusual for the designers to be separated from the first printing of an important new look. A look that depends on the quality of the printing to be successful. Nevertheless, we were overruled.

When the newly printed stationery didn’t match the look of the design, our law firm client rejected the order. The printer demanded to be paid saying that their work met the specifications provided by the designers. That’s when the marketing folks called me on the carpet. The meeting was, naturally, in an imposing conference room at the law firm. The printer was there along with the head of the law firm’s marketing effort and the litigator. In preparation, I asked another printer, one that we used and trusted, to print a handful of letterheads to our specs. As expected, they did a beautiful job.

The meeting began with the printer and the firm’s marketer explaining why the work didn’t meet expectations. I listened thoughtfully, nodding my head in sympathy while examining the work with genuine concern. Then the litigator went after me in an aggressive attack on our carelessness and lack of professionalism, demanding that we not only pay for the printing but pay for the damages caused by the delay caused by our sloppy work. Again I listened intently to his full rant, wringing my hands in an act of submission and distress.

When the room went silent and all eyes were on me, I continued to nod silently. I don’t think I’d said anything except “good morning” up until that point. After letting the pause extend for a bit I looked directly into the eyes of the litigator—who’d just mercilessly bullied me—and said with kindness in my voice, “I’m so sorry that this has happened. I know how important the new stationery is. I know the delay has been a serious blow. And I know how disappointed you are with this outcome. Please accept my deepest apologies.”

As I spoke I could see them all relaxing. I continued, “I was so disappointed myself, wondering, of course, how this could have happened when I saw this work. I feel horrible that this has happened and I know you do as well.” Then, reaching into the envelope for the correctly printed samples, I said, “In preparation for this meeting and to check the specifications, I asked a printer that we use on projects like yours to run a few samples that I’d like to show you.”

The samples were beautiful, matching the design perfectly. There was no further mention of us paying the print bill. The litigator thanked me for my time and turned his attention to his marketing professional as I left the room.

Having a needed expertise means you always have the advantage of knowledge to leverage when you are negotiating, as the story illustrates. Just as in the schoolyard, standing up to the bully is the only path to success. But use your expertise and do it with brains, not brawn.

  •  April 15, 2017
     10:00 am - 12:00 pm

Location:   Impact Hub Seattle

220 Second Ave S, Seattle, Washington, 98104, United States

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