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Welcome back to the NEGOTIATEx Podcast! Nolan and Aram are answering a question from a listener: What do you do when a negotiated agreement is reached–but then someone stops honoring it? How does a negotiator handle that implementation failing?
It’s frustrating when people don’t keep their word. It stinks worse when you work carefully through multiple negotiating sessions, establish a framework together, agree to implement it, and then things collapse.
However, regardless of the reasons why, it happens. So, negotiators need to be prepared to deal with these scenarios.
When you’ve confirmed that someone’s not keeping an agreement, it’s time for what Aram calls a “postmortem.” Borrowing a term for autopsies, this refers to examining things after-the-fact to learn what went wrong.
Don’t play the blame game, even if the other side appears to be at fault. Instead, respond productively by setting your frustrations aside in search of the deeper problem(s).
In fact, start with an internal analysis: Were there any commitments our side made that weren’t feasible?
Even experienced negotiators can be tempted to over commit. It’s human nature, especially when we are eager to see an agreement succeed.
Consequently, people sometimes forget to verify things before promising them. This is why it helps to have a more stats-grounded voice of reason at the table.
For example, someone from supply chain management could be consulted on the spot. They might warn you if a proposal would spread resources too thin.
Next, review the overall negotiating process. Were any interests overlooked? Maybe a little creativity could have produced more options.
Similarly, was everything benchmarked to the appropriate industry standard? Sometimes trying to set a new precedent seems like a great idea… until it doesn’t work out.
Even when they’re serving as investigators, good negotiators don’t play judge-and-jury. Effective discovery requires focusing solely on uncovering the truth.
Besides, in many cases, it turns out that people on both sides made mistakes. So, avoid burning bridges.
Instead, try to work with your counterpart to troubleshoot things, where possible. This always nets better results.
You never know when an ongoing relationship could have benefits down the road. The person whose head you didn’t bite off could be a valuable ally in future negotiations someday.
Get back to the basics, like Communication. In other words, if you know the error was an internal problem on your side, reach out to your counterpart.
Be ready to reassess the Relationship with them and smooth things over. If the original agreement was made years ago, acknowledge that this is a different era.
Get ahead of the setback by getting your counterpart(s) onboard. Next, take another look at any Interests, Options, and Legitimacy issues, listening for their perspective.
You’re going to have to review the problem together. However, there’s a distinct advantage to doing so while demonstrating open-mindedness.
The 4 Quadrant Tool can be extremely useful, too. Start with Quadrant 1 by asking, “Where are we today?” and then, “Where is that we want to be?”
Acknowledge that there’s some distance between the two. At the same time, note that it’s okay for this to be the case. Don’t get complacent, but allow for human beings to have made human errors.
Rather than laying blame, unpack the problem and how it happened with your counterpart. From there, work through the remaining quadrants together: Figure out what happened, diagnose the solution, and then work to prevent it from recurring.
Nolan and Aram have more insights for handling an agreement breakdown in today’s NEGOTIATEx Podcast! Questions and episode suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org are always welcome.
Your time’s important to us. Thanks for listening!
Nolan Martin : To another episode ofTthe NEGOTIATEx Podcast. I am your co-host and co-founder Nolan Martin with me today is my good friend Aram Donigian, how are you doing today, sir?
Aram Donigian : I'm great Nolan. Happy New Year to you!
NM : Yep. Happy new year. It's a brand new year, 2022. Hopefully it goes a little bit better than 2021. And, I'm ready to just kick this off, coz it's been a while that we have been recording. So are you ready to jump right into this Aram?
AD : I sure am. Yeah, we can do that. Yeah.
NM : All right. Fantastic. Well, over the holidays we received a question in, and um, over the next few episodes, we're actually be answering quite a few questions, but specifically for this one, it is, “Hey, basically, what do I do if after we've gone through the negotiation process, we've, you know, think that we've come out with a good game plan, however, implementation breaks down?” The question is basically, what do we do at that point? How do we go back, take a look at this and how do we work through it with our counterpart? So with that, a what are we gonna do if an implementation process breaks down after we've come to a negotiate agreement?
AD : Yeah, it's a great question. And our friends at Vantage, Danny Ortel wrote an article about, negotiating with an implementation mindset that I highly recommend people read. It's one of my favorites that my students read, and it really tries to get to how you avoid this problem in the first place and how, what can you do during the negotiation? And it really begins with your mindset. Are you negotiating with the idea that implementation is gonna matter or are you negotiating just to get a deal done, right? And signing a deal at the end and that's, that's kind of a trap many people fall into, so I recommend picking that article up. So what, what would I recommend doing in this case? The first piece is you gotta investigate and, and what we would call this, a, doing a postmortem analysis of the situation and why, why did implementation break down?
NM : Do you think that this usually like on the, like, all right, so implementation breaks down. We, we do a postmortem and we try and figure out what's going on. Do we point fingers? I mean, are we looking internally? Like, what exactly are we looking for to, to kind of figure this whole thing out?
AD : Yeah well, I, I appreciate the tea up there. Obviously the blame game is rarely gonna be helpful. And it's understandably, so it's, it's a place that many people tend to go, right? This is your fault. This is your fault. And they try to assign blame. That's real gonna be kind of a waste of our energy and efforts here, right? If we're gonna try to move forward, because sure. We could go to some sort of blaming, we should go to some sort of litigation enacting certain, you know, clauses in the contract where if you didn't fulfill your side, now here's what you gotta do. And the truth is the reason we signed the contract in the first place is because we were both pretty excited about the terms and, and what was the value we both going to get. So I, you know, my recommendation would be is going back and saying what got in the way.
And as you said, Nolan, some of it, a lot of it could be internal, right? So, uh, great for us to look internally and, and lead them, help them also do the same sort of internal analysis. Were their commitments that we made that just weren't feasible? And so they seemed like a great idea at the negotiating table, but maybe we didn't have the engineers there. We didn't have the right people from operations there to say, oh, that's really not feasible, or that's really gonna stretch us thin. Or maybe our folks who are in procurement and managing supply chain weren't consulted and saying, “oh, that would be great in a, you know, non-COVID world, but given, but given, given COVID and supply chain being really stretched, that's just not realistic.” Right? And so maybe it is an internal problem. And then certainly we wanna look at, you know, process by which we negotiated too. Did we ignore certain interests? You know, were there other options where we could have gotten creative? Did we not kind of benchmark to the appropriate industry standard or, or we were trying to do something new and set a new precedent and that just, wasn't a really good idea. There's there's any, any number of those things would be kind of paths to take?
NM : Yeah. When I first, you know, read this question, one of the first things that kind of came to mind is, so my first deployment was in 2012, 2013, I believe. Like, I think it was 12 to 13 or no, sorry. It was 13 to 14. Give or take anyways, somewhere in there. But I remember always hearing from village elders, like, oh, we were promised this from the army, we were promised this and it just never happened. Or landowners would come up and be like, “Hey, we were promised that we would be paid for you renting our land to be able to put your combat outpost.” All the time it seems like I remember hearing this, even from like our counterparts, with the, with the Afghan police Afghan army, they'd always be like, “Hey, you know, so, and so promised me this and of course, so, and so has already left, like they're no longer in the country.”
And so hearing this, this question just like brings me back to those days of hearing, you know, counterparts civilians, basically ask that same question. And I guess we kind of gotta go back and figure out the processes, figure out what's going on, understand the it's almost like you're an investigator at this point to, to try and figure out what was promised. What's fair? I mean, you basically have to go through the entire process again. Yeah. Hopefully during these negotiations, the people who negotiated the agreement are still in the company, so it won't be that difficult, but yeah just kind of took, but not to that place.
AD : Yeah. But not always. Right. So sometimes they will have moved on too, or, you know, and, and we like to think that businesses will keep better records than, than we would've kept perhaps through deployments and do a better job of handoff of key, you know, key relationships and key projects and, and, and things that are going on, but that doesn't always happen either sometimes organizations that we work with will say, they're not as good as kind of institutionalizing those lessons learned as they could be. I think your examples should resonate with many folks. We actually wrote about a situation, very similar to what you were describing around kind of a landowner promise and confusion, and that was in the HBR article we wrote back in 2010 called Extreme Negotiations. And, you know, what we praised in that situation based on a real life example, this young Lieutenant who kind of caught, caught in the middle of that was rather than disengage, or rather than just kind of capitulate and compromise, he did exactly what you said, which was get investigative, get curious, slow the process down, and just really kind of be opening to listening, understanding.
And again, pulling back the layers on what did happen, where was the breakdown? Was it internal? Was it external? Was it because of a, a poor process that was followed? Was it just because we didn't do a very good job when we moved to the implementation phase of, you know, making sure the right milestones had been established and ensuring that follow was occurring and, and reengaging, right. So when we think about relationship and, you know, Alliance management and these things that, that, that affect how well we're gonna implement together, well, it, it, it's, it's a cont it's continue and it's going to, you know, continue after the deal is signed. And we just can't, we can't ignore that and say, oh, we got an agreement. Now we can go on our Merry ways. No, you know, the reason that you and I, you know, talk about negotiation in the way we do is because there's value to be gained from the, the ongoing relationship. So, you know, I think there's a question of once you've done that, there's a kind of a second piece to this discussion, you know, the question becomes, so what do we do now?
NM : Yeah. And I think if, if I can kind of take this one. So I think we gotta go back to our seven elements and kind of reevaluate altogether. I think reestablishing that communication. I mean, if you are the one that realizes that the negotiation broke down because of an internal problem, then it's going to help for you to get ahead of this, go back to your counterpart and figuring out, “okay, let's, let's reestablish this relationship. Let's open up communication. And then really we're gonna have to get back into the interest options and legitimacy to kind of rework through this.” I mean, maybe, maybe the reason it broke down was just a simple, you know, step or, or chink in the armor. But it, it's not necessarily that it's an entire throw away that all the negotiation was for nothing. So I think getting back to the seven elements and reestablishing that communication relationship, I think, coz it's gonna be difficult to, I think you're gonna wanna try and save face and it's probably gonna be a difficult conversation if you're the one that's breaking the news. So I mean, what do you think about that, Aram?
AD : Yeah, I agree. And I think there's an acknowledgement that where we, we are now isn't the same place we were weeks, months, years ago when we originally negotiated this. The conditions have changed. We're in a different place and the nature, the problem is even a little different now because now we've, there's been a commitment made. There's been a breakdown. There's been some broken promises and that has affected the relationship, it's gotten in the way of communication. So everything you're describing. And I think we just have to acknowledge that, right? This isn't, it isn't like just starting over fresh. You're not doing that. There's, there's now a history and that history can be in incredibly emotionally charging. I've worked with clients as we've role played negotiations. They're involved with, with a key supplier who continually kind of, kind of fails to deliver to either the spec, um, or the timing that they've committed.
And yet they are a supplier that we need to continue to work with. We don't really have a choice there. And the emotion from the clients that you and I've worked with is very strong, right? I mean, you can cut it, cut the tension with a knife. It's so strong <laughs> so, you know, one other way to think about it in terms of what we do now is and kind of to bring air and light to that kind of dynamic, where there is a history is this tool that we call the four quadrant tool and really the four quadrants one is just saying, where are we today? And where is it we want to be? And acknowledging that there is a gap between our current state and our ideal future state. And that's okay. It’s okay that we are, and now it's not okay if we just say, we're gonna stay in our current state, when we have an ideal future state we want to get to, but it's okay that this has happened, right?
We should expect in any situation because we're imperfect people working in an imperfect world that there's gonna be a gap between where we are and where we want to be. And then from quad one, you move to quadrant two. And as you do a little more digging into why that gap exists, you do root cause analysis, right? Which is really what you and I were saying with regards to the, the first, you know, doing a postmortem on when a negotiation breaks down. And we do that breakdown of root cause analysis together. So this isn't a blame game. This isn't breaking down, all those questions we were asking about why, why we aren't where we want to be. Why does the gap exist?
NM : Now? I'm assuming that all this, although we don't necessarily like to think about it in, in terms of like this, but I'm assuming this probably happens more often and then not, right? Like not every negotiation is gonna be perfectly implemented. There's going to be road bumps along the way. I'm assuming that it's pretty smart to address this. You know, even before you finalize that negotiation, like, “Hey, we're both reasonable people. We both know that, you know, this is a three-year plan and that they are going to be bro bumps. How do we address those when we get to them?” So yeah. Before you even come up with the negotiated agreement, it's like, “Hey, we're both reasonable. We're both on board. We both wanna move forward. However, what should we do when we run into an issue because it's going to happen.” So I'm assuming that it makes sense to address it during that initial negotiation. Is, is that an accurate statement?
AD : Yes. And I would say rather than use the word, “however”, there, I would used the word “and” right, we're excited this three years and what are we gonna do? How are we gonna handle when, when bumps arise and this, this kind of this four quadrant tool will help us do that, right? It helps us say, “we're gonna have a gap. Even as we get into implementation, we're not gonna hit it outta the park. How do we come back and address issues that we have with timing, quality, whatever it might be, how do we do the root cause analysis together?” How do we then quadrant three brainstorm, possible solutions? And as we brainstorm possible solutions to the actual root causes, and then kind of saying, what do we do with regards to like quadrant four, which is a new shift in new things of action.
NM : So we're talking about all these tools. A and so if you don't mind, I'm gonna throw in a quick plug right here and that's gonna be for the NEGOTIATEx Pro version of our website. So we are going to be launching come 1st March a backstage pass, where basically we're going to be meeting with you, our listeners once a month. And then also we are going to have a bunch of tools, like, like we had just talked about several different tools, seven elements, prep. What's the, the name of the tool that you just discussed Aram?
AD : The Four Quadrant Tool
NM : The four quadrant tool. There's a gonna be a bunch of tools that we're going to bring to NEGOTIATEx, to be able to help you in order to sign up for, to be notified when we release this, if you can go to negotiatex.com/webinar, Aram and I on February 22nd at noon, Eastern are going to be hosting a webinar where one, we're gonna be covering an important topic, topic yet to be determined.
We're going to have a poll. We're going to, you know, get the main topic, figure out what you wanna discuss. And then an open forum, Q and A, where we're able to understand, you know, what you wanna see on the backstage pass, what tools does your business need? What are you looking for to get out of NEGOTIATEx? And we're gonna cover all this in the webinar. So again, February 22nd, you can go to negotiatex.com/webinar to sign up for that webinar. And we'll discuss, you know, how to, how you can get access to all these tools that we'll be rolling out. Okay. Sorry. Had to throw that plug in there, Aram.
AD : Yeah, no worries.
NM : Jumping back into this. So ultimately though, I think, you know, once we do identify that, that something broke down, hopefully it's internally, but even if it's externally, we definitely need to discuss this. And I think that the format we can use is the after action report. So identifying what went wrong and then how can we prevent this in the future? How we can prevent this in the future and kind of what steps we need to take.
AD : And, and, and the four quadrant allows us to do that a little bit, right? It integrates, it integrates some of that after action into, into, into kind of really brain, you know, focused, brainstorming on the actual problem, rather than just jumping to solutions. Which many of us try to do: this was broken, what do we do next? But actually ensure that have we really uncovered where the breakdown occurred and are we going to now resolve and repair for the issue.
NM : Okay. So that is the webinar, but now kind of wrapping up our discussion today. I wanna talk about the AAR after you identify an issue, how you're gonna use that four quadrant tool to basically figure out what went wrong, diagnose it, and prevent it in the future. I'm mean how, how would you basically address that, Aram? How would you use the tool to address the AAR?
AD : Yeah. The After Action Review, you know, that, that you and I are very familiar with is one of those things that we talk about in the military where no thin skins, no hurt feelings, we're going to really pick apart things that are working well, things that we need to do differently going forward. And we encourage our clients to do the same thing. The four quad allows you to do that. And it really allows you to ensure you're, you're gonna address the right nature of the problem. So when we have to go back and, and repair, or, or readdress where there's been a, a, some sort of concern, uh, regardless if it's internal or external, that we're making sure we're addressing for the right thing and, and we're solving for the, the, the correct problem. So we, we avoid this going forward. At least we get closer and incrementally, uh, and iteratively get closer to, uh, that ideal state that we're, we're aiming for. Well, I
NM : Think that this, um, has been an awesome discussion. If you, you know, questions like these, I feel like it's always great, because it's not just us coming up with what's the next episode. It's always, what does someone want to hear? What, what advice, what you know, tools do they need to overcome? Something that they obviously encountered? So, but this is a podcast that is all about taking action. So with that era, what are some action tips we can give our audience from today's episode moving forward?
AD : Yeah, the first one is when, when breakdown occurs, don't react and get investigative. Okay. Get curious about, about why it did. The second one is look both at internal sources of the breakdown as well as external. And the third one is have a really good process. And I liked what you said, even in place before we've left the initial negotiating table, anticipating that a breakdown may occur, have a process in place for how we're gonna come back and together readdress issues as they arise.
NM : I don't think I have anything to add. I think you summarized this episode perfectly. Hey, I appreciate you listening to today's episode. So does Aram. If you want to hear something like this in the future, please just shoot us a question at email@example.com. This is what we put into our mail bag episodes. Whenever we, you know, really once the motivation we grab one of those questions and we're able to make a, uh, episode from it again, sign up for the webinar, really excited for what's coming out in March. I think you're going to be too. You can do that. Negotiate x.com/webinar. Again, save the date. That's February 22nd at 12 Eastern, that we’ll be having that webinar and really that Q & A session. So bring your questions at that time as well. And you'll be able to answer 'em live with Aram and myself. So looking forward to it really appreciate listening today's episode, and we'll see you in the next episode.
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