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How to Ruin a Good Relationship

Have you ever experienced a situation where the experts charged with negotiating the deal wind up killing it, and destroying all the good will in the process?

Consider the case of Bill.

Bill landed a new client he was thrilled about. His customer was equally excited. The project was going to be fun and high value. Bill and the client established a good working relationship as they scoped the project. Now they were ready to start.

But Bill’s enthusiasm hit a brick wall when the client sent the contract to procurement. As contracting team red lined through items, pushing for better terms, faster deliverables, etc., the goodwill developed during the sales process evaporated. With procurement demanding more, Bill decided to assign his cheapest, lowest skilled team to the project. Instead of running it himself, he substituted a junior partner instead.  The client Bill was once thrilled to land had now become a company his entire firm thought was difficult.

The sad part is, the procurement team was simply trying to do the job they had been assigned – get the best deal possible. They didn’t realize the impact their tactics were having on the other side.

When the contract was finally signed, procurement proudly told Bill’s original buyer, we saved you thousands. What they actually did was cost him the relationship.

This happens every day, in business and in our personal lives. People start out wanting to work together, then the expert – lawyer, procurement person or nosy in-law – starts picking away at the agreement, and it descends into acrimony.

Here are two other common examples:

1. Divorce
The Netflix movie, Marriage Story, illustrates how and why a couple who once vowed to have a friendly divorce winds up viciously tearing each other apart. Each of their lawyers wants the best deal for their client. To achieve this, they encourage each party to reveal the worst about the other. The process creates such animosity, it becomes impossible for the couple to co-parent, or even exist in the same space.  Once you’ve screamed, “You don’t deserve the children!” you can’t take those words back.

Healthier solution: Get a skilled mediator early in the process and go together. You’ll save legal fees and heartbreak.

2. Real estate deals
One of our clients sent in a Letter of Intent for a lease to get her store into a prestigious shopping center. The center’s development team red lined through multiple items and emailed it back to her. Our client decided, I’m better off elsewhere. She later ran into the head of the development who asked why her store didn’t want to be in his center. He was shocked to find out his team had driven her away. The team thought their revisions were an aggressive starting point for negotiations. The store owner assumed disdain.
Better starting point: If you want to do the deal, tell the other party that up front, and do it verbally, not via email.  Get conceptual agreement on working together before you address points of difference.

There are times when you need an expert cut-throat to go after an adversary. But if you want to work out a deal with someone, you’re better off keeping yourselves on the same side of the table as long as possible.

Outside experts who represent your interests may get you a “better” deal. But they can also cost you the relationship.