You’re in a hunt, a complex and sizable whale hunt. And one of the members of the whale’s team starts going south on you. I don’t mean disagreeing or questioning, I mean active hostility: won’t return your phone calls or emails, misses commitments, pushes back on requests, challenges your capabilities/truthfulness/lineage… You get the picture.
You know this person is critical to the deal, but that he/she is not the decision-maker, more like a piece of the machinery. You have to get the whale’s executive leadership to bring them to heal.
Let’s assume that you’ve tried all the traditional get-along strategies: collaboration, cooperation, compromise, flattery, and bribery. It’s time to fight. And sometimes you have to fight. Let’s talk about a few rules…
Rule #1 – Go Sun-Tzu. The ancient Chinese military strategist said “The greatest generals win without battle.” Weigh your options one more time. Can you win this deal without a fight? It’s the better way to get what you want.
Rule #2 – You do not talk about Fight Club. If you’re making the move to fight, don’t talk about it internally or externally. If your whale, your people or anyone else asks you, the answer is: “We’re just working through a few issues right now, but things are going well in general.” At some point you will have to play nice with whoever’s left standing; don’t gloat to your friends and don’t warn your enemies.
Rule #3 – Never fight down. If you’re going to fight out an issue, you go over the person’s head. You have one shot at this and you’ll need the most senior person in the room at the whale’s house to bring authority to bear.
Rule #4 – Just the facts. Your opinions, their intentions, the he-said/she-said of conversations, they all make you look weak. Besides that, your opponent will go back to your supporters at the whale company after the phone call or meeting and retell the story, spinning it in his or her favor. Stick to the facts, the documents, the numbers, timelines, emails, meeting notes… You get it.
Rule #5 – Ask questions, make few statements. Is this how your company normally handles these types of requests? Is this what working together will be like once we close this deal? What parts of your process, as we have discussed it, are we not understanding or fulfilling our part of? You want to ask questions but just like a good attorney, you have to know the answers before you ask the question.
Rule #6 – Concede the little points. There has to be some ground to give. Everyone believes there are two sides to the story, so be ready to give on some issues that are not material but show balance. Stay focused on the core issues of the fight.
Rule #7 – Win, don’t wound. If you have to fight, play for keeps. You never back a snake into the corner and then turn to walk away. No jabs – just throw the haymakers, get the issue on the table and then resolve it. Clean, fast and move on.
Rule #8 – Leave an exit. You have to leave a way out for your opponent after you’ve won the fight. Look, big companies don’t fire your opponents. They keep them. So you have to have a way for those people to save face. Easy ones to use: change of scope, confusion, misunderstanding and so on. The point is, once you’ve won the fight, it is absolutely imperative to be gracious. Remember, you may very well have to deal with this person for a long time.
Let me be very clear. When it’s come to fights in the past, I’ve lost more than I’ve won for one simple reason: my opponent has been on the inside while I’m on the outside. They have the high-ground in combat. So you have to exhaust every other angle first. This is a last ditch effort. Sometimes it works, and that’s good enough for the effort, but often times all you get out of it is the moral righteousness of having left without regrets. There just isn’t much money in moral righteousness these days.