Your List of Demands

In my normal morning rounds, a young man asks if I’d made contact with a guy in Tennessee I said I would. It went a little like this:

Him: “CMC, did you talk to that guy last night?”
Me: “I sure did.”
“Great! Did you tell him I wanted this, or this, or I’d get out?”
“Nope. Sure didn’t”
– Insert a pause.
“Um…. What did you tell him then?”
“Nothing yet. Just that there was a guy I’d like to talk about when he’s ready.”
– Same pause, now with a blank stare.
“I don’t get it.”
“I talked about talking about you, which is more important.”
“I still don’t get it.”

When I was a young Sailor, I didn’t get it either when it came to deciding where I’d transfer to next. I knew what I wanted, and I knew I wanted it right that minute while it was still available, so I shot-gunned the information at the person I thought would get me what I was looking for.

Nowadays, I don’t make many phone calls for myself. Usually, I’m calling on behalf of someone who needs me to pick up the magic phone and negotiate. It’s not the same as me just charging forward to get what I want. I now have to find a way to get two other people towards a decision that works for both of them. One person wants something, the other may or may not have the ability to make it happen, and I often find myself in the middle.

Even when I know the person I’m dealing with, I can’t just start things off with an email telling him what I want. Well, I can, but that won’t help anyone. To that other person, it will often seem like a list of demands. Instead, I start a new conversation, you might call it rebuilding the same bridge again, by letting the person who can make things happen know that I have someone I’d like to talk about when he or she has time. (Just a reminder: no one has time on Friday.)

Timing is important, but in situations where I’m calling to get a decision made for someone else, it’s different. Instead of waiting for the right moment, I benefit by trying to create the best conditions with the time I have. It’s beyond the scope and word count of this article to delve too deeply into the art of negotiating, which is for the best. It truly is an art, but I’m certainly no authority. All I can do is talk about what seems to be working for me more often than not. I’ll start with a statement that can put things in the right context:

I believe that the people in some of the hardest jobs, those people you need to call, are there because they want to be. They want to do that job well, and they want to help.

No matter how many times I have to make a phone call, that’s almost always the case. Sure, there are people out there who will do everything in their power to prove me wrong, but that’s no way to enter a discussion if you need something. So, if we start with the idea that the person you’re calling actually wants to help and say yes, then what are the conditions that person needs to make it all happen?

First and foremost, that person on the other end of the phone needs time to be able to make you a priority. If he or she is in the middle of some big project with a deadline looming, which is usually the case, you calling right now with your needs isn’t going to help. What might be intended as an answer of “not right now” gets shortened to “no” because they can’t make you a priority when you’ve called, and switching gears to have the discussion you want will distract them from the big project at hand.

The person you want something from needs to know that there’s a buffer of time between the question and the answer, so no one has to make an immediate or reactive decision. In most cases where I need something from someone else, forcing them into that corner almost always results in the answer I don’t want. Again, this requires that you can look far enough into the future to create that buffer. When you send an email to those people on the other side of the country and say that you have something you want to talk about, a general overview of the situation without asking for anything on that list of demands in front of you, and letting them know that you’re ready to have the conversation when they are, I can tell you from experience that they appreciate it.

Not only will that person more readily make time to listen and make your priority his own, he’ll already be in the right mindset when you call a few days later because he at least knows the type of discussion you’re about to have and which resources or rule books involved.

– So, what’s the next discussion you need to have with someone else to negotiate, and how are you going to start that discussion?

– How many times have you had to shorten “not right now” to “no” because you just didn’t have the time to really focus on the issue and had to make a decision on the spot?

Have a great week out there.

– JT




James Tinker

About James Tinker

James was born and raised in Bangor, and left home at 18 for the Navy. Twenty-five years later, he retired as a Command Master Chief, the highest enlisted rank on a warship in San Diego. His popular blog series, The Day Job, shares personal and professional lessons learned through his career.