3 reasons workplace negotiations fall apart

By Scot Herrick | Job Skills

May 02

Workplace negotiations are central to resolving conflicts at work. We all have conflicting priorities, projects, and tasks. A superior soft job skill to have is negotiating agreements to resolve conflicts. So we do. Or, we at least think we’ve negotiated a workplace agreement. Then we lose it and go all frustration over workplace negotiations that fall apart.

But, was it really an agreement in the first place?

Stakeholders are missing

If all your stakeholders in the conflict you are resolving are not there when the agreement is made, you don’t agree. No one likes having their opinion ignored — especially when that opinion is about something that affects their work. Even if they are not directly implicated by your agreement, that someone agreed to something without their advice will cause them to try to derail anything you agreed to do. Yes, people are like that.

Even if you agree and then also agree to go talk to a missing stakeholder before implementing the agreement, it is likely the agreement will fall apart. Because the stakeholder wasn’t there for the discussion.

People feel pressured by management

This happens all the time. Management is on the call, looking for you to say everything is okay and ready to go. But there is a deadline right around the corner and there are still some outstanding items left to do. Nothing great, nothing insurmountable, but some stuff left to do.

Here is where your company culture makes all the difference to your answer and determines if you agree or not. If your company culture is “move ahead and don’t disagree with management,” your agreement will fail. Even though everything could be done on time, the pressure from management through the company culture is enough to doom any workplace agreement.

The “Walk like a duck” agreement

Do you know the saying “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it’s a duck”? People assume the same thing about agreements — if everyone looks like they agree, talks like they agree, it means they agree, right? Nope.

Experienced people can ferret out the body language or other signs that something still isn’t right about the agreement. Something wasn’t heard, something was ignored, or, worse, no one is willing to discuss the 800-pound elephant in the room. So it’s an agreement. But, it is not an agreement. It will fall apart.

Bonus: someone else agreed for you

You’d think you could make agreements for yourself, but watch how many times people make agreements for you. You’ve seen this happen to you, right?

Did you notice what I did right there? I added “right?” at the end of that last sentence. That’s called a tie-down in sales talk. By asking that little thing about that situation that you couldn’t possibly disagree with — and having you affirmatively say ‘yes’ in your head when you answered the question, one can start getting you to passively agree to something without that agreement really made by you.

Or your manager decides for you. Or your coworker stakes out a position and then casually turns to you in the meeting and says, “Right, Sue? That’s how we should do it, don’t you agree?” And then it’s you agreeing with your coworker or breaking the relationship with your coworker. Which will it be? Yeah, your coworker just agreed for you.

Workplace negotiations are filled with traps — and opportunities. Developing the soft job skill of negotiating great workplace agreements will increase your work satisfaction, provide a calmer workplace, and help you and your team reach their business goals.

That negotiation job skill will help you in your work. Right?

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.