Green Lights

Published: Aug 20 , 2015
Author: Alan Smith

A few years ago I was talking to a guy at a dinner party and he, in the effort to engage in small talk, asked me what I did for a living.

When I told him that I trained and consulted in the area of negotiation skills he was intrigued but also fairly dismissive.

His view was that he never negotiated. He always got his own way by simply making an ultimatum. His view was that agreeing to negotiate was a sign of weakness and that when dealing with his suppliers he simply told them what they had to do and they did it, or he went elsewhere.

I asked how that worked out for him.

He said fine. He was convinced that he always got the best deal possible.

This morning I heard the story of a man who worked as a traffic light controller in central London. What a job!

His wife was very heavily pregnant with his first child and went into labour. She seemed to be progressing rather too quickly for his liking, and nervous (first child after all), he decided to call for an ambulance.

The 999 operator said that there would be at least a 30 minute delay due to abnormal work loads and suggested he take his wife to hospital if it was safe to do so.

He took the advice and before departing he quickly called a mate at the office and told him of the route to hospital and asked for a ‘Green Wave’, essentially that the lights be turned to green as he approached to speed his route. He would keep his chum updated of his progress via the hands free phone in his car.

Now I did not know such a thing existed. But of course this is how visiting dignitaries, royalty or leading politicians are ushered to their destinations. Would not look too good to stop at the lights and glance over to see the Queen I suppose.

Now of course if you are used to the Green Wave in your negotiations and you are waved through at speed, good for you.

God forbid however if there is a block and you have then to find a new route. If you’ve never had to manage push back or deadlock when you arrive there it will be a total shock.

Moreover if you’ve never experienced push back is that because you have not been challenging enough. Have you left a better deal on the table?

I was about to ask him these questions when his wife shouted over from across the room that he ought to put his drink down as he was driving home. She intended to have a couple of glasses of wine that night.

Not sure that any of us always get 100% of what we want 100% of the time.

Alan Smith


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Just when is a deal not a deal…? I heard this story from a friend of mine the other week; there are some lessons to be learned! So, my pal is a developer and is building some houses on what is essentially a square site. Two sides of the square can be accessed from the road in a neighboring housing estate and the other two are beside a field owned by another developer. There is a huge pile of muck to shift before the actual building project; this phase is known in the trade – and not unreasonably - as a "muck-shift"! As there will be 80 -100 lorries coming in and out each day for 6 weeks, it was considered more convenient to access the site over the field, so an approach was made to the developer to discuss the terms under which he would allow access. This is a standard arrangement and the deal typically is that the field would be returned to the owner in its original condition. Developer makes a bit of money, where otherwise he wouldn’t; homeowners in the adjoining estate are less inconvenienced; builder does not need to spend money cleaning the streets and getting them back to a usable state at the end of the project. Win-win.

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