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Free Food!

Brian Buck
© Scotwork NA

“I’m sorry sir, I ordered the wrong thing for you.” I was expecting 50 people for a backyard BBQ, the last thing I wanted to hear from my butcher was that he ordered half the food I needed to feed our guests. Little did I know, it wasn’t my cooking skills that would get me out of this mess, it was my negotiating skills that would feed these people.

Once Memorial Day hits, it’s BBQ season at my house. On the weekends we open up the backyard and invite everyone over for great BBQ and drinks. It’s an excuse for me to fire up my smoker and do what I love to do - entertain and cook. Only this time, I was faced with a different dilemma, how am I going to feed 50 people with only enough food for 25?

I wasn’t. I had to get my butcher to get me more food. Even though it was an honest mistake, it still put me in a tight bind. I needed this to be rectified. I was upset when the butcher called with the bad news and all I could say was,“That’s not acceptable and you need to find a solution.” Then I hung up. Normally I would have proposed a solution but I was flustered. I needed time to think. I wasn’t expecting the call I got and I was caught off guard.

In this situation, I advise my clients to not just complain but, rather, make a proposal. That’s the only way you are going to get what you want. So I started putting together what I needed. I knew my butcher wasn’t going to be able to place another order with his supplier to get the food I needed in time, so he was going to have to source from another butcher nearby (one of his competitors). What I was going to propose was that if he could find the rest of the food locally and would sell it to me at cost, then I wouldn’t take my business elsewhere.

If I was advising my butcher, I would tell him that when I called back, he should ask me one simple question, “What can I do to make this right for you?” It would force me to have to articulate what I wanted. Believe it or not, that’s a really difficult question for many aggrieved parties to answer and, statistically, most people will demand something that is below the value of what the other side would be willing to do. In fact, a significant percentage of people will ask for something that is of little or no cost.

Knowing what the play was going to be from the other side, I was prepared with my ask. When I called back the butcher, he was apologetic and told me he was working on a solution. He said that he had found another butcher to help with my problem. I told him, “Great! That’s exactly what I was going to ask you to do.” Then he said, “And for your troubles, I’m going to pay for the entire order for you.”

I was impressed by his gesture but I felt the payment was far greater than the crime. He did not have to pay for my entire order, I felt a little guilty. As a negotiation professional, this guy needed my help because he was about to give me so much more than I needed/wanted! So I gave him the following advise whenever he might cause a grievance:


  1. Listen & apologize. Aggrieved parties need to be heard. They need to know that you know, you made a mistake. Listen politely, own it, and apologize. It will do you no good to argue about why this is partly their problem or why it’s not a problem… just own it, and apologize.
  2. Ask the magic question. “What can I do to make this better?” Let them define for you the solution. While you may think you have the ideal solution for them, you could wind up making it worse if you don’t address their issue. And, like in the example above, you may give a lot more than you need to.


My butcher was thankful for the advice. Then he told me, “Consider the free food a trade for the free advice!”

No More Free Food!
It's easy to give away more than you intend when you've created a problem. In many cases we just want to make it right for the other party. However, it's very easy to give away the farm when you don't need to.

Scotwork can help ensure you're not giving away "free food". More importantly, we can help you protect your relationships and margins. Let us help you in your next negotiation to be a better negotiator.

Talk to one of our experts today.


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