If the fact wasn’t that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his novella in 1886, I would swear Jekyll and Hyde was based on one of my most infuriating AND beloved clients. In private, my client was a sweetheart of a guy. Easy going, funny, and compassionate. The kind of client everybody wished they had. But whenever his boss, or peers, or subordinates were present he became a nightmare client. He was a hardass, no sense of humor, and unforgiving. Surviving him wasn’t going to be easy and leaving him was not an option.
Jekyll and Hyde clients or suppliers are probably the most difficult because they are unpredictable. Negotiating with someone like this is challenging even for the most seasoned negotiator. However, in almost all cases there is some sort of trigger that will change Jekyll into Hyde and vise versa. In my case it had to do with private versus public negotiations.
When my client was in his “nice” state, his Dr. Jekyll self, we were alone. It was just him and I and no others from his side. In those moments I found him reasonable and easy to work with. We would have disagreements but we would work through them. Neither one of us felt the need to “win” but rather we were always looking for mutually beneficial solutions. It was great.
All of that would change when someone from his side should up in the conversation. This is when the evil Mr. Hyde would appear. All of the sudden, it was important for my client to “win”. He would publicly try to “put me in my place” and show that he was in charge. I was definitely no longer an equal, let alone anyone that mattered in the negotiation. It was painful.
What I came to realize is that he worked in a cultural where “winning” was extremely important. Being a “bully” with vendors was revered. So whenever anyone from his company was in the conversation, he had to show these traits in order to maintain his political status internally. He was putting on a show to save face.
With that realization, I came up with a strategy for dealing with Mr. Hyde. Here are the things I did when Mr. Hyde showed up:
- Leave the trivial topics for public viewing and leave the meaningful topics for private discussions. As soon as Mr. Hyde showed his ugly face, I switched to talk about things that were relatively trivial to the entire conversation. If he needed impose his will in public, I ensured they were on fairly meaningless items to me. Then I would save the more important topics to me for our 1:1 conversations, where he could be far more reasonable.
- Rarely did I make commitments in public. Even though I limited our public exposure to trivial items, I would do my best to refrain from making any commitments or decisions in public. I would tend to say things like, “let me talk to my people and see what we can do” or some other statement that would allow me to walk away from the public beating without succumbing to the pressure.
- Always leave him a “win”. Since winning was his currency internally, I always made sure there was a way he could package our deals so that it looked like he won. I did that by positioning agreements as what they could have been compared to what we agreed to. I never gave anything away without getting something in return, but I could almost always show how he got “the better deal”. This was very important for him to be able to sell the deal internally.
It took awhile to figure out my first Jekyll and Hyde. Since then, I’ve noticed I actually have a lot of Jekyll and Hydes in my life. Almost without exception, the common denominator are the public conversations versus public conversations. They are not all as bad as the first one I encountered, but they all have their moments.
Good luck with your Jekyll and Hyde.
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