How To Win at Office Politics (and Save a Global Network) with 2 Simple Negotiating Tools | Professor Freeman

There are times when your job depends on getting colleagues from other departments to agree to do something, and then do it. But what do you do when office politics make them refuse? When they simply don’t care, or don’t want to be blamed?

My student Mohammad* faced this very problem as he tried to get bank colleagues in other departments to do a careful job fixing fixing the global computer network. They refused. Then he used two simple negotiating tools to persuade them to do the job right.^^

Mohammad was shocked by the other departments’ attitude. They said they wanted to do the repair that very weekend without any testing, “just to get the job over with.” He was also was deeply concerned; he could see a major disaster coming if he could not persuade them to slow down and run the needed tests first.

Mohammad started by asking people from each department a simple question: “why do you want to do the job right away without testing?”

The first department’s answer: “because we don’t care about it that much. It won’t give us any new features. It’ll just make some new equipment run properly.”

The other department’s answer: “we don’t want to be seen as the bottleneck.”

What to do? Mohammad quickly picked two negotiating concepts out of his mental tool bag.

1. Appeal to Common Interests.“Look,” he said, “we’re on the same side- we all want to get it over with as soon as possible. But we also [want] to make sure it is done in the proper way.” Why? Because no one wanted a disaster on their hands.

2. Say What Happens If We Agree and If We Disagree. “If you disagree with my suggestion and do the job this weekend without testing, the system could shutdown, ruining all your earlier work. Even if it doesn’t, serious problems could arise and you’d have to do the job again, and you might be blamed for it. That’s because I’ll insist on getting an email from you today saying you wanted to move quickly.

“But If you agree to do the job the following weekend, you’ll have time to run tests, you could get new features later, you could avoid disasters and blame, and you could even program things so later chores would be more convenient for you.” In short, he showed that ‘no’ wasn’t in THEIR interests, and ‘yes’ was.

The upshot? Everyone agreed to do the tests first and make the fix a week later. During the tests they discovered that they would have ruined the system if they’d rushed the fix. Instead, the fix was a success when they did it the next weekend.

“I was surprised [that the need for] face saving could make people lose their senses,”Mohammad wrote. “I was also surprised that I could put this through with a couple of simple negotiation techniques.“


*I’ve changed the student’s name for the sake of privacy.