Relentless State of Negotiation

Enjoy The Work blog post. Relentless State of Negotiation.

Everyone wants something.

Your investors want more of your company if it’s succeeding and less if it’s not.

Your employees want more salary, equity, benefits, and kitchen snacks.

Your partners want better commitment, financial terms, or exclusivity.

Your suppliers want more hours/projects.

Your customers want more products/features/support (often for less money/commitment).

It’s everywhere you turn. There’s no escaping it. They might not speak up often, but that doesn’t make it any less ubiquitous. It’s one of the least talked about (nonetheless most exhausting) aspects of a CEO’s life.

The CEO lives in a constant state of negotiation.

I don’t believe there is any avoiding this circumstance. So the real choice is how to make peace with it. In my opinion, the only real solution can be summed up in two words: Embrace empathy.

Sounds crazy, right? Or at least it sounds like such a new-age trope as to inspire eye-rolling more so than curiosity.

But hear me out…

It’s easy to react to the onslaught of asks with irritation. Everyone around you seems to look out for themselves. The greater good be damned. But this lens will lead to only one outcome: You will eventually get angry.

And I promise that, more often than not, that anger won’t help you. You’ll bark at your investors, snipe at your employees, be terse with your customers, and slap your vendors (figuratively). And even that won’t stop them from asking for what they want… Either it will lead to escalations or politics. The asks will become more aggressive or more manipulative. And neither serves you or the company about which you so deeply care.

So how do you embrace empathy? It starts with slowing down. Take a beat and force yourself to view each stakeholder through your most generous lens. Imagine the person with only the best of intentions…

  • Most venture capital investments fail to generate quality returns. The investor hoping to improve their terms as your business ascends is only rational. Similarly, the venture world is an unforgiving one. If your company is struggling, an investor hoping to protect their investment is a reasonable reaction.
  • Employees generally only earn what they ask for… so they need to ask! They have their own financial needs like any other person. It’s not selfish. It’s healthy.
  • Partners and suppliers have their own companies to run and battles to fight. That might lead to changing agreements over time; come back to a simple question, “how do we find a structure that works for both of us?”
  • Customers want better service, products, and support. Is their behavior any different than yours when you’re the customer instead of the boss?

The point is that when all of the audiences in your life keep asking you for something, it’s easy to feel exploited. But that’s only because as CEO, you wield tremendous authority. Just because it feels like they are all out to get you does not mean it’s true.

Just a few minutes of space, a deep breath, and some well-placed empathy might be all it takes to avoid your next meltdown. And at the very least, embracing empathy might just mean a deeper connection and rapport with the very stakeholders upon whom your startup’s fortune relies.

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