November 2009 Leadership Lessons ezine by Mark Sanborn
One of my closest friends is a professional speaker who lives in the Denver area. He told me about a client he’d recently worked for.
”They liked my presentation and the corporate office contacted me afterwards to do some more work for them. But as they offered the opportunity, they asked for a concession. It was something I would never have offered nor typically accepted, but I really wanted to do more work within their system, so I agreed.”
“After I agreed, they then asked for a discount and a percentage of any business that I booked as a result of the appearance. I’d already given them a sweetheart deal, and I didn’t feel good about it, but I eventually caved.”
“After the next engagement, they contacted me again demanding even more concessions. At this point it had gotten ridiculous, but since I’d already given in, I didn’t think I could say no.
You know, the whole time they were being so nice, but I still ended up with a rotten deal.”
At that point I interjected, “They weren’t being nice. They were being polite. And there is a big difference.”
Being polite is about how you do something: you can be polite and be nice, but in this case, the client was being unreasonable but doing it in a polite way. Their demands and unreasonableness were masked by social decorum.
A nice client would have made sure the exchange was win/win rather than taking advantage of my friend’s good will. A nice client wouldn’t keep adding conditions and beating up on the provider.
As leaders, we need to pay attention to what we do and how we do it. There is a mutant kind of business person who is “politely mean”: they take advantage of you in such a way that you don’t realize it until it is too late. This is a case in point.
In another life I taught negotiation skills. There are those who would argue that as long as another party agrees to a deal, and you’ve not done anything illegal to get that agreement, then all is fair.
One test of fairness is how both parties feel after the deal has been struck. If one party has gained excessively at the expense of another, then just mutual consent hasn’t made for a good deal.
Furthermore, you still tend to get what you pay for. If you’ve created a situation where the other party feels abused, you won’t get the same enthusiasm or service a fairer deal would have gotten.
And finally, you’ve pretty much fried any relationship that might have existed. There is little if any likelihood of a long-term relationship.
You can be cheated in a polite manner. And you can take advantage of another person politely. Just because an act isn’t illegal doesn’t necessarily make it right.
Look beyond the surface to determine if your dealings are both nice and polite. Sometimes we have to be direct to be nice (St. Paul calls it “speaking the truth in love.”) But rarely if ever does it benefit anyone to be polite to mask the fact that they’re not being nice.
My friend learned that lesson the hard way. As leaders let’s make sure that we don’t make the same mistake, regardless of which side of the negotiating table we sit on.