Something has to give Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2009

There is a great oldie but goodie song, “Something’s Gotta Give,” that hit the top of the charts many years ago but still provides a valuable lesson for today. The basic thesis of this catchy ditty, applicable to any business, is that when an overwhelming force meets an immovable object to progress, there has to be movement.

Any time two groups with differing views get together, either they have to compromise or one side has to cave in order to move forward. The latter is not likely; therefore, the trick is to get off the dime as quickly as possible by removing that figurative blockade to get to the next step.

There are always two sides to every story and then the truth. Usually, in negotiations, both sides are convinced they’re righteous, fighting the fight for truth, justice and capitalism. This may result in an immovable object, with one side of the negotiations butting heads with an irrepressible force, as in the other side. After the early rounds of mental gymnastics and histrionics, typically inertia sets in and a wall emerges between the parties built on a foundation of emotions.

There is nothing wrong at the beginning of a discussion in seeing how much you can get in your favor. A hundred percent is great, but typically unattainable. We see it every day in offices, in the boardroom and, yes, the nursery school where two toddlers fight over the same toys. We all get the toy tug-of-war thing, but grown-ups behaving like nursery-school students becomes an exercise in futility, fueled by frustration. After the obligatory pushback, which is part of the deal-making process, it is time to stop, think and determine how to accomplish the goal of getting past the wall.

Essentially, it gets down to physics. If it is impossible to move the wall, those involved have to figure out how to go over, under or around whatever obstacle is blocking the path. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to do this. Just put yourself in the other side’s shoes and play out in your mind how you would react if you were the opponent being asked to do what has been proposed.

For example, if the problem is economics, think of what besides money you can use to sweeten the deal and get to a yes. It could be something as simple as agreeing to throw in a nonmonetary concession that makes the other side feel like they “won,” such as moving an office, changing a meeting venue or the like so that the guys whom you now view as wearing the black hats feel that they won something. It could be improved payment terms, free this or that, you fill in the blanks. Most business executives don’t know when to say when and will continue to fight for something that, at the end of the day, does not make enough of a difference or even matter in the bigger scheme of things. Fine-tuning your skills to discern when it is time to take a new tact is where real talent is required. It’s exhausting to the opposition and yourself when both sides start fighting for the sake of fighting and forget what the goal was when it all began. This happens frequently and aggravates everyone, wastes time and money and runs the risk of ruining a relationship or deal that would have been productive.

Watch for telltale signals in the negotiations and you will know when it is time to try a different strategy. Sure signs are when the other side starts muttering under their breath or rolling their eyes when you speak. Another good bet that all is not well is the sound of slamming doors and those across the table talking to one another in front of you but referring to you in the third-person as if you were not even in the room.

You can be the savior and the big winner by throwing out a “gimme” that provides creative alternatives so that the opponent feels better about the arrangements.

As the lyrics in the song reveal, “Fight, fight, fight it with all of (your) might. Chances are on some heavenly star-spangled night, you will find out, as sure as (you) live, something’s really got to give.” Most times, it is just a matter of reading the tea leaves to find a way to go over, under or around that immovable object by putting yourself in the other person’s place.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988. Starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money during a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling it for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003 to Boise Cascade Corp. Feuer is CEO of Max-Ventures, a retail venture capital/consulting firm, and co-founder and co-CEO of Max-Wellness, a new health care product retail chain concept that is launching in 2009. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-ventures.com.