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Every day of our lives, we negotiate. At work, we negotiate meeting times, schedules or invoices. At home, we negotiate who is cooking dinner, who’s going to replace the light bulbs or what time to put the kids to bed.
Sometimes these things are easily navigated and agreed upon. For example, if someone asks you to meet at 2pm and you have a conflict with another scheduled meeting, you would most likely say, “I have another meeting at that time. How does 4pm work for you?”
But often, negotiating is harder work. If your office supply vendor is demanding an invoice be paid in 15 days, there might be myriad reasons why. Maybe it’s because she can’t pay her employees until she gets her payment from you. Maybe it’s because her company has massive debt and she needs to pay it on time or she gets slapped with a late fee. Maybe it’s because she has to pay off her yacht. But all you know is that she is demanding payment 15 days after invoice.
Now let’s say your business can’t pay in 15 days because you haven’t been paid by your customers yet. Maybe it’s your policy to pay in 30 days. Or maybe you don’t feel like paying her on time because she often delivers your supplies a day late. All she knows is that you’re not paying according to her demands.
For the sake of this example, let’s say that the office supply company is demanding payment in 15 days is because she needs to pay her employees and and the reason you’re not paying in 15 days is because your supplies are always delivered a day late. Those are called your interests.
Now let’s say that the office supply company calls you and demands payment and you refuse. They say it’s their policy and you say you will pay, but in 30 days. You can imagine this argument becoming heated and unproductive, as each party clings to their outward arguments, or their positions.
Now, most parties engaged in this conversation would be annoyed. In fact, disputes like this can even escalate to the point of needing mediation. As each party digs their heels more deeply into their position, the chances of the dispute being solved lessen considerably.
But if you’re ever in this sort of dispute, you can actually try and draw out the other person’s interests yourself. It takes some emotional discipline, but it’s possible.
Drilling into the “why” of someone’s position will give you insight into their interests. And be honest with your own. If you have a problem with the company’s service, be candid about it, and suggest a solution that would address the interests of both parties. That might mean you agree to paying in 20 days if the deliveries start being delivered on time. But if those underlying interests aren’t revealed, the conversation goes nowhere.
I was in a situation similar to this recently and I was able to step back emotionally and switch into mediator mode inside the conversation. That move turned a negative conversation into one where both the other party and I left not with our original positions met (that was impossible), but with our interests met. Because of this, we were both satisfied. If we hadn’t been able to uncover and be honest about those interests, the conversation would have ended very poorly and eroded any chance for a productive relationship.
Interested in learning these types of skills? I suggest taking a course at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.
My father is the most musical non-musician I’ve ever known. The man owns tens of thousands of records, CDs and digital music files. He listens to XM Radio and Internet radio. Wherever he is–in the house, in the car, in his office–there is music.
Perhaps not surprisingly, my brother and I are musicians. I’ve played the flute for nearly 25 years. My brother went to Berklee College of Music. And even my mom picked up the piano when she was 50.
However, my dad isn’t a musician. He couldn’t find middle C on a piano if someone held a gun to his head. He doesn’t know the difference between an instrument pitched in E and one pitched in B-flat. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a practicing musician with as much knowledge about music as my dad.
Nearly every childhood memory I have is set to music. Sometimes I can name the artist or song or genre, and sometimes sound is the only memory. And in this way, my father has had a profound effect on my musical taste and cultural sensibilities.
So, on this Father’s Day, I wanted to honor my dad by remembering the artists who, because of him, shaped my childhood.
Introspective singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen was a constant around the Leeman house. His deep, present, wistful voice reverberated in the open spaces, and he served as our first introduction to the idea that you don’t have to be a good singer to be a recording artist (you too, Bob Dylan). I was always perplexed by the fact that Cohen was so popular, yet seemed to sort of messily chant his way through songs. I remember asking my dad multiple times how it was that he was a “singer” when he couldn’t sing.
But, of course it was his lyrics, his musical poetry, that was (and is) the most profound part of his artistry. His haunting, pressing songs dealt with a variety of life issues, including depression, religion and relationships. Even though I haven’t listened to it in years, I could still sing along to the entire album I’m Your Man. I have vivid memories of sitting around the dinner table and listening to my dad talk along with Cohen’s songs in a way that made it seem he was pondering the same life themes and ideas Cohen was questioning.
Sure, sure. I know what you’re thinking. C’mon, who wasn’t influenced by The Beatles?! They are the most iconic band of all time! Well, sure. But I have a special relationship with the band, and it’s because of my dad.
As I was growing up, every Sunday morning was exciting. We’d wake up and turn on the radio! I don’t remember how many radio stations there were available in the part of rural Pennsylvania/Delaware where we lived, but it couldn’t have been many, and the quality had to have been questionable. But my dad found one that offered a Sunday treat — “Brunch with The Beatles!” I can still envision the brown radio/intercom system mounted in the wall in the kitchen (probably very technologically advanced for its time), and can still feel the anticipation of waiting for the hours-long program to play our favorite Beatles songs.
But perhaps the best part of Brunch with The Beatles (or, more accurately in my house, Grape Nuts and Prunes with The Beatles. Yes, I’m scarred, thanks for asking), was when my dad would explain the impact of each song and the album it was on. He would also tell us what is was like when The Beatles burst onto the music scene in 1962 and how they changed the face of pop music forever.
So even though it’s literally impossible to go through life without knowing at least one Beatles song, every song I hear reminds me of those bright, lazy Sunday mornings when I was lovingly introduced to the entire Beatles catalogue.
Again, perhaps not so surprising to have a rock ‘n’ roll king on this list. But my memory of my dad’s love of The Boss and the E Street Band are vivid.
My dad had (and still has) a massive record collection. I mean massive. Thousands of records, some not even opened, adorned the walls of his office. I remember curiously peeking at them a lot as a kid, staring at the images of 60s-, 70s and 80s-styled artists. I was particularly fixated on a live, 5-record box set of Springsteen and the E Street Band called Live/1975-85. I’d pull this album off the shelf constantly, and pore though the pages and pages of lyrics and photography from those live shows.
I remember my dad talking a lot about how Springsteen was the only good thing to come out of New Jersey. He’d also tell us at least once a week that New Jersey was the armpit of the United States. As a kid, this was a confusing idea. I wondered why, if it smelled so bad, it didn’t put on deoderent. To this day, any time someone talks about living in Jersey, I think, “You lived in an smelly bodily crevice!”
Perhaps it’s true that Springsteen is the best thing to come out of Jersey. His albums with the E Street Band, with Clarence Clemons (RIP, good man) blasting away on sax, were not just amazing songs, but often important political commentary. Even after the E Street Band broke up, Springsteen has proved himself one of the most important musicians of the last 40 years.
I still love Springsteen. His music was played so constantly in our house that his voice feels like a comfortable blanket. If my dad could have chosen to be any rock star, it probably would have been The Boss. Maybe it was music, maybe his marriage to Patti Scialfa, maybe his ever-present tight jeans…probably a combination of all of the above.
2. Pat Metheny
In 1982 or so, my dad got a video camera. I still remember what it looked like — a heavy, red, shoulder-busting behemoth with giant recording tapes and a 30-minute battery life. It was the coolest thing on the market at the time. No one had video cameras back then!
So, of course because we had one, we recorded everything. Videos of my brother at age one, playing with his toys while I screeched to high hell in the background (I hated having my hair washed); videos of us moving from Atlanta back to Pennsylvania (would probably win an award for most boring video ever); videos of our family’s St. Bernard, Darby Dan, drinking out of the bird bath.
But the weirdest and most iconic video my father made was one of him driving through the gorgeous backroads of PA while blasting Pat Metheny’s Last Train Home on an audio tape. Yep, he would video tape the road while he was driving, playing a tape of Pat Metheny through the car’s speakers. I’m sure this was his attempt at making something artistic, but it really just makes you marvel at the fact that he didn’t wrap himself around a tree, what with a 10 pound camera on his shoulder, his right hand strapped to the thing, and with one eye open. It’s good that the only people we shared the road with were the Amish and their horse-drawn carriages — it was hard to not see them coming.
Back at home, the Pat Metheny Group was a constant companion. First Circle, Still Life (Talking) and The Road to You were the aural backdrop to weekday evenings and laid-back Saturdays. My dad used to (and still does) watch car racing on TV with the sound off and the music on. It gives cars looping around a track a whole new feel when accompanied by synthesizers and virtuosic guitar playing by both Metheny and Lyle Mays.
Metheny is often mistaken as a smooth jazz king, with his effortless tunes and laid-back demeanor. But underneath this wild-haired, acid wash jeans-wearing punk is a true musical genius. To this day, I love his music — so much so that I’ve gone to see him live several times…alone. It’s one of my secret indulgences; a chance to feel the emotions of the past without having to explain how special the music is to me.
Some kids grow up on Elvis, I grew up on minimalist composer Philip Glass. My most vivid childhood memories consist of my dad playing the classic 1982 stark, desperate, “life out of balance” Koyaanisqatsi on his old- fashioned reel-to-reel. He was obsessed–we must have watched this film, or pieces of it, at least 50 times over the course of 10 years. He’d usually watch the film in his office, where, surrounded by forest green walls and expensive speakers, he could blast the sound at an uncomfortably high volume, all while breathtaking, terrifying, slow-motion shots of factories and mountains and high rises loomed desperately on the television in front of us. My brother and I sat there like zombies, entranced by sounds and images of ideas we couldn’t even begin to comprehend.
The opening of the film features male singers repeating “Koyaaaaaa-nisqatsi” in a deep, monotone, baritone chant. The sound is so haunting that it terrifies me today–it’s similar to the concept of “The Nothing” in The Neverending Story. For a child, the concept of the world being out of balance doesn’t even make sense, yet it’s still disturbing enough to make getting answers to the questions, “Why are we alive?” and “Are we gonna die?” a necessity.
When Glass and his ensemble came to Boston in the mid-90s to play the soundtrack live while the film was playing, my dad went nuts. He managed to get us all orchestra-level seats at the Wang Theatre in Boston, and we were blown away by the intensity of being in the theatre while the music was being played live. My whole family knew every shot of every crevice of the Grand Canyon, every repeated arpeggio and key change, every sullen face of every person in every city scene. If there was ever such a thing as a Philip Glass superfan family, we were it.
Sure, there were other Philip Glass recordings my dad played incessantly — Songs from Liquid Days, the soundtrack to Kundun, and the classic Einstein on the Beach. But as powerful as these were, nothing was quite like Koyaanisqatsi. Thanks, Dad, for allowing me to be terrified about the meaning of life at a tender young age.
Ultimately, it probably wasn’t the music that my dad loved when I was a kid that was so memorable, but rather the passion with which he loved it. When my dad decreed something as good, it just was. No questions asked. To this day, I still think of my dad as the ultimate arbiter of good taste. If he says music, art, essays, are worthy of my time — I take his advice. And amazingly, everything he likes is actually truly good.
Maybe it’s luck, maybe it’s wisdom, maybe it’s an ingrained sense of musicality. All I know is that I wouldn’t be the person I am if these songs, artists and experiences hadn’t been part of my life.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
Love, Your Daughter
Working in a service industry isn’t always easy. If you’re on the front lines, you can often feel battered and abused, and especially so if you work in customer service for a utility company, an insurance company, the RMV or another industry to which customers don’t generally feel any sort of genuine emotional connection.
I’ve spent a lot of time recently dealing with a major insurance company and it’s been thoroughly unpleasant. It seems that the people I’ve dealt with are not supported with good systems, effective processes and the freedom to make independent decisions, and therefore my experience with them has been unhelpful, frustrating and often stressful. I can’t wait to switch to a new insurer.
If you’re in a service function, you probably enjoy, to some degree, helping people. You like helping people solve their problems and want them to leave feeling satisfied with their interaction with you. So it’s essential that the company provides you with the structure to help you succeed in helping customers solve their problems. If there’s no way your service people can help customers feel satisfied, they are going to be dissatisfied with their jobs.
Imagine yourself calling the RMV to renew your automobile registration. (The mere thought is enough to make anyone feel stressed…) Suppose you ask for the registration to be sent to another address so you receive it faster. Unfortunately, the system the employee uses can’t handle that seemingly simple request. It would require that service person to ask their supervisor, who would then ask another person in another office to complete this request by hand. Say the supervisor is busy dealing with other things and it would take a couple of days to get them to request this from the other office. The service person tells you it’s going to take some time. You don’t have time to waste–your need your new registration. You ask if there’s anything they can do. The service person gets agitated, because they know there’s no way around this system. It’s clear they can’t make you happy, even though they’d like to, because the RMV’s internal systems aren’t built to accommodate anything other than straightforward requests. End result? Annoyed customers and annoyed customer service people.
If companies don’t simplify CRM and other essential customer service systems, don’t give front line employees the freedom to solve problems on their own and generally forget that these people are the face of your company and that you must do everything to hire the right people and then ensure they’re successful, you’re in for a heap of trouble.
Bottom line: Happy customer service people mean happy customers, which means less turnover internally and less churn externally.
In grad school, and especially in business school, leadership is talked to death. We peer at leadership gone wrong, leadership gone right, leadership gone mediocre and forgettable. We talk endlessly of collaboration and having purpose and overcoming rampant bureaucracy. We talk about man leaders and lady leaders.
While in a leadership class earlier this summer, we had to discuss female leaders and what they were like. Before this mandatory discussion occurred, we talked a lot about how women leaders often possess “soft” traits — they listen well, they collaborate easily and they’re supportive and understanding.
So when we actually split up into groups to discuss this, it was clear people were gauging the situation to see if they could politely dispel this myth. One guy spoke up eventually, saying that his boss, a woman and the leader of his group, wasn’t collaborative or a good listener or into teamwork. In fact, she hoarded information and undermined her direct reports. Then the rest of us said that we, too, have known female leaders like that. We than talked about male leaders we know who don’t fit the typical egotistical or controlling or stoic stereotypes. Over the course of 30 minutes, we dissected these generalizations one by one and came to the conclusion that yes, they are myths that do no one any service to continue to perpetuate.
In addition, I’ve found that the majority of leadership literature is focused on what people would do if they could lead in ideal environments — perfect places where your efforts are recognized and where the people you’re leading are eager and open to influence and change.
But frequently we’re in situations where our best traits don’t shine and where the leadership style we’re used to or good at doesn’t have a chance of succeeding. What then? Should we change our style to get our desired effect? Just how malleable and flexible should we be?
You’ve taken your car to the dealer for some routine maintenance. The service person who helps you is nice. They do everything they say they’re going to do, they finish in under an hour, and they didn’t steal your GPS from your glove box. You chat a bit with the service person, who then hands you the bill to pay at the cashier counter. But, before he lets you go, his demeanor suddenly changes. His voice is tinged with a desperate urgency as he whispers, “The dealer will contact you for a service review. You need to mark the service you received as outstanding, otherwise I won’t get my bonus. And if I don’t get a bonus, I can’t live on my base salary. So you need to check the highest scores on every aspect of service delivery.”
I work in a service industry. Sure, sometimes it’s really hard to make people happy, and that’s hard to swallow. For most service people, customer satisfaction almost always plays into performance reviews. But, there are many different ways to measure customer satisfaction with the service you’re providing. It’s also a good idea to include a customer survey as part of the service management and feedback process. But most importantly, it’s a good idea to hold people accountable, while also giving them the resources they need to be able to provide the best possible service.
There is a huge difference between the service person asking the customer to take a survey after providing an upbeat, positive service experience, and delivering mediocre service and then heavily pressuring the customer to report top service scores because the service person’s livelihood depends on it. Talk about sullying a service interaction! I feel so disturbed after these kinds of urgent, suddenly intimate conversations with service people that it never fails to negatively impact my perception of the entire experience.
Customers should be able to give honest feedback. And service providers should be given every resource to be able to provide service that doesn’t force them to make uncomfortable pleas for inflated service scores.
Has something like this happened to any of you? How did it make you feel?
I’ve never liked huge department stores. I usually become completely overwhelmed by the amount of choices laid out before me. Feeling dwarfed by racks of jeans, confounded by aisles of dishes and overwhelmed by identical bottles of hand soap is not fun. Oftentimes, if presented by too many choices, I simply leave without purchasing anything.
The pervasive thought in the US is that more is better. Bigger is better! We are entitled to choices, choices, choices! But what happens when we have too many choices?
Well, when it comes to consumers, we simply become mallfuct. Several years ago, an acquaintance explained to me that the word was to be used when a consumer feels completely overwhelmed by the choices available in a retail outlet. I love this word because it’s so apt.
Today, there was an extensive article on CNN Money about Trader Joe’s. I could write an entire post about TJ’s interesting business practices, but I honed in on this: “For simplicity’s sake, say both a typical supermarket and a Trader Joe’s sell 40 jars a week. Trader Joe’s would sell an average of four of each type, while the supermarket might sell only one. With the greater turnover on a smaller number of items, Trader Joe’s can buy large quantities and secure deep discounts. And it makes the whole business — from stocking shelves to checking out customers — much simpler.”
Yes! And you know what else it makes simpler? The consumer’s ability to make a decision. Target learned this too, last year, when they eliminated a shocking number of SKUs from their stores. Sure, some of it was due to the economy, but the simple fact was they were more profitable when they carried fewer SKUs. As someone who literally lives across the street from a Target, fewer SKUs make my shopping expeditions much less angst-filled. I can actually get out of the shampoo aisle in less than 20 minutes, and more often than not, I’m carrying a bottle of something rather than huffing away, promising myself I’d shake out the last remnants of that suspicious-smelling hotel sample bottle before I bought something new.
It’s probably worth noting that Trader Joe’s and Target also have similar positioning — upscale items available at discount (or discount-feel) prices. And traditionally, where were upscale items sold? In small boutiques. With limited selections and SKUs. Leaving the consumer able to make decisions, mallfuct-free.