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This is Not Going to Hurt

Keith Stacey

We have all heard these comforting words from a medical practitioner. Of course it ends up hurting like hell. You understand that what they should have said is, “This is not going to hurt me.”


The words intended to comfort, structure expectations in the wrong direction and a special trust has been breached.


The issue of pain is not often mentioned in negotiations, but is often felt. Each time we make a concession, fail to achieve an objective or an agreement the pain becomes evident.


There has been much medical research about pain, its severity and when it occurs in an operation. The key finding is that if the end of a procedure is painful then the patient may be reluctant to repeat the operation. If the same amount of pain is experienced at the mid point or at the beginning of the operation, then the fear of a repeat is significantly less. The research therefore demonstrates that what happens at the end is critical in shaping perceptions of the severity of any pain experienced.


I should let you know that the researchers used colonoscopies as the medical procedure for their study!


As negotiators we need to understand the importance of what happens at the end of a negotiation in determining the nature of the continuing relationship. A common example of this is the managing of overruns in professional services and variations in construction contracts. Many professionals find it difficult to successfully negotiate what are often essentially changes in the scope of the agreed contract. By delaying any request for payment until the assignment is completed, the legitimacy of any claim is reduced. The client’s memory has conveniently forgotten that their failure to complete their side of the bargain has required additional work often at the last minute. Long hours and weekends are sacrificed to complete the task. Three months later these heroic efforts and their cause are long forgotten.


Having failed to alert the client earlier, they are now faced with the double penalty of arriving on their client’s doorstep with bad news with the impending negotiation for next year’s fees looming. This is where thoughts of protecting the relationship suddenly become a priority over the claims for variations and a compromise is often seen as the best available outcome.


Another reason to put the bad news ‘up front’ is that early disclosure of key information is more credible than the same information revealed later. If early, the other party has an opportunity to absorb the information and build it in to their framework of understanding. If the information is withheld and only revealed as a desperate last measure, it is either not heard or not believed. And of course, being ‘upfront’ builds trust.

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