Although several years have passed since that fateful day, it lives in my memory as if were yesterday. It was a lesson not only about power, but about the strength to face challenges head on and affirm our unwavering commitment to a mission.
This was the situation: Peter asked to have lunch with me. There was something he wanted to discuss. Peter had worked for us in two of our many companies. He had moved up the ranks over the years and was now in charge of all operations for our hobby-turned-business company. It was a favorite of mine.
I liked Peter. I trusted him. I considered him a friend.
He started the conversation with these words: “There are two things I want your agreement on . . . If not, I will quit.” I was completely taken aback. This ultimatum had come totally out of the blue. “Quit?” I asked. “Really?” Then, as the reality of the situation set in, I asked, “What are the two things you want?”
“What I want,” he stated, “is an equity share in the company. The second thing I want is to shift the company’s sole focus to making money.”
I took a deep breath . . . and just listened. Peter went on to explain why these changes were important to him and he kept reiterating that “. . . otherwise I will quit.”
I left that lunch meeting in a state of shock. My head was spinning. Peter had been running our company for several years. He knew more about the company than anyone else—including me. Because of my trust in him I had turned over much of the responsibility for running the company, and my day-to-day involvement was minimal.
My first thought was, “If he quits, then who would run the company?” My next thought was, “I would have to jump in and run the company.” My plate was already very full with two of our other companies that I was very involved in. Initially, I felt both ambushed and trapped—as if I had no other option but to give in to his ultimatum. Then I took a breath . . .
High Emotion—Low Intelligence
A saying we have is, “When emotions are high, intelligence is low.” So I did my best to take my emotions out of the equation . . . and took a hard look at what he wanted: equity in the company and replacing our mission with money.
Equity. Many years ago, when I was just starting out as an entrepreneur, I was taught a valuable lesson. An accountant wanted a small ownership stake in one of my first companies in exchange for her accounting services. Instead of having to pay her every month, she would contribute her accounting skills to the business. As I was considering this proposition, a very dear and wise friend named Frank said to me, “Kim, never give up equity for services that you can buy in the marketplace. Only give up equity if someone brings something truly unique to the table.”
Did Peter bring something truly unique to the table? My answer was an unequivocal “No.” And now that I was questioning both his loyalty and his friendship, I had to admit that I could pay someone to do what he was doing. So, I could not agree to his first demand.
His second “ask” went against everything I believe as a business owner and entrepreneur. The purpose of a business is to solve a problem. If you find a need that no one else is fulfilling—and you fill that void—then the money will be a by-product of that product or service. In my experience, whenever the primary focus of a business is to make money, that business will never grow far. On top of that, this was a mission-driven company. And, as we were fond of saying, “Don’t mess with the mission.” So my answer to his second demand was also a most definite “No.”
But what was really gnawing at me was how I was feeling inside. I felt as if I was given an ultimatum, not a “let’s work this out together” option. It also seemed that Peter thought he had me backed into a corner. As if he was confident in saying, “You need me. You’ll give me whatever I ask for. You cannot afford to have me quit.” And with that, my trust in him was broken.
And that’s when the lightbulb went on . . . I knew what needed to be done.
If I felt that I absolutely must have Peter stay with the company, then I am at high need. And if I am in high need of him not quitting, then that puts me in a position of low power when it comes to negotiating with him. High need, low power. Believe me, this is a horrible position in which to find yourself.
The question I then had to ask myself was, “How do I go from a position of high need–low power to one of low need–high power?” The answer came quickly. And it would immediately reverse the equation. To put myself in a position of low need—high power, I had to allow Peter to quit. It was not a pleasant decision, but it felt like the right decision.
Every Day Is a Negotiation
Have you ever been in a negotiation, in business or with a family member, where you felt there was only one answer? You had to have that one outcome and nothing else would do?
For example, “Yes, dear, I’ll buy you that new bike if you’ll stay at grandma’s this weekend.” Or “Of course, Mr. Customer, I will cut my price on your order if you’ll tell my boss what a great job I’ve done for you.” Or “Yes, I will give you the raise you want, just don’t leave the company.” In each of these instances you know you’re giving in and taking the easy, short-term path of least resistance. The problem is that you know, in the pit of your stomach, you’ve compromised a piece of yourself to get what you think you needed at the time.
Low Need—High Power
How do you go from a position of high need–low power to one of low need—high power? I will tell you this, making this switch requires you to take the harder road, not the easy one . . . and to make decisions that do not simply placate, conciliate or pacify.
We face situations every day in which we are put into positions of high need–low power without ever realizing it . . .
There is only one grocery store that has your favorite brand of coffee, but because of “social distancing” there is now a line outside the store. And you hate waiting in line. Your high need of this specific brand of coffee and low power forces you to wait fifteen minutes to get into the store. How to reverse it? Seek out an even better brand of coffee somewhere else. Order multiple bags online and have it delivered. Or find out what days and times the store is least busy and shop then.
How often have you faced airline delays that caused you to miss flights or have to stay overnight at an airport hotel? I dealt with that exact situation not long ago in Savannah, Georgia. I was flying from Savannah to Phoenix via Atlanta. I was at the gate waiting for my flight to Atlanta when they announced mechanical problems that would delay us thirty minutes. I thought, “No problem. I have plenty of time for my connection.” Thirty minutes turned into one hour, and then it became an hour and a half. Now I would miss my connection in Atlanta and have to spend the night in Atlanta. My high need was that I needed to get to Phoenix for a meeting the next day. I would have to wait it out. Low power was that there were no other flights that afternoon that would get me to Phoenix. I was at the mercy of the airline. How to reverse it? The questions I asked were, does my “high need” really exist? And is there another option? Sure enough, I made some quick calls and we agreed to do the meeting via Zoom and we would follow up with a face-to-face later in the week. With that I left the gate, rented a car and headed back to my vacation home where I had a wonderful stress-free evening. The next day I flew back to Phoenix.
The Opposite Is Also True . . .
This also works in reverse. Often times we chase after an outcome that we think must come to fruition without asking ourselves, is this outcome really that important? And is this the best outcome possible? For example, a good friend of mine was meeting with a potential business partner for his highly-innovative learning organization. He told me, “I went into that meeting crystal clear on what I wanted to get from that meeting. I knew the exact outcome I wanted and I used every power of persuasion to get it.” He cut to the chase in admitting: “And guess what happened? It was a disaster. I didn’t hear a word anyone was saying because I was so hell-bent on getting my outcome out of that meeting.” He went on to say, “Since then I have learned to go into meetings with no definite outcome or solution. I am truly there to listen and brainstorm. And guess what happens?” He didn’t wait for my response before he said: “The outcomes, the solutions we come to are always better than what I could have come up with on my own.”
So sometimes if you are in high need of attaining a specific outcome, you can quickly put yourself in a position of low power in achieving the best possible result.
Turn the Tables . . .
One way to identify if you are in a high need–low power situation is to ask yourself these questions:
“Do I feel like I have no other option?”
“Do I feel like I’m being taken advantage of and have no way out?”
The ultimate turnaround is the “walk out.” Buying a car is often the perfect example of this. You find the car of your dreams and you begin the negotiation. You think you’ve reached a deal when another cost or twist is added to the mix. You finally get so fed up with the negotiation that you walk out on the deal. This is a prime example of going from high need—”I want this car.” — to low need — “I’ll buy my car somewhere else.”
Ideally, when we find ourselves in a high need—low power position, there can be many options in which both parties can get what they want. The first step, however, is to recognize when you are in a high power–low need negotiation (even with your kids) and then take the steps necessary to come to the optimal solution.
The best way that I’ve found to turn the tables from high need to low need is to take a hard look at my options and alternatives. In most cases I find that what I perceived as ‘high need’ was, in fact, high comfort . . . or blissful complacency . . . or my path of least resistance. One thing I’ve found to be true with most every entrepreneur I’ve met is that we are great at finding solutions . . . and that ability can turn the tables in shifting high need to low need—even no need. And that’s the power we hold . . . in taking control and ensuring that all of our negotiations are from the position of high power.