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The Daily ParadoxHandling People

The Daily Paradox: Get F2F out of the Silo

Good mentors know that one of today’s main drags on people’s careers and commercial achievements is the increasing amount of silo working. It was forced on us during Covid 19 and its speed and technical convenience is seducing us to persist with it. Sometimes that will be necessary. You don’t want to fly around the world for a simple price negotiation – Zoom will work just as well. But when employees have to be laid off a cursory email or WhatsApp just won’t do. Face to face means ‘I care and take responsibility’. Zoom means ‘suck it up’.     

Humans are social beings and f2f interaction is at the heart of our being able to read people, the key to all personal judgement about trust. Chatting over a cup of coffee and a slice of Peking roasted duck allows you to engage with the other person. Whereas Zoom only allows you to shove information at them – and for them to shove it back. If you want to see where that leads, try reading the Terms & Conditions of almost any major transaction between a buyer and seller today. If we depended on those, our businesses would soon grind to a halt.

Increasing attention to mental health and its importance in a civilised and crowded society makes f2f matter beyond the immediately commercial. You don’t need to read people only to decide if you can trust them. They are making judgements about you and the work they are doing with you, just as much as you are making judgements about them. Their ability to make sound judgments is key to your ability to feed them what they must know to understand. When international relations slip towards war, world leaders fly to meet each other.

For most of us networking is hard work. Meeting strangers always presents a challenge. Striking up conversations with them that don’t look too crassly commercial is tricky. You don’t want to seem banal by discussing the weather. You also don’t want to go for the jugular with a question about their insurance cover or financial management. People are understandably private, prefer to keep their personal lives to themselves and don’t share easily. Your first appearance and the words that accompany it are key to any future relationship.

Anyone who tries to sell at a first encounter is nuts. Negotiating the sale of Cerebos Pacific involved me first understanding the impressive President of Suntory, then Keizo Saji. It was a fascinating journey during which he took me round the sixty-four religious Icons he flew from Bulgaria to Tokyo. He took my arm and for a couple of hours explained the details of these beautiful pieces. He knew I appreciated icons. He read me well.

Relationships between negotiators often lead to great friendships. That happened to me when I was buying the Greggs confectionary and soft drinks business in Dunedin, New Zealand. The Baker brothers, especially Charles, the eldest, who did the negotiating, became great friends even though the deal took two years to complete. We had a few meals and cups of coffee during that protracted barter.

Today’s clients have complex and often jumbled lives. Unsure of the future, unclear about the reliability of their employment, they need to be networking even as they hold good f2f meetings with their bosses.

Mental wellness doesn’t end with f2f meetings.

And without them it doesn’t even begin.

Good morning
John Bittleston

What is your favourite negotiating tactic? If you don’t have one, is now the time to get one?

[email protected] would greatly value an answer. Thank you.

12 May 2024