Negotiation Tip: Wait For An Opening

Not all negotiations take place over a conference table. Any time we want something and need cooperation from others, negotiation is involved. I needed to convince a developer at work to move desks so that someone else could better focus on her work. I didn’t know if I’d be able to, but made it work when a good opening presented itself.

Kim wanted to move desks because she was having problems focusing. The project team on her left can be a bit loud on Friday afternoons, so I wanted to help her out, but there weren’t a lot of options.

We’ve been hiring a lot this year, so we’re really tight on space. Kim’s also sitting near someone that works on her project, so moving her far would hurt their project collaboration.

The only option that would work was to have her switch with Tom, since she sat next to Tom’s project partner. Kim and Tom would only be swapping desks that are 10 meters apart, though, so it wasn’t much of a help. But it was moving her in the right direction from the noise, and she’d still be near her project partner.

I offered her my solution, explaining the lack of options, and she took it, but she also had concerns about the awkwardness of the situation, asking Tom to swap with her.

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,” I said, thinking I’d be able to make the case to him that it’d be better if he sat next to his teammate.

But when I started thinking about how I’d ask Tom, I had concerns of my own.

I always get a bit uneasy when I ask developers to move desks. I hate inconveniencing people, and I wouldn’t want to move desks, either. But at the same time, I’d move if it would help the group, so I twist their arms, explaining that projects work better when they sit together, and it’s the nature of the job (consulting is a nomadic career, after all), etc.

And that was my plan here. I’d ask Tom if he thought it’d be better to sit next to his teammate, so they could better collaborate.

But what if he declined?

He could say something like, “No thanks, we’ve been working well together, and I like this seat.” Yeah, the move would put him closer, but they were only 10 meters apart, which is why we hadn’t moved him prior to now. I felt on the hook to make the move happen, though, but wouldn’t know how to respond to that. I’d feel silly making him move such a short distance, and didn’t want to disclose the Kim situation, thinking it might embarrass her.

I decided to put it off, hoping I could think of something. I knew it was possible nothing would come to me, and I might just have to endure an awkward situation with either Tom or Kim. I’d have to just chalk it up as a learning experience. I was also reminded why it’s important to plan out negotiations, rather than just jumping right into them.

When I came in this morning, I happened to see Tom collaborating at his partner’s desk. If there was ever an appropriate opening, here it was. It might be awkward asking him to move out of the blue, but I liked my chances here.

I asked if he thought it’d be better if he sat right next to each other, so they can yell back and forth to each other, etc.

“Yeah, that’d be good, but what about her?” He asked, pointing to Kim’s vacant desk.

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.”

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