It was December 23, 2013, 3 p.m. I was wrapping up work and heading home for the holiday break. And then, I got a call.
Emma, the CEO of one of our clients, was raging mad. She got word from her team that one of the developers we had working on her project would be rolling off the account one week early. On the phone, I attempted to talk through the issue, but I was getting nowhere. I told her I'd be right over and we could talk through things in person.
What followed was three hours of agony. Emma shouted, she screamed, she demanded things. Unfortunately, she didn't have all of the information.
She thought we had pulled the developer from her project. In actuality, one of Emma's employees asked us to roll off one developer early because they thought the project was almost done. This employee didn't know that Emma had added scope onto the project and committed that new scope to stakeholders. Once Emma figured this out, she grew even angrier.
Even after we both had all the facts, Emma remained mad. Eventually we came to an agreement, but it was painful.
I can say with certainty that this was a terrible negotiation.
It's not because I'm a bad negotiator. On the contrary. I have negotiated much more complex and higher stakes negotiations.
The reason this was a terrible negotiation is because Emma didn't trust me. She didn't trust me because I neglected to follow the No. 1 most important rule for any negotiation: meet her in person before the negotiation was ever conceived.
1. Meet in person.
To improve your chances of negotiating well, always meet individuals in person at the start of your relationship--whether it's an employee, a vendor, a client, or a colleague. It's a mistake to wait until you have a reason to meet with someone to meet with them.
Whenever I hire a new employee, we go out to lunch within their first month to get to know each other. As my company scales and gets bigger and bigger, this ritual becomes even more important. Spending time with someone face to face is the single best way to get to know them.
And whenever I start business with a new client, I invite them to dinner to say thanks for becoming a client.
2. Yes, it takes time.
You probably have to travel to their office, and the meeting usually takes 30-60 minutes. I can tell you with certainty that it's worth it.
When you spend time with someone face to face, you build rapport, and that in turn builds trust. Ideally, meeting one on one is best, but meeting in a group setting is OK too.
Here's one strategy that I've found to be immeasurably useful: Invite a group of like-minded peers to dinner. This way, you are able to meet several people in person at one time, and better yet, you are introducing people in your network to others who you believe they'd find to be valuable colleagues.
3. There are two potential alternatives.
Sometimes, meeting in person isn't possible. Alternatives include:
A video chat, using a platform like Google Hangouts or Skype. This way, you can see each other's faces.
A phone call, as a last resort.
Email is not a substitute for meeting in person.
Meeting in person doesn't have to be an all or nothing activity. Start small and find a process that works for you.
Here's my challenge to you: Meet one person for coffee that you normally wouldn't. Start there, and take it one meeting at a time.