Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Embarrasing Moments at Work

So, one thing I like about blogging is that it's an opportunity for me to 'keep it real' for the on-line world.  Of course, I post the best looking photos of myself that make me look at 'my thinnest' but I do try to let you all know what really goes on and not just post sugar coated pinterest worthy things.  So today's posts is one of those posts!

I used this story in my presentation at the Vendavo Pricing Summit in April 2016 and I also used this story in my webinar for the Professional Pricing Society in July 2016.  It's a good story, well I guess you'll be the judge of that, but regardless, I hope you enjoy it.

When I first started in my current job – contract center manager - I had the opportunity to attend an executive training course on negotiation skills at Harvard University.  I had only been on the job less than a month and was eager to improve my skills in negotiating.     So Harvard is not like most college campus’s.  It’s pretty intense and the people who hang out there are pretty intense.  My college days consisted of classes (in my Frye Boots and Calvin Jeans), studying (mostly at the library) and quite a few evenings downtown or at my sorority house drinking cheap beer and flirting with boys.  Where my son went to school in Clemson SC, it was much the same, only warmer and more sports events to attend.   

Harvard is a little different atmosphere.  Just arriving at the facility was intimidating.  The place reeked of ambition.  No Frisbee playing millennials here.  The courtyard was full of eager, hungry, ambitious 20 somethings all in designer business suits with smart phones and laptops (in briefcases - not backpacks!)  The class I was in had about 300 people.  They all came from different backgrounds, and many different nations.  As I chatted with people during the morning coffee hour I asked people 'What do you do?'  One guy said he negotiated hostage situations.  Another guy (with a foreign accent) said he negotiated border disputes.  The woman at my table said she had gotten her PHD from Harvard several years ago.  And there I was!  Little ole me, new to the job.  Thankfully the most I would ever negotiate was a pricing deal for semiconductor chips and not something where someones life depended upon it, but I felt woefully inadequate at that class.  I can't think of a more intimidating environment, but I was not deterred.  I joined in eagerly, hoping to learn and realizing I had a lot to learn.

So day 1, after lunch, the session was ‘Difficult Tactics and How to Deal with Them.’  I was given a small, quiet man as my partner.  We were the buyers.  We were negotiating against a large man with a booming voice and a slick, polished, sexy man.  They seemed like they knew exactly what they were doing.  My partner and I felt doomed.  Sexy man had on a tight shirt, tight pants and a skinny tie. His hair was perfect.  He was thin and muscular and he had more of a smirk than a smile. Large, booming voice man had a genuine smile and was friendly, but at 280+ pounds, 6 feet 5 inches (maybe more) he was a very intimidating presence.  I know I should not judge these people by their physical appearance, but I have to say, I was intimidated, whether I wanted to feel that way or not.  We did our best, but we knew we got beaten in the negotiation.... basically we caved and we caved often.

After we concluded our mock negotiation, the professor asked the 300 person audience, okay, show of hands how many of the sellers got $300,000 or more?  A handful of hands go up.  I slumped in my seat and hoped to disappear.  Sexy man jumps up eagerly.  The mike is handed to him.  He gleefully says, we got $450,000 with a loud excited voice!  I slumped further in my seat.  Can I tell you?  He wasn't looking so sexy anymore!  The professor says rather baffled, hmmm, I don’t think that has ever happened before, we usually don't get anyone paying more than the asking price of $350,000, please tell me more.  Sexy man goes on to explain how he and his partner achieved such a wild success.  The professor curiously asks, who were you up against? Who were the buyers?   More slumping, but of course, sexy man points to me.  There was no where to hide.  I embarrassingly explained a weak excuse and worked hard to convince the audience that even though he won the negotiation if it was the real world, I would not be a repeat buyer and my awful purchasing experience would cause me to go on YELP and other social media and trash his business.  

But the damage to my ego was done.  I actually thought my career was over as well.   There were 300 people in the class.  Did I tell you that I wasn't the only one from my company there?  Oh no, as luck would have it, there were other people from my company participating in the training.  My boss was there and ‘oh joy’ my bosses boss was there.  I thought for sure I would be fired!  I quickly and quietly exited the room at the end of the day and tended to my wounded ego.  When I got home (thankfully a short 20 minute drive) I grabbed a glass of wine, slumped under a blanket on the couch and called the dogs over.  Of course the dogs didn't want to sit with me, so I felt rejected again!   Bob was sweet and listened to my sad story and gave me a big hug. Some awful reality show must have been on and I watched for a bit and headed to bed early.  

I pulled myself together and went back the second day.  I tried sitting at the other end of the room so no-one would recognize me and thankfully had a much, much better second day at training.  By the third day I was my eager, ambitious old self with pages of notes and a few successful mock negotiations under my belt.  And thankfully I wasn’t fired.  Lucky for me, contract negotiations involve more than just good negotiation skills. Process and pricing savvy are crucial components as well.  I brought a lot of process and pricing expertise to the role, even if I didn't have a lot of negotiation skill at the start of the job. One of the biggest things I brought to the table was an ambitious attitude and I was willing to learn new things.

So what's the lesson I want you to take away from this? Don't be afraid to learn new things.  Don't be afraid if while you learn something new you make mistakes.  I learned a lot from those mock-sessions and the humiliation of discussing what worked and didn't work in a large audience of people in very different backgrounds.  Don't convince yourself that you are of lesser worth than others with fancier titles or better degrees.  Don't let someones physical attributes or dress intimidate you. Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time, even if they are designer pants or extra large (or worse extra small) pants.  Talk to yourself with kindness and know that your training and experience are valuable - even if they are quite different from others.  Learn, grow and never be afraid to try something new.  And like me, if it doesn't go so well, keep trying!

So, I hope you enjoyed my 'embarrassing moments at work' story.   Make it a great day!