A client recently asked for advice concerning his negotiation to collect a $17,000 bill from a customer. The relationship had deteriorated in part due to a major personality conflict, and his customer – after agreeing to pay the balance – changed her mind and sent him a nasty, unprofessional e-mail about the dispute.
My advice? Go over her head to her CEO. He did, and promptly elicited the full payment.
This highlights a common question I am asked – when should you move up the chain and go over your counterpart’s head. In deciding, consider:
1. Your relationship with your counterpart
Making an end run around your counterpart to their boss or even doing it with their consent may very well negatively impact your relationship with your counterpart.
So, if you don’t anticipate or care about a future relationship with your counterpart and believe your counterpart’s boss will be more likely to agree, go for it. If not, aggressively explore other strategies.
In the above example, the relationship between my client and his counterpart had already been irreversibly damaged. He had little to lose and much to gain in contacting her boss.
2. Other impasse-breaking strategies
It’s rarely a good idea to go over your counterpart’s head – even if you don’t care about the relationship – until after you have reached impasse or are confident you will never reach agreement with that person.
Why? If your counterpart keeps his/her manager up-to-speed on your negotiation, then you often will get the same answer as you received from your counterpart. Managers generally don’t like to undermine the efficacy of their employees – and this is effectively what you are requesting.
If so, your strategy could backfire – as the boss will just tell you to continue dealing with your counterpart, who will likely be upset you tried an end run.
Of course, if you already reached impasse and have tried other impasse-breaking strategies, make the call.
3. The limited authority dynamic
Organizations often grant limited authority to their front-line representatives expecting you may later move up the chain. For example, lower level sales folks often are given limited authority to negotiate relative to their managers. And who hasn’t dealt with customer service representatives on the phone who can’t discount your bill despite acknowledging their screw up?
Here, moving up the chain is expected. Critically, the key is to do your homework and know when and where the “may I please speak with your manager” move will have the highest likelihood of success.
And do your homework for both the individual and organization across the table from you. Note, however, this move is almost always made with your counterpart’s consent.
I have to admit, I rarely advise clients to attempt an end run around their counterparts without their consent. It’s risky and many of my clients want future relationships with their counterparts.
But occasionally it makes strategic sense. So put this move in your quiver as a last resort.
Published September 2, 2010 The Arizona Republic