Last week a friend called me up saying that he had received an unexpected email from a supplier. The supplier was undertaking a piece of work for an agreed price in an agreed timescale. My friend told me that the email contained advance notice of extra charges which he had not agreed to spend and was furious with the supplier. He went on to say that he had written an email to the supplier explaining how the supplier was completely out of order and demanding that he addressed the issue immediately BUT before he pressed ‘send’ he wondered what my take would be.

I asked him what he wanted to achieve and he said, ‘I want the job we agreed for the price and timescale I agreed’

I asked him how the email he planned to send would further that aim? I asked him to consider what message the supplier would receive as a result of the email he planned to send?

We concluded that the supplier would read the email my friend wanted to send as an accusation of being a liar and a cheat. We also concluded that this was unlikely to leave the supplier in the frame of mind to complete the work in a spirit of goodwill. In fact, it was more likely to create an enemy. We also assessed that finding another supplier would add even more risk to the project. And, grudgingly my friend accepted that the supplier had offered him a really good deal.

My friend asked me what I would do in response to the unexpected email.  I said my starting point would be one of curiosity. I would write to the supplier and explain that on the basis of what we agreed in terms of price and timescale, I was really interested in his thinking and rationale for the extra charges and also curious to understand how this matched with the agreement we had made and what he was wanting from me in response to the proposition.

My friend wrote to the supplier as we discussed and was pleasantly surprised to receive the following response;

‘I guess when I looked at the job I could see that I had been hasty in agreeing the price. It is much more work than I anticipated because I hadn’t taken into account XXXXXXXX. On reflection, I guess I have to take the hit and hope that you’re so happy with the work we can work together again’

My friend was amazed. I predicted that if he’d sent his original email he would have received an adversarial response possibly even threatening not to complete the job.

So amazed was my friend he wrote back; ‘Thanks for this. Yes, neither of us took into account XXXXXX, so how about I offer you an extra £X as acknowledgement for what you’re putting in and assuming we’re both happy at the end of this project, we’ll see how we can work together again’

 

Reflection

The DRM teaches us:

  • that our initial reactions can lead to responses that might not bring us the outcomes we desire
  • responding to people in a way that challenges their integrity is likely to get an adversarial response
  • dealing with risk requires us to consider everyone’s feelings
  • choosing to be genuinely curious about another person’s thinking especially when it challenges my point of view, is most likely to create the conditions in which something more wonderful can happen.

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