When your team at work isn’t working as a team

I saw something like this at the BBC a couple of times:

If your team deals with important issues and team members have strong views on those issues, you can end up in a deadlock. When that happens, people dig into their own preferred solutions, operating from a unilateral control mindset where everyone believes that he or she understands the situation and is right, and that those who disagree just don’t understand the situation and are wrong. When all team members are thinking and acting this way, it creates a vicious reinforcing cycle. The more people try to prevail, the more people stand their ground, and the less likely it is that the team will ultimately resolve anything.

How to Break Through Deadlock on Your Team – Roger Schwarz, Harvard Business Review (7 July 2015)

I admit I read that and thought oh, bless. It assumes everyone on the team wants the best for the group, that the only difference is in how they think it should be done. In this positive kind of world there are no people out for themselves, nobody who sees this job as a temporary stepping stone to a better one if they come out looking good.

So I’m not recommending you follow every piece of advice in this boy scout kind of article but this is Harvard Business Review, they ought to know what they’re doing, so I am saying you should read the full piece.

The short answer is that talking to everyone and learning what brings them to their conclusions can help. It can, it’s true. Firing a few people focuses the mind too.

Editors like you to negotiate your fee – within reason

Flashback. Some time in the 1990s. I was doing copywriting for various firms and one rang up with an emergency. What would it cost them to do this right now and send it back? I could hear the desperation and I’m ashamed to say I upped my regular rate by some vast amount. (I’m not being coy, this is ages ago, I can’t remember the figures.)

“Sold,” she said.


So much so that I knew I should’ve asked for more. But I did do one savvy thing: having upped my rate for this one emergency job, I never lowered it again for the ordinary ones that followed.

On the other side of the deal, though, I can tell you that I have never had a freelance writer question a fee or ask for more money.

The website Contently has good piece now about exactly what editors can do financially – short answer: not a lot – and what they think of writers who do negotiate – short answer: quite a lot.

Sometimes, asking for more money is a dead-end; but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. “Most of my clients have a specific budget for content,” said content strategist Jessica Ashley, a former senior editor at Yahoo! Shine who now works as editor-in-chief for TapGenes.com. “I lobby hard to get writers fair compensation, but I appreciate when writers negotiate their fees. It’s just good business, and I appreciate writers standing up for what they can offer to the site.”

However, standing up for fair compensation does not mean you should pretend to be a hardline agent. The way you present your request will definitely have an impact on how it’s received.

“It’s important to be both confident and kind,” Ashley said. She suggests explaining what you can offer for your proposed rate using “ands” instead of “buts.” For example begin with a direct stance: “My current rate is $200 per post, and I would be thrilled to contribute to this site because…”

How Do Editors Really Feel When You Negotiate Rates? – Meagan Francis, Contently (10 November 2014)

Read Francis’s full piece for more.

Advice for negotiators

By far, by very far, the most popular post on this Blank Screen site is one from April called Negotiate like the FBI. Don’t ask me why, but I get hundreds of spam comments through that one story, far more than through anything else. What does it tell us that spammers are attracted to tales of the FBI?

Its real point was how we can all in our pitch meetings use the same strategies that have meant the FBI saves lives. Not all the time, mind, but more than I would’ve pulled off. So there’s that.

Now there is the altogether less analogy-heavy advice from Ambassador Tommy Koh of Singapore. Not to knock the guy but if you want to be bored, go read the top of the Harvard Business Review article that reprints his advice. It begins with a CV that impresses as much as it dominates as much as you start quickly scrolling down to see what he’s got to say.

He has a lot. So much that Harvard doesn’t quote him all that much, they chiefly paraphrase in a list of key points that are all worth reading. Then they also have links out to videos of him. But here’s the one main direct quote from Koh:

The beginning of wisdom is to understand that we all live in our own cultural box. We should therefore make an attempt to understand the content of the cultural box of our negotiating counterparts. This will help us to avoid violating cultural taboos such as serving pork to American Jews or food that is not halal to our Malaysian or Arab friends. At a deeper level, it will help us to understand how our American, Chinese, and Malaysian friends think and how they negotiate. Armed with this understanding, we will able we will be able to customize our negotiating strategy and tactics to suit each negotiating partner.

Ambassador Koh quoted in A Great Negotiator’s Essential Advice – James K Sebenius, Harvard Business Review (9 July 2014)

Do read the full piece. Just scroll down a bit first.

There’s more to negotiation than money

If you’ve got a meeting with someone, they want to work with you. Or at least they want to want to work with you. Make the most of that meeting, get what you can and remember that the ideal is that you will be working with these people so let’s leave everyone happy. And at some point money is going to come into it but money is not all.

It’s a lot. Let’s not be daft.


Have more items than they have. Let’s say you are negotiating a book advance. They offer a $10,000 advance and they can’t budge higher.

That’s fine. Now make your list of other things: how much social media marketing will they do, what bookstores will they get you into, who has control over book design, what percentage of foreign rights, of digital rights, you can get. Do royalties go up after a certain number of copies are sold, will they pay for better book placement in key stores, will they hire a publicist? And so on.

Before every negotiation. Make a list. Make the list as long as possible. If your list is bigger than theirs (size matters) then you can give up “the nickels for the dimes”.

This is not just about negotiation. This is to make sure that later you are not disappointed because there is something you forgot. Always prepare. Then you can have faith that because you prepared well, the outcome will also go well.

The Ultimate Cheat Sheet to Become a Great Negotiator – The Altucher Confidential



Negotiate like the FBI

Specifically, negotiate like you’re the FBI and the person you’re dealing with is currently holding hostages. They have your attention. You have theirs. You both have guns.

Eric Barker of Barking Up the Wrong Tree has taken the FBI’s Behaviour Change Stairway – a diagram of their standard approach – and applied it to the freelance life like so:

The Behavioral Change Stairway Model was developed by the FBI’s hostage negotiation unit, and it shows the 5 steps to getting someone else to see your point of view and change what they’re doing. It’s not something that only works with barricaded criminals wielding assault rifles — it applies to most any form of disagreement.

Six hostage negotiation techniques that will get you what you want – Barking Up the Wrong Tree

You’re wondering how he can say there are five steps when his article claims there are six. You are right. The five he lists there are FBI-based ones and the six are similar but extrapolated steps that make this fit the kind of situations we are hopefully more likely to encounter.

He’s boiled down the FBI’s distillation into these five or six steps but probably the first one is the key thing to focus on:

1. Ask open-ended questions
You don’t want yes/no answers, you want them to open up.

A good open-ended question would be “Sounds like a tough deal. Tell me how it all happened.” It is non-judgmental, shows interest, and is likely to lead to more information about the man’s situation. A poor response would be “Do you have a gun? What kind? How many bullets do you have?” because it forces the man into one-word answers, gives the impression that the negotiator is more interested in the gun than the man, and communicates a sense of urgency that will build rather than defuse tension.

But then you’ve got five more steps before they put the gun down and/or you get what you want. It’s quite a fascinating read, especially if you’ve seen eleventy-billion cop shows with exactly this kind of scenario.

Read the whole feature.