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Stop Pleasing People Who Aren’t in the Room

One of my favorite parenting hacks is to ask my kids to set their own punishments, or to use the more PC phrase, “determine their own consequences.” It seems counter-intuitive to put children in charge of disciplining themselves, but it’s surprisingly effective. In my house, the conversation usually goes something like this:

Me: [confronting child who has committed a major infraction] This was pretty serious.

Wayward kid: [eager to get it over with] What are my consequences going to be?

Me: I’m not sure, I’m going to have to think about this for a while.

WK: You can’t just tell me now?!?

Me: No, I need some time to think to make sure I’m not being overly harsh because I’m angry. . . . I’ll tell you what, why don’t you think about it overnight and tell me what you think your consequences should be tomorrow morning.

Invariably, said kid shows up at breakfast looking really groggy because he spent all night thinking about what he did wrong and what punishment I might assign—which, after all, was the point of dragging it out overnight.

And invariably, said child suggests a punishment that is orders of magnitude more severe than what I was considering. Seriously, if I was thinking of grounding him for a week, he’ll suggest a month. I frequently have to modify my kids’ suggestions to make them a little less intense.

So what’s the point of this story?

When someone hasn’t told you their expectations, it’s really easy to overcompensate. We often see this show up in sales operations in a couple of different situations.

The first is when the team is kicking off a new project. The brand new committee gets in a room, and everyone is all excited about making groundbreaking plans. But the unspoken truth is that a big part of the reason for the initiative is that everyone wants to impress management. And if management isn’t in the room, you’re going to be making some assumptions about what they will or won’t like.

Unfortunately, if you don’t really know what the boss wants, you’re probably going to be too conservative. Instead of pushing the limits, you’re going to make concessions based on what you think you’ll be able to talk people into.

What should have been a big, bold, profitable plan ends up being pretty milquetoast.

The other situation where this causes problems is in a typical sales negotiation. You make assumptions about what the customer will be willing to pay, and so you offer pricing and terms that are far more favorable than the customer had hoped to get. And the end result is that the company gets stuck with a less-than-optimal deal that cuts into margins.

The moral of these stories is that you can’t let your assumptions about people who aren’t in the room dictate your actions. Instead, suggest bold risks when putting together your proposals, and go in to a negotiation asking for a higher price than you hope to achieve. You shouldn’t let the ghost of someone who’s not in the room stop you from pushing for what’s best. That’s what a good executive team should really expect. And if they’re honest with themselves, that’s what your customers should expect too.

SellingBrew has a couple of resources that can help with both situations where you might be tempted to please people who aren’t in the room. Negotiating Profitable Deals offers a primer on strategies and tactics that can help you win sales without ruining your margins. And Demonstrating the Value of Sales Operations can help improve your interactions with management, specifically in regards to demonstrating how your team has helped the company.

Once you’re aware of how your assumptions about people who aren’t in the room can lead you astray, you’ll find it easier not to fall victim to this problem. . . . . So please don’t tell my kids about my parenting tactics—I need that trick to keep working for at least a few more years.

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