Q: My company is in the middle of discussions with an important client, and I have been given authority to negotiate on behalf of my firm. The problem is, the client is not accepting my authority and keeps going to my boss, and she doesn’t always stop him. How do I rein him in?
Troy, 32, account management and sales executive
A: You have to be firm, but also make sure your boss is sending a consistent message.
Let’s face it, people often want to talk to the person with the title. This is especially true if they have an established relationship. At the same time, this undermines your ability to be effective.
In order to resolve this, analyze the situation from all perspectives: yours, your boss’, and your client’s.
Perhaps from your point of view, you see a situation where the other parties are showing lack of confidence in you, or where you are missing key information because of conversations they are having without you. Make a case for the reasons for your concerns, tying it back to the impact it will have on the desired business outcomes.
What about your boss’ perspective? If she has worked with this client before, she may be getting some personal enjoyment out of the interactions.
Or she may think it’s quicker and easier to just answer the questions. However, failure to delegate completely will hurt both of you in the long run.
Likewise, the client may feel like he is talking with an old friend, may think that perhaps you’re too inexperienced to work with, or may be using it as a tactic to play you and your boss against each other.
The more you can get inside their minds, the better you will be able to manage it.
Then set up time with your boss. It’s essential that she understand the impact of these end runs on you and the negotiation. Make a plan to determine how she will handle it if he still comes to her in order to reinforce the strength of your role.
Next, you need to reinforce your position with the client. In my opinion, it’s best if you do that, as having your boss remind him still keeps her in the authority loop.
This can be done in a number of ways, depending on the situation.
For example, if he sends her an e-mail, she can forward to you to respond, giving you an opportunity to directly note that these questions, counteroffers, etc. should come to you.
It’s also not a bad idea to check your own behavior as a negotiator. Are you maintaining a strong presence?
Or do you give unintentional messages that you lack confidence, need to check with others (such as your boss), or are otherwise not really authorized to negotiate?
If you don’t have a clear view on that, ask others who will give you unbiased feedback — this may include your boss — so that you can up your game, where needed.
It can be difficult to get people to change their behavior, and in this case, you have two important relationships to manage.
Be clear and direct about your expectations in order to build respect and get the outcome you are seeking.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.