I've spent the last 4 weeks trying very hard to close a deal with an influential company, let's call it X, to build a bespoke version of my startup's product. The deal was officially off a few days ago and while I wasn't too upset about the result itself, I was disappointed by what I felt was the overall tone of the conversation. The negotiation wasn't great, they were unable to be flexible and were very demanding at the same time, which might not be unusual in situation like that, but is still not something pleasant if you are on the receiving end.
In that context what I want to discuss is how to successfully part from a deal that didn't end well. In a nutshell you need to:
- Recognize and agree with the problems
- Thank them for the time spent talking to you
- Wish them the best with their project
- Make yourself available
This isn't easy, especially when the very last email you received from them ends with:
There are enough problems here that it doesn't seem like it's going to work out. Sorry.
And all you can think of is, whatever. Whatever because emotionally you're in an uncomfortable spot, the deal is off despite all your efforts and you were really pumped about working for X. You don't know what else to say or do, which mixed to the disappointment gives birth to whatever.
But if that is understandable, it's neither professional nor useful. What I initially wrote in reply was:
I'm sorry too. I appreciate we have some problems that are hard to solve. Please do let me know if anything changes and you'd like to chat again.
That seemed ok to me, but I've learned to doubt myself in this kind of cases so I asked my girlfriend to read it over. She thought it was not very good, and she was right. She explained that what I wrote was the equivalent of whatever. Appreciating a problem is not the same as agreeing on it and having problems that are hard to solve implies that** someone is just not trying hard enough. Last but not least I was **ordering people around, despite the please, do let me know is an order, the verb is an imperative.
She then recommended something I should have done already:
- realize that I was still upset and get over it
- set goals and act accordingly.
Your goals might be different, but in general you should aim for two things:
- keep the door open to future collaborations
- avoid being the jerk nobody wants to work with
Latter is especially true if you've got a brand new startup and is effectively a prerequisite for former.
So how do you communicate that? While wording is hugely important, conceptually you should:
- Recognize and agree with the problem
- Thank the other person for the time spent talking to you
- Wish the other person the best with the project
- Make yourself available
Following those points I rewrote my closing paragraph as:
Yeah, I agree the situation isn't ideal. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me and try to make it work. Best of luck with the project and if the circumstances changed I'd be happy to reopen the conversation.
That is indeed much better than what I wrote initially and with better chances to achieve the goals we set.
This was a great exercise for me,** communication is hard and even harder when you're emotionally involved. We should try to be as mindful and honest as possible about our feelings** when we communicate, to be aware of who's on the other side **and to bear in mind what it is that we want to communicate **and phrase our message to reflect that.