Yielding to Pressure

©2005 Gerald M. Weinberg

In a previous article, I wrote about the usefulness of treaties between technical teams, but I didn’t give much detail about the actual negotiation process that goes into making a successful treaty. To learn about such negotiations, let’s look at two scenarios of negotiations that went wrong.

Here’s Scenario Number One:

Bob (the Boss): Fay, what’s your estimate of when that component will be ready to ship to testing?

Fay: If I get the equipment I’ve requisitioned, I’m pretty sure I can have it ready in 14 weeks.

Bob: <looking disappointed> Oh.

Fay: Isn’t that okay?

Bob: Well,…

Fay: I suppose I can really push and get it in 12 weeks.

Bob: <still looking disappointed> Oh.

Fay: Darn. Well, if everything goes exactly right, I can make it in 10 weeks.

Bob: <brightening a little> Did you say eight?

Fay: Okay, I guess I can push for eight.

Bob: <smiling> That’s terrific, Kay. I knew you could do it!

Here’s Scenario Number Two:

Darlene (the boss): Ira, what’s your estimate of when that component will be ready to ship to testing?

Ira: If I get the equipment I’ve requisitioned, I’m pretty sure I can have it ready in 14 weeks.

Darlene: <standing up and raising her voice> Ira, that’s simply not acceptable. I want it in eight weeks, not a day later!

Ira: <eyes lowered to the his shoelaces> Uh… But there’s just too much to …

Darlene: <turning red, and raising her voice another level> Ira! I hope you’re not about to say something negative! You know we’re a team here, and we don’t have room for nay-sayers!

Ira: <trying to swallow when his throat is dry> Well… I suppose I could…

Darlene: <breaking into a tight smile> …you could do it! I knew you’d find a way, Ira. <turning towards the door> All right, then. I have your commitment, so don’t disappoint me. See you in eight weeks! <out the door>


Q: What’s the important difference between these two scenarios?

A: Nothing. Nothing important, that is. Bob used a soft approach; Darlene used a hard approach, but nothing was really different. Successful negotiations usually involve trade-offs among schedule, resources, and technical specifications, but these two contain no trading off at all – just different kinds of manipulations to make one person submit to another person’s desires.

Here’s Scenario Number Three, which should produce a better result:

Annabelle (the Boss): Myron, what’s your estimate of when that component will be ready to ship to testing?

Myron: If I get the equipment I’ve requisitioned, I’m pretty sure I can have it ready in 14 weeks.

Annabelle: <looking disappointed> Oh.

Myron: Isn’t that okay?

Annabelle: Well, not really.

Myron: If the schedule is that important, we can look at alternatives.

Annabelle: I can’t give you any more people. We’re shorthanded already.

Myron: Darn. Well, actually, new people right now might be more disruptive than helpful. Well, something has to give – we can’t reduce schedule and hold resources and specs constant.

Annabelle: That’s certainly true. But I do need something to show to my marketing team in eight weeks. There’s that business expo where we have to do a demo, and I can’t change that date.

Myron: Okay, I guess we’ll have to see what features we leave out of the demo, or perhaps fake a bit.

Annabelle: <smiling> That sounds like what we’ll have to do, Myron. Let’s take a look at what you can give us that will look good in eight weeks.


And so Annabelle and Myron get down to the business of examining which features will contribute most to a good demo (her problem) while at the same time being within Myron’s team’s capabilities (his problem). Nobody was forced; nobody was manipulated. The negotiation stayed open and based on facts, not speculation or screaming or placating.

Of course, this kind of negotiation takes trust – trust in the other person, but even more, trust in yourself.

  • You must feel that you can be honest without being taken advantage of.
  • You must be confident that you understand the trade-offs on your own side of the business.
  • You must have enough self-esteem to be able to say what you don’t know.
  • It also helps to know that agreements forged through manipulation will be weak and unreliable agreements.

In my experience, at least half of the problems developers have with customers are the result of poor negotiation – usually the result lack of skill and will to deal with various forms of conscious or unconscious manipulation by their negotiating partner.

Do you understand what I’m telling you? Well, you’d better understand, unless you’re too incompetent to do your job! From now on, I’m assuming your commitment to learn to do better at dealing with manipulation, so don’t disappoint me!

(Of course, the way you’ll disappoint me is by yielding to my attempted manipulations.)

About Gerald M. Weinberg

For more than 50 years, Jerry (Gerald M.) Weinberg has worked on transforming software organizations. He is author or co-author of many articles and books, including The Psychology of Computer Programming. His books cover all phases of the software life-cycle. They include Exploring Requirements, Rethinking Systems Analysis and Design, The Handbook of Walkthroughs, Inspections, and Technical Reviews, and General Principles of System Design. His books on leadership include Becoming a Technical Leader, The Secrets of Consulting, More Secrets of Consulting, and the Quality Software Management four-volume series. His book, Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method, appeared in 2005. His first techno-thriller novel, The Aremac Project (Dorset House), will appear in 2007. Email Jerry or visit www.geraldmweinberg.com to read excerpts of the Shape Forum. Picture (c)2004 Steven M. Smith
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