Don’t Let Hidden Agendas Snuff Out A Deal

Every now and then when I’m negotiating deal or contract, I’ll find that progress has slowed for no apparent reason.
Even the smallest issues seem to become entangled in complications that seem petty or tangential. When that happens, I know it’s time to start searching for hidden agendas.
The hidden agenda is the worst kind of deal-breaker you can encounter. Indeed, about the only good thing I can say about these odd, occasionally neurotic impediments is that you can dine out on the stranger ones later on in life.
For instance, one of my literary agents was arranging client’s book contract. The client was famous for something other than writing, so ghost writer had to be approved. But she couldn’t seem to settle on anyone. The publishing house was getting impatient, and the deal was in danger of expiring.
I asked my agent to see if he couldn’t get to the bottom of it. He called emailed, cajoled, to no avail. Finally he enlisted the help of friend who knew about the situation. The answer came back in 24 hours; our client had joined poetry-writing group, and was stalling us hoping our ghost writers would fall by the wayside. Then she could recommend her poetry teacher as her collaborator.
Once we knew the hidden agenda, everything was straightened out. We explained why the publishing house needed professional, and once the client realised that her financial situation would be affected, she changed her mind about the ?ghostly’ poetry teacher.

The typical hidden agenda
The most frequent hidden agenda is the well-meaning one. Someone you’re dealing with is holding out on you – because they want to surprise or help you, or they just want to be more prepared.
A good example occurred to Hollywood lawyer friend of mind few years back, when having mobile phone was status item.
My friend was dining with celebrity client, and invited his junior associate who’d been handling the client’s contract. At the end of the meal, as they were discussing the ?new’ mobile phones, the client mentioned he was about to buy one – and named the hefty price he was about to pay.
“I can get you better deal!” chimed in the associate, to my friend’s surprise. “If you don’t mind slightly used, I know somebody who can get you one, half the price, guaranteed!”
The client was intrigued. lot of celebrities are surprisingly frugal, always on the lookout for cut-rate deal – and agreed to hold off his purchase.
Days passed, then weeks. No phone. The client kept asking the lawyer, the lawyer kept asking his associate, who swore it would be at most day or two. The situation was becoming uncomfortable for my friend, who knew how easily small misunderstandings snowball into big ones when you’re dealing with celebrities. After all the celebrity could well afford the most expensive mobile in the world if he pleased. What my friend couldn’t afford was to have the client link his associate’s lack of follow-through to the way the firm handled his legal affairs.
Finally, my friend couldn’t take it anymore and confronted his associate. Again the young lawyer pleaded for another day.
“This time it’s on, for sure,” he pleaded. “Fine. But if you don’t have that phone here tomorrow, you’re buying one,” my friend said.
The next day the client got his phone. It was top-of-the-line model, in excellent condition. But it was pink. “Where in the heck did you get this?” asked the lawyer. When the associate told him, he almost fainted: it had belonged to an old famous actress who had been dying, quite publicly and slowly for the past month. The associate was waiting for her to die so he could get her phone.
The client, however, was delighted to get the phone, no matter what the colour or its morbid provenance. He was even more delighted when my lawyer friend refused to accept any money for it, out of consideration for the inconvenience the associate’s hidden agenda had caused him.
The moral of the story is that when there’s hitch or delay and someone won’t commit, you can bet something’s cooking.
Some hidden quirk, some other agenda, is at work. It’s your job to ferret it out. Relationships and businesses have collapsed over far less.

Mark McCormack is the founder of International Management

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