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Negotiation Anatomy™

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When a young negotiator engaged in a contractual workflow encounters a challenge beyond her mandate to approve she escalates. She may escalate upwards, to her own line manager, if it is a call within her domain but beyond her pay-grade, or horizontally, to another risk controller, if the risk item is beyond her own department’s mandate, but one of credit, market or trading risk.

Escalation, of either kind, is a key, and underestimated, “feature” of the negotiation process. It is rife with resentment and ennui and studded with bottomless oubliettes down which your query can fall, or be stuffed, it always being a safer tactic for an escalatee to ignore, rather than act on, a request for a decision, if there is any prospect that question might just go away. In the modern organisation, many do.

As for the escalator, the best-case scenario is that an escalation will only take time; languishing in an inbox, or buried deep in a to-do list. It will comprise the un-knitted air of an un-returned phone call or an ignored chat. This process will last for days or weeks. Then, when the awaited answer arrives, it is never quite the one the enquirer seeks. She may seek further input from another colleague. She may initiating the launch sequence for an escalation circle. She may partially answer the question, or ambiguously, or in terms so vague that the escalator isn't quite sure what to do next. Her answer may be so obviously couched in the language of slidery that the escalator is sore afraid to take it at face value: “At this stage I would be inclined not to disagree with this view”

This all leads to ...

The JC’s fourth law of worker entropy: The very fact of an escalation—the very interposition of an approval step, in itself, in which one part of the meatware shunts a problem to another part of the meatware—causes more in aggregate delay, confusion, aggravation and second-order bureaucracy than is ever solved by the resolution it promises to deliver.

See also