Don’t Tell Doreen

©2005 Steven M Smith

Jarrett, Doreen and I were on the verge of a closing a big sale. We had crafted the Statement of Work (SOW) for two weeks and had finally reached the point where it satisfied both the customer’s desires and the needs of our company.

But at the last second, before the document was sent to the customer, Jarrett, the salesman, decided to reduce the asking price.

He waited to tell me about the change until Doreen had left our office to fly back to headquarters, three thousand miles away, then added a caution: “And don’t tell Doreen about the pricing change.”

Each word hit my head with a thud. Doreen was part of our team. She had invested hours helping us change the SOW so it would satisfy the customer. After the sale, she would be responsible for the service we were offering and held accountable for its profitability.

Hoping that I had misunderstood him, I asked Jarrett, “What did you say?” The same series of thuds ricocheted off my head.

“But Doreen helped us. She deserves to know about the change,” I sputtered.

Jarrett calmly replied, “No, we need to get the document to the customer now and there is no time for further negotiation with Doreen.”

I thought the notion of withholding information from Doreen was ridiculous, and just plain wrong. She had gone well beyond the call of duty to help Jarrett and me, but Jarrett seemed, as if playing checkers, intent on jumping over her position.

My heart accelerated and I felt the thumps. A gentle voice inside me urged, “Slow down. Breathe.” I took a long breath. As my lungs inflated, I noticed that my spine straightened which caused me to sit up straight. I looked directly into Jarrett’s eyes.

I struggled to show my empathy with Jarrett’s position. “I understand your desire to save time.” I took another breath and continued, trying to make him see my position because he had ultimate control. “Doreen is a stakeholder in this document too. If you decide to not tell her about the change, it becomes your change and I will not support it.”

Jarrett’s eyes narrowed as he fired out the words, “I don’t need your agreement or support: It’s my decision and I’m moving ahead with it.”

Years ago, those words would have struck fear into my heart. I regularly have to deal with Jarrett face-to-face. He’s a malicious person, a sales person who is trained to manipulate situations, and he could easily destroy my reputation in our office. On the other hand, I rarely see Doreen and she can’t help me locally. But if I go along with Jarrett’s idea, I will violate my own principles and destroy how I feel about myself.

“It is your decision,” I said calmly, “I’m surprised though that you think Doreen and my support wouldn’t be an advantage when our management questions you about the pricing change.”

I had Jarrett’s attention, but he said nothing, so I went on. “You’re going to need my support and especially Doreen’s. Our customer listens to me and trusts what I say. Remember, I’m the one who helped them define their requirements. And you’re going to need help explaining to your management why a pricing change makes sense. Doreen is the only person who can do that for you.”

The muscles around Jarrett’s temple moved up and down as he repeatedly tightened his jaw. “I don’t like to be threatened,” he spit out.

“My intent is to help rather than harm you,” I said. “Doreen will find out about the change. She will trust neither you nor me and that will cost both of us dearly in all future negotiations with her. You may be willing to pay that price, but I’m not.”

His eyes looked toward the ground. Silence.

“I’ll think about it,” Jarrett said.

Did I make a difference? My answer arrived the next day when I received a copy of his message to the customer. Rather than discounting the services that Doreen and I had helped him develop, he cut the price on another part of the sale.

So, did Jarrett change for the right reason? The answer depends on how you define “right.” My definition is different than Jarrett’s. His principles are narrowly focused on doing whatever it takes to win this sale. My own principles are broader and focused on sustaining relationships that win business both now and in the future.

If you’re focused on short-term results, keeping secrets may have great appeal. But if you care about building relationships for the future, pay careful attention whenever you hear the words, “Don’t tell …” The words that follow will invariably violate a relationship.

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