Lessons from my Mentors

May 25 2021

Negotiation Styles

Our weekly blogs aim to provide advice from the lessons that we’ve learnt in our collective commercial dealings. But we can’t take credit for all the guidance we impart.

Thinking back over my own commercial development, two people (once bosses now friends) were instrumental in my growth as a commercial professional. So, I thought I would pass on what they taught me so that Lewis Woolcott followers might also benefit.

During my time at ConocoPhillips, I worked with Jay Jean. Jay was a Senior Contracts / Procurement leader who had decided to do APLNG as his swan song before retiring. In normal circumstances I wouldn’t have got to work with someone so senior, but the project suited Jay’s circumstances and I guess I got lucky.

I was younger and probably more ‘passionate’ back then. Commercial outcomes meant a lot to me and I felt personally vested in the outcome. Whilst my passion and commitment meant I produced quality commercial product (if I say so myself), it also meant that I was over committed and a little uptight in negotiation.

Jay’s style was quite the opposite. He would disarm through collaboration, charm, and humour. Everyone liked Jay and wanted to work with him. By the time the first hour of negotiations were over, the ‘sting’ had gone, and the parties were able to put their collective brains together to solve the commercial issue. Some of the largest commercial negotiations I have worked on were solved in this way.

I’ve not forgotten Jay’s words to me ‘never forget, It’s just business’. This advice somehow lessened my personal angst and made me more able to keep calm, conciliate and ultimately resolve disputes.

Processes & Alternatives

The second influence in my commercial development was (and I hate to say it!) an engineer – Adrian Lang. Adrian was a seasoned oil and gas project director who had started his career as a process engineer.

Adrian had taken the deployment of process to a new level. Through working with him, I learnt that there wasn’t a problem you couldn’t process your way out of.

If the answer wasn’t apparent – simply write the process which would lead you to the answer.

Through writing the process you would work out what you knew, what you didn’t know, where you needed help and how to go about getting that help. By simply doing this, you made progress and could start to develop measurable targets (something that appealed to my planning brain).

Adrian was also a stickler for options. Never settle on a solution until you’ve explored at least three options. This would sometimes be frustrating when the answer appeared to be a ‘no-brainer’, but even when the ‘no-brainer’ remained the preferred solution, the process of considering alternatives usually strengthened the final strategy.

I hope readers will forgive the somewhat self-indulgent tone of this blog, but I wanted to personally name and thank these two key influences in my career – even though I’m sure they won’t appreciate the publicity.

We continue to deploy and share these practices at Lewis Woolcott.

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Lessons from my Mentors