Ready to work hard and meet our high expectations, we confidently kicked off our second week with a client meeting first thing Monday morning. The meeting was like any traditional work meeting that most of us are accustomed to: introductions and updates, then presentations, followed by Q &A and next steps. Of course, we enjoyed the fluidity of Latin American time leading us into a four hour meeting. I must admit that I left this meeting feeling content that all our prep work was paying off and the project was falling into place. Contributing to my delight was that our client was in agreement with our work plan for the next six weeks, our proposed training agenda, methodology, and most importantly, our working relationship.
That was until Tuesday afternoon…
Still excited from the Monday morning meeting, our team was eager to meet with our client’s trainers on Tuesday afternoon and to dive into exchanging ideas on our lesson plans. However, when we arrived, the room was filled with an unexpected tension and nervousness. Little did we know, we were about to experience hours of negotiations on all that we agreed to the day before. An influence unbeknownst to us had trickled down the hierarchy of the governmental department we are working with, causing our client to completely reassess our training methodology.
Once the meeting started, we quickly realized our agenda was tossed, and our team was suddenly thrown into negotiations on our work plan and training activities. Negotiations were so intense that both teams had to take a break to discuss options to propose to each other. We started at 2pm and by 6:30pm we had reached an agreement. Given the commitment of our client to our project and both teams flexibility and desire to work together, we successfully negotiated a training schedule that was a win-win situation. Although we had come to a great decision, we were exhausted. In one day, we had experienced a complete 180 and we all left the meeting feeling a bit uneasy and frustrated with each other. So much so, that we agreed to no “work” talk on the 30 minute ride home during Guatemala’s rush hour…Throughout the rest week, we had several team meetings reflecting about Tuesday’s meeting and why we were frustrated even though we had an amazing educational experience -negotiating with a team of the Guatemalan government. It turned out that many of us had different ideas not only on how to diplomatically negotiate, but also on how flexible we should be internally. We didn’t even realize that this needed to be defined or that it could cause conflict internally with the team and potentially with our client. It was a big “Aha” moment!
That said, long and unexpected meetings are just how things go here. Decisions can change by the hour, so flexibility is crucial. Understanding our client’s system is imperative to managing the multiple relationships of our project here in Guatemala, and we must remind ourselves that our client is exposed to pressures outside of our knowledge. And just as importantly, we need to be more aware of our assumptions/preconceived notions amongst our team not just our client.
I haven’t taken Global Negotiations yet, but I think I just got a crash course in Guatemala.