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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

Never miss a thing!

 

The one about the great negotiator

Tomorrow is a big day.

It’s the day that Ruth goes in to negotiate her remuneration rates with one of her major clients. It’s important that it goes well – it will certainly affect her income for the year and it might well affect whether she gets any income at all from that client.

Ruth is a senior management trainer. She’s been doing it for over twenty years for a whole variety of both private and public sector organisations – she trains teams and coaches leaders in a whole range of skills from strategy to conflict resolution to communication to negotiation. Some of the business comes to her directly and some of it comes through the big training companies who outsource work to a list of preferred trainers at rates they negotiate with their clients.

Tomorrow is a big day. And Ruth is praying about it.

Actually, Ruth would be praying even if tomorrow wasn’t a particularly special day. She’s that kind of person: she prays about her clients, she prays about the content of workshops, she prays about how to deliver the material, she prays for the people who come, and she prays for the people who’ve left. And when she gets to the training room/ auditorium she’s been assigned, she accepts the authority that her client has given her over that room. So she prays for it to be a place of peace and safety for her clients, prays for God’s presence by his Spirit. So it’s no surprise that Ruth is praying about tomorrow. But it is also a big day.

I wonder what you might pray before a meeting to discuss your salary.

Now, as Ruth prays, a curious thing happens. God tells her not to go in to the meeting with a target rate in mind, or even an opening offer to negotiate from. God tells her to give the client total freedom in setting the rate, and to accept whatever they decide.

Ruth is not impressed by the divine strategy.

She demurs. ‘Lord,’ she says to the King of the Universe, the Lord of time and eternity, the Creator of all things, the one who spoke light and human beings and all their faculties into existence. ‘Lord, I’d just like to remind you that I actually teach negotiating skills, and I can assure you that this is not the way to negotiate a deal like this’. Ruth thinks she knows the criteria for a good negotiation, just as the prophet Samuel thought he knew the criteria for selecting the next king from a line-up of Jesse’s seven oldest sons: ‘When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab, and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stand here before the Lord’’’. (1 Samuel 16:6) Except, of course, neither Ruth nor Samuel had all the information.

As it turns out, the King of the Universe is not impressed by Ruth’s objection. He does not demur.

I wonder how you would feel if God asked you to do something that seemed to contradict your professional training. I wonder what you would do in Ruth’s situation.

Tomorrow arrives.

That morning another senior trainer phones her. He seems pleased. He too has been negotiating his rate with this training company. So Ruth asks him if he got the rate he wanted. ‘Oh yes’, he replies and mentions a figure. As Ruth is pondering this potentially useful information on what the client is prepared to pay, the Holy Spirit cuts across her thoughts and very clearly reminds her of his strategy. This time she does not demur.
At the appointed time Ruth goes into the client’s office, sits down, exchanges greetings. The client looks tense. It’s understandable: not many people really like talking about money, and there’s usually pressure on the negotiator on three fronts: from the trainers who want to maximise their earnings; from the clients who want to minimise their spend; and from the negotiator’s bosses who want to maximise their margin whilst retaining the best trainers and offering competitive value to clients.

Ruth shifts the conversation to the matter in hand and says, ‘Before we begin this discussion, may I just say that I will be very happy with whatever rate you choose to give me this year. You’re aware of the overall market, you know what clients will pay, and you know what margin you need, so I am happy for you to set whatever rate seems right to you.

This is not the way money negotiations usually begin.

Immediately, all the tension goes out of the client’s face and shoulders. He leans back in his chair and smiles, ‘I’m so glad you said that. I was in a very tough negotiation with another senior trainer earlier today. He pushed me very hard for a high rate. And in the end I gave it to him. But I won’t be sending any business his way.’

Inwardly Ruth is thankful, not because she’s gloating over the other trainer’s failure, but because she’s realising that God has rescued her. God has tipped her off, given her an instruction based on knowledge she doesn’t have. Similar examples abound in the Bible: God tipping off the prophet Elisha whenever Aramean raiding parties set out to ambush the King of Israel (2 Kings 6:9–12); or God giving Samuel information for Saul about who he will meet on his journey home (1 Samuel 10:2–3); or God confirming to David, on the run from King Saul, that, if he stays in Keilah, the citizens will betray him and his men (1 Samuel 23:10–11). Not surprisingly, God’s tip-offs are often accompanied by a blessing. And so it was for Ruth.

The client smiles again. ‘And because of your attitude in this negotiation and your track record with us, I am going to make you our trainer of choice for a large project that has just come in.’ He then suggested a very acceptable daily rate.

God hasn’t just tipped her off, God has given her preferred status.

The client went on, handing Ruth a list of dates, ‘And these are the dates. Choose the ones you want.’

God hasn’t just tipped her off, God hasn’t just given her preferred status, God has blessed her with an abundance of business on the dates and in the locations of her choice.

Three months after Ruth first told me that story, I saw her again at another training event. And I asked her this question. ‘Ruth, you teach negotiation skills. So what have you changed about how you teach negotiating after that incident?’

Without missing a beat, she replied, ‘I teach people to spend much more time thinking about the other person’s context and pressures, to seek to understand how they might be feeling. And I put more emphasis on negotiating in ways that contribute to building the relationship for the longer term.’

God did a miracle for Ruth. And we could pause there and reflect on his omniscience, on his fatherly kindness to Ruth, on his generosity, on his desire to help her know when it’s his voice that’s speaking, on his desire to build the trust between them, on his desire to build her capacity to trust his direction – even when the stakes are high. And there’s more you might add. But God was also trying to teach Ruth about the thing she thought she knew really well: how to negotiate. And so he didn’t just provide for her for a year, he enhanced the quality of her teaching, made it more accurately reflect his character and priorities, made it a greater blessing to those who heard it, a more effective bridge into the deeper conversations with clients that they often seemed to initiate in breaks or at the end of the day…

God, it seems, often has more than one objective in mind when he acts in our lives. We, after all, often have more than one thing we need to learn.

 

***

I wonder what strikes you about this story so far. What biblical connections do you see?

Is there a situation that you need to pray about, and ask God’s wisdom for?

‘The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: “Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.” So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places.

This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?”

“None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.”’

2 KINGS 6:9-12

Mark Greene
Mission Champion, LICC

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