Mastering Tension In Negotiations With Eric Imrie | Confident Negotiator Podcast #7

By RED BEAR May 23, 2024 | 13 min read

In this episode of The Confident Negotiator Podcast, host Rob Cox welcomes RED BEAR Senior Instructor Eric Imrie for an in-depth discussion on mastering tension in negotiations. With over 20 years of experience in consulting and executive leadership roles in sourcing and supply chain management, Eric shares his journey from law school to becoming a top-tier negotiator.

This episode explores Eric's techniques for creating and managing tension, including the strategic use of silence and making effective demands. Eric also discusses his favorite Bruce Lee quote and its relevance to mastering the basics of negotiation. Additionally, he provides practical methods for aligning and engaging teams during tough negotiations and ensuring resilience and creative outcomes.





Transcription of the Video:

Rob Cox: Hello everyone and welcome to The Confident Negotiator Podcast. I'm Rob Cox, and with me today is RED BEAR Senior Instructor Eric Imrie. Eric, thank you so much for joining today.

Eric Imrie: Hey, Rob, no problem. Great to see you. Happy Friday.

Rob Cox: Happy Friday to you, Eric. You have over 20 years’ experience in consulting and executive leadership roles in sourcing and supply chain management across multiple industries. I personally negotiated against you at a workshop in Houston and you absolutely mopped the floor with me, but I kind of liked it, so I'm excited about what we're going to hear from you today. So let's dive in. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you help RED BEAR customers become world-class negotiators.

Eric Imrie: Yeah, thanks, Rob. So I originally trained as a lawyer and went through law school but never practiced. Then I spent time consulting, and since then I've been in different sourcing and procurement leadership positions, working across a number of industries and working in Fortune 500 companies. In the last company I worked at, I invited RED BEAR to come in and train my team in negotiations, and I wanted to lead by example and participate. I wanted to eat my own cooking, drink my own champagne. So I went through the RED BEAR training with my team and realized I was just an amateur, despite 20 years’ experience, I had so much to learn. I was so impressed with the RED BEAR methodology that when I left my last company, I called RED BEAR and said, look, I'd love to come and be an instructor for you. Let me come and learn your methodology and teach others. So I really love sharing the methodology with participants in the class. I feel like I have a chance to help them learn something, and in every class I learn something from the participants. So it's fun, it's a fun role, and I love helping people improve their negotiation skills.

Rob Cox: That's great. I can really tell that your passion comes out for that when you're teaching and when you're involved with the workshops, Eric, so that's great to hear. Let's talk about one of your favorite quotes. You have a favorite Bruce Lee quote: "I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times." How does this quote apply to procurement professionals in regards to negotiations?

Eric Imrie: Yeah, I love that because it shows the value of basic effective techniques. I've done martial arts for a few years in my life and practiced hundreds of different techniques, tried two or three different disciplines, and I thought I was pretty good. But then when I started sparring, I often got punched in the nose frequently, and I figured out very quickly that simple basic techniques executed effectively work. So it's not about a spinning back kick, it's about, it's a jab, jab cross, and that technique is all about mastering the basics and using them effectively and they work. So it applies equally well to negotiations. Some of the basics are making demands, and it's easy to say, but it's really hard to do. All you have to do is ask clearly and specifically for what you want and what you need, and then repeat that demand to make sure the other side hears it and to demonstrate your conviction and then just use the power of silence to create tension. But it's very, very difficult for people to ask for what they want and then just sit there and let the silence hang. So that kind of brings the quote and the negotiation together. It's about doing the basics super well, and no matter how many negotiations you've done, you can always learn more and practice the basics and become better at them.

Rob Cox: Excellent. You talked about tension. Using silence is one of the methods that you use to create that tension. Now, I could personally say you are a master at creating tension in a negotiation. What are some of the methods that you've used to create tension in negotiations and how have they led to creative outcomes?

Eric Imrie: I think making demands is a great way of creating tension, but the one that I like the most is using silence. It's easier for me to use silence to create tension because I'm more of an introvert than an extrovert. So how that works is you put your demand out there, I need this, I expect that I must have, and then you push the mute button or you bite your tongue and you just wait, and you just let the other side sort of marinate in the silence and the tension it creates and it works. There's a tendency in negotiation to try to convince or to explain or to add color to a demand. You try to put your demand out there and then maybe add a few options to help the other side out, I need X, maybe you could think about A or B as a possible solution to X. But by using silence, you allow the other side to be creative and then suggest options that you might not have thought of. So early in my procurement career, I was working with a supplier. I was demanding price reductions. Jerry McGuire, "show me the money," give me some total cost reductions. So trying to shrink that procurement iceberg, and it was actually the third year that I'd negotiated with the supplier and I said something along the lines of, I need to show 5% savings or increased value from this relationship in the next 12 months.

Eric Imrie: And then I just let it hang there. And what the suppliers had surprised me, they said to me, actually, Eric, how about we stop fighting about cost reduction and pricing, and we try growing sales and profit? I'm like, that's not my job. I'm a procurement guy. I pushed down the bottom line. I don't grow the top line. But I went with it and worked with that supplier and the merchandising team. We were looking at cross-selling and upselling. We were looking at changes to the search criteria so that when people searched for a product, the most profitable items showed up first. We introduced some new products, and it definitely had a very positive impact on the bottom line. And I think if I hadn't asked that question and just stopped, if I'd gone through my list of here are the things we could do to save money, there's a pretty good chance I wouldn't have thought that we should grow sales and profit. But by letting the silence hang out there, the supplier suggested an idea that was new and that was different, or at least new to me and innovate innovative to me. So it taught me about the power of silence, and it also helped me learn that procurement's job isn't just to reduce costs. It's about improving profitability and profitable sales growth for the company. Excellent. Does that make sense, Rob?

Rob Cox: It does. Creating profitable negotiations effectively pausing, effectively using silence to create tension, have the other side introduce some new ideas to get that creative outcome. I love it.

Eric Imrie: Yeah, exactly.

Rob Cox: You talked a little bit about making demands. Can you give us an example of a time you had to make demands to create resiliency in your supply chain?

Eric Imrie: Yeah, it's a bit of a disappointing story, but probably a familiar story. We had a customer that made a pretty major change in their demand patterns. At short notice, there was no forecasting, there was no heads up. The first we knew about it was because there were complaints about why isn't this product in stock? And I think they specified a component product that went into their end use product, and I think they went from ordering like four of them a year to over a thousand a year. So just a massive, massive change. The component was a critical part of their product, so they needed it to meet their end use customer needs, and we needed to increase capacity to support them. We went through the, why didn't you forecast? Why didn't you tell our story? But the ultimate conclusion is we need to find this product.

Eric Imrie: And the supplier that made it had limited global capacity. There was, I think only one place in the world, one factory in the world making this product. So we needed them to commit to increasing capacity. And so we just repeated the demand, we need you to increase capacity and solve our mutual customer's problem. We must have this product. We need your help to bring the product to our mutual customer and solve the problem for them. It wasn't easy. We repeated that demand multiple times. We had to go to multiple levels within the supplier, but eventually we got the agreement to open a new manufacturing line and increase the capacity of this component to help out our customer. So I think that's probably the best example. It's like I said, a common story that there's an unforecasted change in demand, but just asking the supplier clearly and specifically for what we wanted, having the conviction to repeat it and repeating it multiple times and at multiple levels of the organization. Like I said, it wasn't easy, but it worked. It worked.

Rob Cox: Excellent. You had your positioning statement, you reiterated it several times to make sure your position was clear what you needed, and you made the right demands. Excellent.

Eric Imrie: Yeah.

Rob Cox: Now, I know you have a real passion for leading teams. Let's talk about getting teams aligned. You have a real passion for getting teams aligned internally. What are some of the methods that you've used and processes that you've put in place to make sure that procurement teams are aligned before, during, and after negotiations?

Eric Imrie: Yeah, it's a great question. I think I learned the value of it, again through painful experience. A bit like my martial arts experience, I used to work in an open plan office, an open collaborative workspace, and I was walking around one day and one of my team had on his whiteboard a list of the projects he was working on, and I saw a supplier's name on there, and that was good. And then I was talking to another team member who come to me to ask for some advice and a negotiation, and he was asking me about that same supplier. And I said, well, you know that this person is also negotiating with the supplier. You should talk to them. They've got it on the whiteboard. They're like, no, I never knew that. So they weren't aware of each other's negotiations. They were both negotiating with the same supplier at the same time for a different category. And so the supplier had done a good job of dividing and conquering. So that taught me a valuable lesson. And after that, I spent a lot of time trying to build visibility on my team of who was doing what.

Eric Imrie: We'd share our list of projects and supplier names so people could say, "Oh, I see. So-and-so was talking to that person." And so we started bringing together supplier profiles so that everybody could access a high level summary of the supplier, plus sort of a category breakout of the different issues. So everything was in one file, and that collaboration solved the problem of the left hand not necessarily knowing what the right hand was doing. And we also found it really useful with executive meetings. The exec should go out to dinner and we would give our lead the supplier portfolio where it would list summary of the business we do with them, and a summary of the issues that cover each category, so that when they were talking to their counterpart on the other side, they were knowledgeable about what was really going on with the supplier and could lend support to our negotiations. So I think that's the main one. For me, it's all about bringing visibility to the suppliers who's working with them. And I guess the other thing is planning. I like team negotiations, and by going through the planning process together, by actually having a plan, writing a plan down, Heaven forbid, then people are able to align about how the meeting's going to play out and who's going to have what roles and how it's going to work. So I think that coordination, that collaboration, as well as the planning are great ways to get the team aligned internally.

Rob Cox: Excellent. Creating that visibility, getting alignment, planning ahead, having the team all together. That's great. Staying on the subject of teams, Eric, let's talk about engagement. How can procurement leaders make sure their teams stay engaged, especially during tough negotiations?

Eric Imrie: Yeah, it's character building. Not every negotiation goes to plan. So I like trying to have a tag team approach and get at least two people working on a negotiation. So during the planning process, having somebody to bounce ideas off during the preparation is really, really helpful. They bring a different perspective. You can brainstorm ideas, you can think about what the concession plan might be. So that planning improves, even if only one person is in the negotiation. Planning together helps improve the quality of the negotiation. Ideally, you have somebody in the negotiation with you, and then they can observe, they can take notes, they can kick you under the table, perhaps they'll take you out for a sidebar and maybe you'll leave, even do a tag team in the negotiation. So having somebody there sitting to watch and pick up the things you might miss is pretty important. And then afterwards, you got somebody to talk about and talk with and debrief, how did it go? What could I have done differently? What did I miss? Which always gives you good insights. And then depending on how it goes, you build culture by going out to celebrate maybe a success or commiserate a setback. So I think putting teams together like that, having joint negotiation planning is a great way to keep people engaged and keep them motivated so they're not just in it alone, that they're working together as part of a team to help improve the company's profitability.

Rob Cox: Excellent. Well, Eric, thank you for that. You've been very generous with your time. Is there anything else that you'd like to say before we wrap up?

Eric Imrie: Well, thanks, Rob. I think maybe go back to the beginning and the Bruce Lee quote, we negotiate all day. We negotiate every day. And no matter how much experience you've got or how much training you've done, you can always improve. Every opponent is different, every situation is different. And no matter how good you are, you might still get punched in the nose by a basic technique. So I would say take more training classes, keep practicing, keep learning, and you'll always improve and get better. And I've found I'm still not a world-class negotiator. I'm still working on it. I'm still not a great martial artist, but I'm still working on it. I think it's a lifelong journey. So yeah, the more you practice it, the more you do it, the better you'll get and the more rewarding the whole negotiation process can be. So I think those are my closing words of wisdom.

Rob Cox: Excellent. Well, Eric, thank you again for your time. This has been The Confident Negotiator Podcast. Thank you for listening. We'll see you next time.

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