Understand that the tongue can conceal the truth, but the eyes–never!     Mikhail Bulgakov

Learning to function in the midst of a crisis takes skill and a few white lies. It was a skill I had to learn quickly to survive. I discovered that people love to pry into your private life, offering advice and pity and I didn’t have time for that. My focus was the health of my husband and newborn and lacking energy for anything else a few lies were told. These mostly related to business to get through the next phone call as efficiently as possible and back to the reality of caring for a terminally ill loved one and hungry one month old.

I recall the situation clearly as one of our largest clients called and asked for an ‘urgent  meeting tomorrow’. My definition of urgent had changed dramatically and nothing relating to business could currently be deemed as that. Urgent now was an incontinent husband in extreme pain that needed immediate attention or my son’s nappy that needed changing. So the lies followed. Why couldn’t I attend a meeting in the city? Interstate travel commitments; a major tender due; on site rescheduling issues due to weather, they were all feasible just untrue. Did I feel guilt? A little. Could we still work remotely and achieve the same goal? Definitely. I understand that some people just love face to face meetings and I would too given the time. It’s always better to connect with your clients in person.

Sitting in the car on the way to another medical appointment with our genuis neurosurgeon my client called, “Is now a good time to chat about the project?” Sure – but not really, I thought. Fortunately my son was asleep in the back seat and my husband was dozing in the front, I also unusually had some time up my sleeve. She wanted to discuss the inclusions for an upcoming 18 month project – every line item – and asked me to justify the cost of each. Frustrated and not having the fee proposal in front of me, I asked her what the query was. This wasn’t a new project but an extension of scope as the project had been delayed. I knew she was fishing for a discount. We discussed each item in detail then the question, “why are we paying the same about as the original proposal when it’s just an extension?” My reply bluntly, “we are providing the same product and service.” “But shouldn’t we get a discount?” she started again. I think normally I would have entertained the idea but given my boys could wake any minute I had to wrap up this call and the appointment was only moments away. Getting them both out of the car efficiently was now the priority.

“Unfortunately we can’t offer you a discount as we are providing the same product and service and there is a lot of work involved. I understand if you can’t afford it and don’t want to resign.” I couldn’t believe the words that had come from my mouth. “But we can’t just stop mid project.” I asked her to reconsider the proposal and the value it added to her work and get back to me. “But we need to discuss this now!” She was getting agitated and I didn’t have time. “I’m sorry but we’ve just spent 20 minutes discussing this and I have another meeting to step into. I’ll leave it with you. Please let me know how you’d like to proceed.” There was a silence on the other end, not ideal but necessary. Then she asked again, “When can you come in for a meeting? We really need a meeting.” “Sorry I really have to go now. Goodbye.”

Easing my son out of the car in his capsule to not wake him and sliding my husband’s arm around my shoulder for support, his 6’3” frame leaning heavily on me, the three of us slowly made our way in. I took a deep breath; the three amigos. Who would have thought I’d be negotiating major contracts in a carpark while trying to keep the two most important people in my life alive.

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