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The Puzzle is a solution to live well, when dealing with high stress and uncertainty.
Life is a Puzzle. Master the Pieces. Live well.

Handling well difficult conversations - People's stories

#1. Failing to close a contract negotiation


The Puzzle is a solution to deal with stress and uncertainty

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The Puzzle is a solution to deal with stress and uncertainty

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The Puzzle is a solution to deal with stress and uncertainty

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The Puzzle is a solution to deal with stress and uncertainty

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1st Step


Explore the Puzzle framework


Deep dive


2nd Step


Witness how others have used the Puzzle and inspire yourself

People's story


3rd Step


1. Pick one Puzzle piece
2. Apply the tip(s)
3. Follow up on results
4. Acknowledge positive impact
5. Repeat

Deep dive


Introduction - People's stories

All People's stories are written in the 1st person to reinforce their impact.

While anonymity is preserved, all stories are inspired by real facts.

People's stories are examples, to feed you with concrete cases of how the Puzzle has been used. They are not to tell you what to think, or absolute truth: they were created with the intent to illustrate how you can transform your life with the Puzzle.

Each People’s story is presented in the following way:
Part 1. The authentic life experience
Part 2. What that same moment could have been, leveraging the Puzzle
Part 3. Decoding the story through the lens of the Puzzle framework

Part 1 - I am being hired for free!

As I started my career as a freelancer, a few people around me were interested in working with me. Which was really flattering I thought!

One of them wanted to build his company, and needed guidance to get organized through the steps. We happened to live in the same apartment building, so he naturally came to me for help. It was clear from the start he would pay me for my work. Plus, as a neighbor, I would see him almost every day, so I trusted he would be honest with me!

After 2 brainstorming meetings of 2 hours each, I thought it was starting to take too much of my time. Also, while he kept mentioning I would be paid for my work, we still had not had a proper conversation about it. And I could see from the meetings we were having that he was not the best organized person!

As the idea of having a financial discussion stressed me, after lots of thinking about how to best raise the topic; I decided to send him a short text. I said we should talk about fees before we would continue to meet. A bit sharp, but I also thought we can’t continue to avoid the elephant in the room!

His response was fair: as he had mentioned, he wanted to pay me, so indeed we should talk. I was very relieved and walked into our next meeting quite relaxed! But then, to my surprise, he had not thought about it at all. But he said that he could not pay me much, because he did not have a lot of money, and a family to take care of. Suddenly, all the stress came back on me! I also had a family to take care of! I took on myself, I stayed calm. I offered to set up different pricing models: paid by the hour? Too expensive he said, plus he really wanted me to be committed to his success. Pay me a part of his turnover? Too much risk, I thought to myself!
In the end, we settled on a mix model: I would earn a fixed fee to help him set up his company, and afterwards he would pay me a bit more on his turnover.

But then, he started calling me a lot, and wanting to meet all the time!! I felt this was really too much for the fixed fee amount we had agreed on! He was stressing me out with all his requests to meet: he wanted to be together 2 hours 2 to 3 times a week!! For 4 months, until he would launch his company! And I had already given him a good rate for about 8 hours of work - not 60 plus hours like he seemed to have in mind!!
We had a conflict of interest: while he wanted to maximize his time with me for that set amount, I, on the contrary, could not afford to spend that much time with him! How could I turn this impossible situation for me??
All that came to mind was to change our agreement - which anyways had not been signed yet! So I suggested that we amend our contract, and put a cap on the amount of hours I would spend. I also told him we could agree what I would deliver for this money, so he would still get a service he would value.

He texted me back the next day that, given my spirit, he would rather stop working with me and avoid any further contact. That text threw me in panic, as I was counting on this income, and had already invested quite some time… I tried to call back but he did not pick up.
He blocked me, never took my calls, and barely said hi when we met in the building. I really felt like I had done something wrong, and pushed him too far! I kept blaming myself for quite some time, for having lost this contract. And the stress of talking about money kept coming back, each time I would have a new customer.












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Part 2 - When I work, I get paid!

As I started my career as a freelancer, a few people around me were interested in working with me. Which was really flattering I thought!
And yet, I also told myself that people pay me because I deliver a valuable service - not just because they like me! It is a business we are talking about: while good relationships matter, money is also involved.

One of my neighbors wanted to build his company, and needed guidance to get organized through the steps. He naturally came to me for help. It was clear from the start he would pay me for my work.

After 2 meetings of 2 hours each of brainstorming, I realized I was somewhere starting to be angry at him! How come he had not brought up the topic of my fees already?! But then I realized I assumed he was avoiding the topic on purpose. I was polluting myself, judging that he was only taking advantage of me. I had noticed how disorganized he was - so maybe it was no bad intent?! Afterall, I was not in his head!

So I decided to ask him. As we can both be emotional, I first texted him that I would like to talk about my fees in the next meeting, so we would both come prepared.

He came in having no clue what he was willing to pay - and also refused all the proposals I would make, arguing he did not have a lot of savings and had a family to take care of. At that point in time, I checked how I felt - and it was a mix of being stressed, uncomfortable and hurt. As we knew one another well, I decided to share with him that I would not be comfortable continuing to support him, unless we could agree on a fair income. He asked me to send him a last draft proposal by email, and that we would meet again to discuss on that basis.

As I went home, I was still not happy with how the conversation went! I thought we could talk and agree on some amount, rather than push the discussion away… I felt like he had not been fair to me, and felt on the edge of being betrayed! And that was quite a strong reaction in context: he had said he would look into my proposal. But somewhere I did not believe him…. My intuition was telling me something was not right - or was it my Ego polluting me with a pessimistic scenario?

I decided to put a name on my issue. I landed on “I think you behave strangely when it comes to business”. …But then I realized this label was rather a judgment call from me. I had to rephrase it! I kept thinking about it, and felt it was “I do not understand you!”
There are rules in business - one of them being that you are paid for your work. Why was he behaving the way he was??
I realized I engaged with him in the first place for the wrong reasons: I accepted to work with him because he is a neighbor, not because I believed in his project. He also had never had his own business. I assumed this personal relationship would naturally morph into a business one. And acknowledged I would need to put more effort into it to make it happen.

We ended up agreeing on a small fixed fee, plus an incentive once his business would be up and running. But then, we faced quite a misunderstanding: he wanted me to spend an unlimited amount of time with him for this fixed fee, while I could not afford so.
I had to come me down, as he kept calling to book meetings.
I decided to make time for myself, and understand why I was so uncomfortable.
How did I feel about the situation? I wanted out!
Why? He was not worth my time. He was only taking advantage of me, and not paying me for the good work!
Was I sure he was in the mindset of taking advantage of me? No!
What else could it be? He is very inexperienced in business matters.
And how does that make me feel? I am very mad at myself for engaging with someone that has no experience, and no chance to succeed!
And why does that make me mad? Because I can’t help him, and at the same time I feel responsible!
Why do I feel responsible? Because I agreed to help him!
But should I not be paid for my help? Normally I should… but if he cannot afford, I should still help him!
And what happens if I don’t? He won’t make it, and it will be on me!
Do I really think all his success depends on me?! I guess not solely…
At that point, I realized that I viewed him as a child (despite his adult age!) - and that is why I felt responsible for him. And indeed, I felt like he had no clue what he was doing! But was it my problem to handle, or his? Why did I feel I had to save him?!

This thinking process helped me a lot: I decided I would view him as my equal, and that as we were here for business matters, then we were both capable of talking business. That in a fair relationship, each person does 50% of the way - and I should not feel I “had to” do more than that. Right or wrong, I came to the conclusion that I was not willing to do the extra mile.

It turned out that we never had that second conversation, as he decided we were not a fit to work together any more. As I had previously set clear boundaries in my mind about what I was willing to accept - and the consequences of not getting it - I was able to accept his decision. I felt good being clear with myself: I felt coherent, and proud to have been able to say no! And I promised myself to be more lucid, not mistaking a relative asking for help, from a business relationship!

Part 3 - The Puzzle decoder

Let's decode this People's story with the lens of the Puzzle pieces.




Sometimes, I engage in situations for good reasons, but these good reasons do not apply to the situation! For instance, wanting to help a relative and wanting to do business with him - are not the same. One involves a financial transaction, while the other is time for free.
Both are legitimate, and both involve a willingness to help - yet what is expected from my counterpart is different!

It is a lot easier to speak up in the beginning of a relationship - rather than accept something for quite some time, and then raise it as a topic. That generates misunderstandings and frustrations that take longer to clarify.

Being present helps me be aware about what is happening around me. Asking and understanding what people expect from me, whether I am willing - or even capable - of providing it. My Ego is also a strong asset in this context, as it can help me focus and read the room better.



Even though it is a professional context, emotions are still present. It can be stressful to have a conversation about my income, or any other topic that matters to me.
While emotions can be kept distant in a professional environment, it is useful that I remain connected with myself. Am I at ease with the conversation? Is this a contract I am willing to sign? Are the conditions fair to me?

When both my heart and my head are not in favor of it, then I have my answer! And I can then choose to amend the contract, or walk away. These are good alternatives to the scenario that my Ego could build up, where I would “have to” take this agreement. I always have a choice: what matters is to weigh my options, and choose the best for me at a given point in time (and therefore not blindly follow my Ego!).




When I decide to have a difficult conversation, I both protect myself and assume that I will be able to find a solution with the other person. Whether it is to agree or walk away, the outcome of the conversation will be positive for me. And my Compass is accordingly set on this expectation.

Having such a conversation requires courage - and my Ego has plenty to give me! It also means that I am taking good care of myself, as I am addressing a topic that makes me uncomfortable, and that matters to me (hence I need to fix it). Last, it matters because it allows me to set boundaries.

Polluting myself on the other hand, consists in imagining what the person’s intentions are. Or that their future depends on me. All sorts of scenarios where the relationship would be unbalanced, and the burden would rather be on my shoulders! And this is all happening in my head: the other person is as adult, and as responsible, as I am! Not to mention that they have a lot at stake, as it is about their business in the end. So it is also fair to give them the last call, whether they want to engage into a contract or not - as they are the ones paying for the service.



While I assumed wrong intentions from my neighbor, he also assumed the same from me! We both were reading the scene as not trustworthy - and such a starting assumption does not help reach an agreement.
I notice what I believe in, and in this case everything concurred to reinforce that I was right in my analysis! I could have also chosen to see that I was dealing with someone that had little business experience, and therefore more explanations and patience were required.

While I was stressed with closing the deal, he was stressed with being successful with his business! Rather, I assumed he wanted a lot of advice for a little pay. And that was the difficult conversation we needed to have: being able to assess how true this assumption was, so I could make a decision!

Mastering my life implies that I am able to make choices that suit me. That I choose what I am part of, and find that there is enough for me in it. I do not do things just to please others, I do them because I enjoy being part of it. Freedom of choice matters in a business relationship, as it means that both parties are committed to making it work!

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