Every once in a while, when you are deep into a discussion, you hear something that sounds like “and the eagle flew upside down.” Your first reaction is what? What did he say? If the person was talking to you, your second reaction is, am I losing my hearing? So you ask, what did you say? The person typically will give an answer that removes the initial confusion, but it will not ease the sense of disquiet that the person listening missed an essential clue in the conversation.
It is a common feeling because many times we do miss important clues. During his career, Peter Drucker would tell executives he worked with that in a negotiation the most important thing about that negotiation is what is left unsaid. When saying that, one of the things he was alluding to is that neither side takes the time to learn what is important to the other party in the disagreement.
Whether you are negotiating a contract or helping two parties settle a dispute, the truth underlying Peter Drucker’s admonition is an enduring truth. Too many times I see parties in a negotiation assigning little or no value to the other party’s concerns. Having done this for some years now, I’ve learned to discuss this issue early either in a mediation or when hired to help someone through a negotiation.
When I am brought in to consult, I make it clear that the route to a failed negotiation is taking the position that winning on all your key points is all that matters. Some years ago I assisted in a negotiation that led to an impasse because the person I was helping went into the room convinced he was right and the other side needed to see it his way. Many of you reading this already know that the insistence on being right is rarely a winning strategy.
In this instance when my client successfully painted himself into a corner, I suggested we take a break, which he readily agreed to. During our meeting, I asked him what he wanted to do. His first reaction was that he could not give up his position, that the other party would “run the table on him.” I let him talk for a bit, and then I asked him, what are the two key points the other side raised, and why were those two issues important to them?
After a short conversation, it became clear he could not state clearly why those two issues were essential to the other party. He had not learned that before sitting down to negotiate, and he had not discovered it during the negotiation. I suggested that when they resumed the discussions, that he re-set the tone by asking just one question. What is it you want me to know?
It is a simple question, yet a powerful one. Surprisingly, it is one question both sides forget to ask. I recently attended a dinner where a gentleman with a great deal of experience in this field gave a speech, and it was downright eerie to listen to him talk about solving disagreements and using language very similar the language I routinely use.
In the example above the two sides eventually resolved the dispute successfully, but it took a bit of effort to get there. (My client was young, successful, and brash). He had good control over his personal and professional life, except for his ego; which is common among very bright people.
I was reminded of this when I read the book, Multipliers, by Dr. Liz Wiseman. A number of the examples in her book resonated with me because of my own experiences in helping others to become better listeners. I urge those reading my letters to buy this book – after buying my latest book. It’s called The Battle for Ethics and Integrity in the Workplace: The Leaders Dilemma.
And this brings me back to the eagle flew upside down. When you experience such a moment, you will find you don’t have a hearing problem; you have a listening problem. There is a growing awareness of this, and more companies are providing training to their employees to become better listeners. Unsurprisingly, I find too many companies offering these classes to the wrong end of the organization chart.
It is hard to convince employees to engage in better listening exercises when those higher up the chain don’t walk the walk. Managers and senior managers have a hundred different ways of saying “make the problem go away, do it quickly, and as cheaply as possible.” We have all heard variations of that theme enough times to know it creates more problems than it solves. Still, it remains an all too common message employees receive.
The gap between agreement and disagreement won’t go away until you take the other side seriously and they perceive you are doing so. It applies equally to disagreements with coworkers as much as it does at the negotiating table.
When something you read raises a question, don’t be bashful. Give us a call. We can be reached at 346-561-0612, 832-452-8537, or at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also learn more about CDC Integrated Services by visiting our website at www.cdci-mediation.com
Food for thought: Beyond the precise meaning found in a dictionary, judgment is more than just the ability to make good decisions about what needs doing. It begins by thinking carefully and critically, which are skills that come through practice. You cannot acquire them by going to a conference or a seminar.