Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Beyond Black and White

Friday, January 14th, 2011

A few weeks ago I got a call from a friend asking for advice. She had just been offered a job she very much wanted, but she had a conflict with the starting date. The employer had told her to report in on January 3. However, she was spending the holidays with her family on the other side of the ocean and had a non-refundable ticket to return to the US only the following weekend. Should she agree to start on the 3rd or not?  “I could come back earlier, “ she said, “but that would mean buying a new ticket, which I can barely afford, plus missing my Mom’s 60th birthday party, which is a major event for our whole family.” The other option was to tell the employer she couldn’t start until a week later, but she worried that that would give her employer a bad impression of her seriousness, starting off her new job on the wrong foot.

My friend had fallen into the common trap of binary thinking—that is, thinking the only responses to an offer are yes or no. Either she could start on the set date or she couldn’t. Or, as she played it out in her mind, either she could fly back early, missing her family event, or she could show up to work a week late, raising questions about her commitment to the new job.

In fact, there were other options, had she only broadened her viewpoint a bit. The trick is to move beyond yes/no to “yes, if” (a more positive take on “no, but”). For example, in this case, the “yes, if” could be “yes, I can start on the 3rd, if I can work remotely for the first week.” After explaining the travel conflict to the employer she would emphasize her desire to get started as soon as possible. Were there any documents she could begin reading now to familiarize herself with the organization and the issues she would be working on so she could hit the ground running when she arrived in person on the 10th? Could she do any projects by email or over the internet? Would they like to have an initial meeting by phone? Were there particular computer programs she should be learning? Even if none of these proved practical, by moving to “yes, if” she would at least demonstrate a much higher commitment to the job than by simply saying no.

I often ask people what color is between black and white. They invariably answer gray. No, I remind them; every color of the spectrum is between black and white. It just depends on the light you shine on it.

Post to Twitter Tweet This Post

The Influential Leader

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Most people see negotiation as an isolated pursuit involving buying and selling. In fact, negotiating relationships is an activity we all engage in every day—and is a particularly important skill for leaders. Indeed, I would argue it may be the key skill of a leader.

The job of the leader is to influence others to work together to accomplish an objective. As I have set out in Beyond Dealmaking, the job of the relationship-based negotiator is to resolve differences and find synergies so that all parties can work cooperatively to achieve mutual gain. Not very different, are they? The relationship-oriented negotiator focuses on achieving the best overall outcome, not on winning points, just as the good leader focuses on achieving the most sustainable profits for his or her organization, not short-term gains for a single division or satisfaction for a single customer.

Achieving this level of cohesion throughout the organization is no easy task. The leader must exercise influence in every direction: upward with higher management or the board of directors; laterally with clients or customers, on the one hand, and with colleagues and other division heads on the other; and, of course, downward with staff. To focus on only one of these primary relationships is to put the company at peril. Let’s look at a few examples:

Carly Fiorina was known to be a superb manager of people,  but her neglect of her relationship with HP’s Board of Directors ultimately cost her her job. Toyota showed a surprisingly poor awareness of the importance of customer relations in the recent recall debacle in which apologies came late, explanations even later, and every communication appeared forced and half-hearted. Lehman Brothers went under the first time in 1984 because of implacable hostilities between its traders and investment bankers which ultimately created a dysfunctional internal environment. And we all have stories of leaders who operate on the old command and control system, who sustain their positions only through every higher payoffs.

The answer is that we need to negotiate relationships all the time in every direction. In the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, a leader whose influencing skills earned him the very highest ranks in both the military and the civilian government, “You do not lead by hitting people over the head. Any damn fool can do that, but it’s usually called ‘assault’ – not ‘leadership.’… I’ll tell you what leadership is. It’s persuasion – and conciliation – and patience. It’s long, slow, tough work. That’s the only sort of leadership I know or believe in – or will practice.

Post to Twitter Tweet This Post

Does Writing Make us Mean?

Monday, January 10th, 2011

As we ask ourselves why social discourse has become so antagonistic and vitriolic lately, one clear culprit seems to be our growing reliance on written as opposed to face-to-face communication. Some dramatic evidence of the effect of impersonal communication can be found in the research on electronic negotiating by Harvard Business Professor Kathleen Valley. Her findings are dramatic:

  • More than half of email negotiations end in impasse, as opposed to only 19% of face-to-face negotiations.
  • People are more prone to exaggerate, withhold information, attack, and escalate conflict when they negotiate by writing.
  • Electronic negotiation tends to be more inflexible than spoken, with far less of an effort made toward seekimg mutual benefit.

While these findings relate to negotiation by email, I believe they can be broadened out to any internet-based communication. Unfortunately, this is a disease that is more easy to diagnose than to cure.

Post to Twitter Tweet This Post

Leadership: Turning Criticisms into Agreements

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Recently I received an email from a manager asking me how to criticize his employees’ or colleagues’ without demoralizing them or creating a backlash. It’s a great question that managers have been struggling with for eons. The answer, I am convinced, is not to criticize, but to lead. By leading I mean guiding and motivating people into a more productive direction.

I have always liked the definition of good leadership given by former US President and Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower (whose negotiation style I studied for my PhD thesis): “You do not lead by hitting people over the head. Any damn fool can do that, but it’s usually called ‘assault’ – not ‘leadership.’… I’ll tell you what leadership is. It’s persuasion – and conciliation – and patience. It’s long, slow, tough work. That’s the only sort of leadership I know or believe in –or will practice.

When I teach leadership negotiation, I suggest a 5-step approach for turning complaints and criticisms into productive communication:

  1. Describe the problem— calmly, neutrally, factually, and withholding judgment. For example, instead of “You’re not pulling your weight on this project!” (which will only get the other party to think about everything that he or she has done that you are unfairly discrediting), you might say objectively, “I am told that you have missed the past two team meetings. Is that correct?”
  2. Question the cause—sincerely, with an open mind. After all, you may not have all the information. It may be as simple a question as, “Why is that?” The essential point is to listen genuinely to the answer and to take the other’s viewpoint into consideration.
  3. Explain the impact—seeking to broaden the other’s perspective by using facts or examples. In the above case you might explain, “I understand that you are under a lot of deadline pressure, but when you miss meetings it actually slows things down and makes more work, not just for you but for everyone on the team. It also is disrespectful to your colleagues.”
  4. Make a positive agreement—with the key words here beingpositive and agreement. A negative command (“Don’t do it again!”) creates  resistance and escalates tension. A positive agreement, especially one that  incorporates the other’s perspective into a shared solution, creates a psychological commitment. (e.g. “So we’re agreed that, in the future, when you have a conflict that prevents your attending a meeting, you will send a substitute with decision-making authority and personally let your teammates know in advance?”)
  5. Follow up—by complimenting them for fulfilling the agreement (or reminding them, if they seem to be slipping back into old habits). This is both provides positive reinforcement for changed behavior and shows the other party that you took their commitment seriously.

In the words of Lawrence Bossidy, former CEO of both Honeywell and Allied Signal, “The day when you could yell and scream and beat people into good performance is over. Today you have to appeal to them by helping them see how they can get from here to there and giving them some reason and help to get there. Do those things, and they’ll knock down doors.

Post to Twitter Tweet This Post

How to Spot a Liar … Maybe

Monday, January 10th, 2011

I’m deeply mistrustful of mind-reading systems for detecting liars, such the pseudo science offered up in the wrong-on-so-many-counts movie, “The Negotiator”. (“If your eyes go up and right, you’re accessing the brain’s creative centers and we know you’re full of shit.”) Ah, if only it were so easy we wouldn’t be buried in the stuff these days.

That said, NPR yesterday reported on some interesting research led by Stanford Business School Professor David Larcker on the verbal patterns of liars ( These could all be helpful in negotiating, with a major caveat. Here are the three warning signs Larcker’s team detected:

  • When asked a direct question, the liar tends to answer indirectly or change the topic (e.g. asked whether he thought it was wrong to dress up as a Nazi, candidate Richard Iott replied, “I don’t see anything wrong about educating the public about events that happened.”)
  • Liars tend to use more strongly positive words, perhaps to compensate for negative feelings. (”If all my speech is ‘fantastic,’ ’superb,’ ‘outstanding,’ ‘excellent’ and sounds like a big hype — it probably is,” Larcker says.)
  • People seeking to hide the truth will hide behind general pronouns such as “we” or “our team” rather than saying “I.”

Here’s the caveat:  I’d never assume someone is lying merely because he’s an indirect speaker or she tends to get carried away by superlatives. Both speech patterns and cultural differences are just as likely to be the cause. Asians rarely speak with the same directness as Westerners; and Americans are famous for their unusual fondness for strongly positive adjectives (“Have a GREAT day!”). Gender also plays a significant role. The subjects of Larckner’s study were CEOs, a disproportionately male group. In fact, women have a strong preference for saying “we” rather than “I”—it’s just the way we speak.

The best way of spotting deception is having enough of a relationship with the other party to know when something sounds off-key. If all at once your very direct counterpart starts speaking circuitously or, when asked about concerns, launches into a riff about what a fabulous and exciting opportunity this is, your lie-detecting antennae should start quivering. However, it has to begin by knowing the other party well enough to detect change.

Post to Twitter Tweet This Post

Ask, Don’t Tell

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Want a sure-fire method for improving your exchanges with others? Stop telling them what you think and start asking questions.

An effective negotiation—or any decent conversation—is a dialogue. That involves reaching outside of your mental box and connecting your thoughts to other party’s.

Declarative statements about your opinions, ideas or desires, on the other hand, are merely a description of the contents of your personal mental box—useful for providing information, perhaps, but not for reaching an understanding with the other party. In fact declarative statements are often so laden with presumptions that they actually inhibit communication.

If person A says to person B, “I think we should do it this way,” the communication flow ends there. B now knows what A thinks. No response was asked for or is necessary and B can remain disengaged.  If, on the other hand, A asks, “What if we were to do it this way?” B feels invited in and a dialogue begins.

If A says to B, “You should do X,” B feels not so much disengaged as resistant—especially if A has no rightful authority over B. B’s mind is likely whirring with annoyance, “Excuse me! What do you know about my situation, my goals, my restrictions, or my concerns?” The walls on each party’s mental box grow so thick that no communication can get through. A could have had a much more positive effect by asking, “Have you considered doing  X?” then following up on B’s answer with more questions to get a thorough understanding of the constraints and come up with ways to surmount them.

In short, if you want to increase your influence, learn to phrase your statements as questions. If you just want to tell people what’s on your mind, write a blog. :)

Post to Twitter Tweet This Post

How to Get That Job Interview

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Although securing a job interview doesn’t strictly qualify as negotiation, your chances can certainly benefit from using the GRASP method to get your foot in the door. Most importantly, before you send that resume out, think hard about both your and the employer’s Goals.

Why do you want THIS job?  The answer may be that you desperately need a paycheck and haven’t thought much about where it comes from, but revealing that by sending out a generic résumé and cover letter isn’t going to take you  far—especially in this highly competitive job market with employers deluged with qualified candidates. To make a strong impression with the prospective employer, you need to be able to articulate in your cover letter why you want the particular position you’re applying for, or at least a position with that particular company.  Even if you are brilliantly qualified, your résumé won’t speak for itself; you will need to clarify why the job you are seeking genuinely appeals to you, to dispel the natural assumption it is merely a stop-gap until you can find something better.

Considering why you want a particular position—the type of work you most enjoy, the knowledge or skills you hope to gain, the lifestyle you’re looking for, your career path, your need for stability, challenge or excitement—will help you to separate the jobs you really want from those you are pursuing only because your friends of family think it’s a great opportunity. By knowing your own goals you will also be more articulate in expressing why you would be the right person to hire.

What do they want? Hiring a new employee is not a duck shoot. An employer is making an investment of time and money to find someone with specific knowledge, abilities or proven potential, who will fill explicit needs, blend into the company’s social structure, and stay long enough to make that investment worthwhile. That’s why organizations write detailed job descriptions and paragraphs if not pages about their vision and mission. They are looking for a specific person.

Look at the details in the job description—then adjust your résumé to emphasize how you are qualified to perform those tasks. The point of a  résumé is not to tell your life story, but to show that you have the skills and knowledge that employer is looking for. It’s a matter of selecting  which of the many things you have done in the past that is most relevant to the current position.

If you come from a job managing a sales team and are applying for a job as a general manager, for example, you might emphasize the size of the team you managed, your range of duties,  etc. If you are applying for a sales job, however, you might want to rewrite that entry to emphasize the sales targets you hit. If it’s an international position, the entry might focus on how your sales team covered three continents and involved considerable travel on your part. And so forth. Your goal is to show how you could credibly achieve the prospective employers goals.

Finally, spend some time looking at the employer’s website and other information you can find on the net to show the company philosophy and chief accomplishments. Then refer specifically to that philosophy or reputation in your cover letter. Remember that the person reading your cover letter is a human being—and like all human beings we are attracted to people who admire us. It will certainly get you more attention than will the person who just wants a job.

Post to Twitter Tweet This Post

How to Create a Positive Connection

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Some readers of Beyond Dealmaking have said that, although they see the value of building relationships with their business partners, they don’t know how to get started. How do you develop a relationship with someone you may not know well or have only spoken to on the phone? Of course you cannot give complete trust to a stranger, but you can start to build trust by creating a positive connection.

Every relationship, regardless of depth, requires words, attitudes, and behavior that express fellow-feeling. Here is my top-ten list for negotiators:

  • Respect, friendliness, a sense that you like the other person as a human being, not merely as a means, or obstacle, to your end
  • Fairness in distributing and carrying out both responsibilities and benefits
  • Honest, open, and positive communication
  • Care and concern for the other’s well-being, both within and beyond the immediate transaction
  • Empathy and understanding
  • Collaborative efforts toward mutual success
  • Reciprocity, returning favors, responding to trust with trust
  • Open-mindedness, flexibility, and willingness to adapt to different ideas and to changes
  • Appropriate commitment at each stage of the relationship
  • Dependability, maintaining your understandings, and following through with your promises

This may seem to be an overwhelming list, but it’s actually the way we approach normal human relations. Think of even a casual friendship—say with a colleague or neighbor—and you will see that you instinctively follow all of these rules to some extent. You smile and say good morning; you show concern and care when he appears with his arm in a sling; if she offers you a gift of some vegetables from her garden, you share something with her some other time. This is the natural way human beings interact to create smooth and cooperative relationships.

Why then should it be less natural or intelligent to show the same positive manner toward the person on the other side of the negotiation table, whose active collaboration you are pursuing and whose cooperation you will rely on for your own success in carrying out the agreement? Simply stated, it’s not. The grave danger is becoming so focused on the deal that you forget the human being with whom you have to fashion the deal, the person who will say “yes” or “no” to the terms you propose, and the people who will implement any final agreement.

Post to Twitter Tweet This Post

Ten Keys to Successful Listening

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Active listening means more than just letting someone talk. It is doing everything you can to hear what that person is saying and, just as importantly, encouraging the other party to communicate. Here are ten key skills of a successful listener.

  1. Open your mind. Close off all the judgmental thoughts and emotions that get in the way of your hearing what the other person has to say. Don’t be turned off by the speaker’s style, accent or appearance. Focus on what she is saying.
  2. Pay attention. Don’t let your mind wander. Set aside whatever is preoccupying you at the time. Give your full attention to the speaker, not to other things going on in the room.
  3. Don’t try to mind read. The only mind you can read is your own. When you think you’re anticipating another’s words, you’re actually just blurring the picture with your own thoughts–and missing their point.
  4. Hear the speaker out before planning your reply. You can’t hear when you are busy formulating responses. As you plan that snappy retort you are missing important points or nuances. You don’t have to worry that you’ll lose out if you don’t have an instant reply; speakers much prefer the feeling that you have both heard and thought about what they have said before you respond.
  5. Stay calm. While this may be difficult if the other party appears angry or accusatory, it is especially important then. If he is using aggression as a tactic to shake you, he will fail. Your calm response gives him nothing to react against. If she is truly upset, listening calmly not only will reduce tension, but may give you new insights into the problem. And if he is stonewalling, listening hard to what he’s saying gives you a platform for asking probing questions.
  6. Don’t interrupt—especially when crossing language barriers, even when the speaker seems temporarily lost for words. This is especially true when the topic is complex or emotionally difficult. Interrupting is distracting, annoying and frustrating. Moreover, you’ll miss out on some important information that may have come your way.
  7. Show you’re listening. Not interrupting doesn’t mean staring at the speaker with a blank face. Appearing disengaged can be even more conversation-killing than interrupting. A conversation must involve at least two parties. Even though only one person is speaking at a time, active listeners respond with visual (e.g. head-nodding) and aural cues (e.g. “uh-huh”).  If the topic is serious, taking notes shows a high level of interest and a desire to follow up.
  8. Ask questions. Asking questions is vital to ensuring that you fully understand the speaker’s meaning. Questions show you’re interested, stimulate conversation, and encourage openness. However, questions should be friendly and sincere, aimed at clarification or eliciting more information, not poorly disguised interrogations (e.g. “Isn’t it true that…”), which will only shut the speaker down or spark an argument.
  9. Watch your body language. Looking around the room while another is talking gives the instant impression that the speaker is boring you. Also avoid making dismissive or irritated facial gestures, such as rolling your eyes, tightening your jaw or sighing–unless your goal is to infuriate the speaker.

10.  Reply to what was said. Don’t just head off onto what’s on your own mind. Finish one topic before moving onto the next. Otherwise the speaker feels dismissed and is more likely to dismiss you.

Post to Twitter Tweet This Post