Posts Tagged ‘Collaboration’

Speak, Listen, Question

Monday, January 10th, 2011

I have worked with a number of companies to improve their internal collaboration through relationship-based negotiation. We usually end each session with the staff taking part in some demonstration role plays. These have been eye-opening experiences for everyone.  Naturally, we tend to feel we are communicating just fine–and that if there is a problem it’s the listener’s fault. From observing those role plays, however, it is clear that we may not be doing everything as well or as consistently as imagined, especially in three key areas:

1. Speaking. Some people have truly mastered the friendly phrase, such as “I understand” or “I want a solution you feel comfortable with.” But if, after saying you understand, you ignore the concern the speaker just raised and launch straight into what you want to say—or if you follow your expressed desire for your counterpart’s comfort with a forceful argument for your predetermined solution—he or she quickly detects insincerity.  In fact, the other party may actually become more resistant than if you had left out those nice sentiments altogether. So does that mean you should dispense with all empathetic language? Of course not. It simply means that words need to express meaning, not just make nice sounds.

2. Listening. Would it make sense to negotiate a maze with your eyes closed? Of course not. Yet time and again I observed people trying to negotiate a complex disagreement with their ears closed. One party would state her concern to be X, only to have her respondent assure her about Y.  Why? Because the respondent hadn’t heard her. Convinced going into the negotiation that he knew what her objections would be, he had put his minds entirely into making arguments to deflect those predetermined objections. This is a trap we all can fall into, as we naturally want to use the arguments we have developed or rack our brains to think up new ones while the other party is speaking. But all we accomplish by sticking to a predetermined argument  is  to carry on two separate conversations whose points never intersect–annoying our counterparts who feel we haven’t listened to a word they said.

3. Asking questions. The biggest problem overall is the tendency to launch into a sales pitch rather than inviting the other party into the discussion by asking questions.  If the respondent expressed qualms or disagreement, the first party simply argues more forcefully. It’s an astoundingly widespread approach given that it’s so ineffective. People are rarely talked into things they don’t want. The effective negotiator spends a lot more time asking question than pushing his or her own views. If the other party appears reluctant, follow up their objections by asking what their concerns are. Then you can start working together to reach a solution. You may even be surprised at the answer.

One final tip on questions: it’s also a good skill to invite questions from the other party by not overwhelming them with information at the start. Instead, start with a short statement or question, such as, “Is there any possibility that you could loan us a couple of your staff for this project?” This will grab the listener’s attention, leading him to ask for more information. Once he asks “Why?” he had invited your explanation, not been accosted with it, and it becomes more of a dialogue.

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