Think of the most bull-headed, stubborn individual you have to work with. Someone who seems to deliberately hamper progress...throw up barriers...destroy possibilities. Have you got that person in mind?
Okay, think of the last time you "won" a battle with that person. How did it eventually get resolved? Did they give in? Did you over-power them? Did you go underground and work around them? You "won," but was it satisfying or fulfilling? Is this the way you want to operate into the future?
Now think of the last time they "won." Was your viewpoint really heard or fully considered? Did they ignore your concerns? How did you feel...during the process...and when it was over? And here's a tougher question: are you determined to be more "ready" for this adversary the next time you have to work with them? You probably are. That's a normal reaction.
Rather than spend a lot of time and energy learning to be more persuasive...a better negotiator...more assertive ...or more "political," let's get to the heart of the matter. The secret is actually a counter-intuitive, four-step process that makes them right!
That's right. Make sure they know you know what they're contributing to the success of your organization. Acknowledge the value they bring to the situation at hand...their skills, talents or attributes that will be useful, even essential. Be specific. Give them full credit.
Most importantly...make sure they "get" your acknowledgment. Often people find it difficult to accept acknowledgment. They "brush it off" with some comment like, "It's just my job." Don't settle for that...for a very selfish reason: People don't really go forward ...at least not for long...until they've be acknowledged for what they've accomplished in the past! It's human nature. And you want this person to go forward! So make sure they get your acknowledgment of their contribution.
How do you do that? Let's look at the diagram.
As seen in the first line, if you're right...they must be wrong. If you "win," they loose. While the results may be momentarily satisfying for you, they have a different reaction.
Based on their reaction, rest assured they will want to make certain that next time, as shown in the second line, they're right...and you're wrong. Their strategy will be designed to strengthen themselves to ensure that outcome. And they'll probably take some glee in the result if they're successful.
Again, this is a pretty normal cycle in the competitive world of business. The problem is that in the end you and they both get very good at making each other wrong...and ultimately you reach the third situation... you're both wrong...you both loose. That produces nothing of value.
Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not suggesting you lie, coddle, or be hypocritical. But when you think about it, it's actually fairly easy to make them right in many ways. For example:
They're RIGHT from their perspective. That's how it appears to them. They're RIGHT that there's an underlying problem or concern. They're RIGHT that what you're doing about it isn't getting you anywhere. They're RIGHT that you both would be better off if you resolved it. They're RIGHT that this situation is frustrating. Etc., etc.
Once You've been able to demonstrate to them that you're genuinely giving them this much validity and credibility, they're probably going to be much more willing to create and continue a productive conversation. They've got a lot more space to maneuver in.
That new space is fertile ground for mutual agreement and genuine alignment. This is the space where you can enroll each other in a whole new way of addressing the issue. From here you can...
It sounds a little stupid, but more often than not, we don't know what our adversary really wants! Ask!
Fisher and Ury give great techniques for getting this information in their classic, Getting To Yes. Dig into that for more clues, then...
"Are you willing to go on?" If they're not willing, you're not going to get any further in this process, so you might as well quite wasting your energy. If they are willing, you stand a great chance of enrolling each other in a genuinely new and productive future!
Isn't that what it's all about? Isn't that what you wanted in the beginning? If so, stop making the other person wrong...and get on with making everyone right! The change will be instantaneous and dramatic.
So the secret here is to acknowledge their contribution, make 'em right, find out what they want, and see if they're ready to go on. The payoff is you'll never waste your energy trying to "convince" anyone of anything...ever again! People aren't "convinced." They simply align with...and contribute to...possibilities they find compelling!
© Dick Barnett, 1995, Barnett & Kutz, Inc.