I was recently speaking to a client, a person I have been coaching for about six months. This coaching assignment has been focused on the subtle aspects of persuasion. He is relatively new in his organization, and has wanted to work on how to better influence his colleagues, without coming on too strong. Many of his colleagues know each other well, and have worked together for a long time. As the “new guy” he has wanted to be able to influence and build consensus, without being seen as pushy or aggressive.
This has been one of my most interesting and satisfying coaching assignments in a long time. We spend all of our time talking about how to understand an audience better, how to anticipate questions, objections, motivations. We are focused on the real (and yes, subtle) art of persuasion.
In our most recent conversation, we talked about a few different negotiating styles. We were discussing a style that I learned from my Dad, where he would always decide ahead of time on the things he would give up in the negotiation, but then hold firm on them initially as if he cared about them a lot. Later on, he would “give in” on things he had already decided didn’t matter to him, seemingly letting the person have some wins without ever giving up anything that really mattered to him. My Dad was a master at this.
We also talked about a style that I learned from an old colleague at US Sailing named Charlie. Charlie was one of the best fundraisers and negotiators I ever met, and what set Charlie apart was that no matter what he wanted, (and he always wanted something), Charlie was focused on letting everyone in a negotiation walk away feeling like they won something. He always wanted people to walk away with their dignity, and feeling good. Not only did he get what he wanted most of the time, but people always felt good about it, even when he had “undressed” them in the negotiation. Everyone always wanted to come back for more with Charlie. He was brilliant.
And as my client and I discussed these two strategies, he said something fascinating to me. He said, “When someone reacts in a negotiation in a way that you didn’t expect, there are only two potential reasons to consider. Either you don’t really understand what is motivating them, so their disagreement seems strange. Or they are just stupid/crazy/uninformed.” And he then went on to say “the smart and savvy negotiator will always assume that the former is true, rather than the latter. The smart and savvy negotiator will always try to understand better, rather than just discount the other person.”
Bravo… perfectly articulated. This applies to so many different elements of communication. Seek to understand, don’t just disparage the person who disagrees with you. This approach is more respectful, and will help you build enormous credibility, as a colleague and a person.
Have a great day.