By Lois Phillips, PhD
Let’s face it: even with good intentions, misunderstandings do occur, whether with a new client or customer or even with people who know you well. Misunderstandings can lead to the loss of an ally, a muse, or friend. Misunderstandings are aggravating, causing sleepless nights, stress, and anxiety about meeting up at work or socially. Sometimes I find I’m betwixt and between options for the way out of the tension and it’s difficult to know what to do.
My mentor – CEO of Menda Corporation– David “Bud” Menkin offered practical advice that served me well during those occasional but painful situations that arose which threatened a professional or personal relationship. I’d complain to him “…but this isn’t fair!” He patiently listened and then would explain, “Sure, but in the final analysis (or at the end of the day) all you and I have is good will. That’s why it’s all about preserving our relationships.”
When you have the power to affect personnel decisions (hire or fire, put someone on probation, change their work schedule) or change the budget (give a raise or merit increase, buy new software, reorganize the office), you are in the position to hear only complaints. When it comes to a change of any sort, people dig in their heels to resist change or instead, might push the envelope for an even bigger change. When situations force a change, personality styles can shift. In response to a change, the critics tell us that we missed a beat: it seems that people needed more of something, less of something, or simply need something to be different, and then, an awkward rift can grow into a rupture.
Even if you have imagined what you think is every possible scenario and catastrophe, there are unpredicted changes in the landscape of every situation that require one, two, or several negotiations. This is true in familiar or unfamiliar territory. Stuff happens.
Sometimes a good business decision – what you have to do to not lose money or to make a profit– can be perceived by another person as petty. The determining factor in reaching closure in a tough negotiation can sometimes be something additional that has value to the person, something they haven’t even asked for, that doesn’t cost me anything. That ‘something extra’ such as a giving someone time off after a crushing deadline, delivering a presentation on their behalf, or filling in for them at an event may mean the world to someone stressed out who needs a respite.
Every situation has many facets, some of which are invisible to the naked eye or the closed mind. After all, you and I can only get to the edge of our limited imagination in empathizing with another person’s point of view. During a negotiation to resolve a problem or dispute, people can walk away feeling frustrated and despairing or feel heard, appreciated and valued. If they feel valued, you will reap the benefits immediately and forevermore by their appreciation.
I’ve learned that generosity always comes back to me. What goes around comes around. For example, you might find yourself needing a favor later from this very person to include:
• Meeting a tough deadline
• Covering for you in a meeting when you couldn’t be in two places at once
• Giving me an enthusiastic referral to a prospective client or donor.
My mentor helped me understand valuable life lessons. I learned that I needed to clarify expectations and contingencies upfront to avoid surprises later. Now I advise clients to ask the colleague, staff member, or friend those “what if…” questions before the actual work begins.
When in doubt, trust that a tenacious staff member, cranky colleague or customer is doing the best that they can in asking for what they want. If the request seems outrageously self-serving or terribly inconvenient, probe and get to the heart of the matter. It’s worth the time to avoid the rush to judgment.
In a good negotiation, everyone leaves feeling empowered and strengthened, knowing that it is possible to discuss awkward matters and come out the other side in good shape, not only feeling the rush of relief but a surprising intimacy as well.
When in doubt about the right thing to do, always be generous.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: There is no beautifier of complexion, or form, or behavior, like the wish to scatter joy and not pain around us. We must be as courteous to a man as we are to a picture, which we are willing to give the advantage of a good light.
Lois Phillips, PhD – About the Author: Dr Phillips is an experienced public speaker, workshop facilitator, and communication and planning consultant to executives. She is the co-author of “Women seen and heard: Lessons learned from successful speakers” about the challenges women have gaining credibility as ‘the voice of authority.’ She coaches men and women in executive communication strategies, particularly the need to regularly speak from a place of vision about a shared future in a way that is inspiring and motivational.