Monday, October 23, 2017

How To Talk To People About Things

You may have read previously on my blog that I've been participating in an weekly evening communication workshop. I first heard about this very special class through Trampoline Hall, a monthly barroom lecture series with quite a rowdy Q&A period moderated by Misha Glouberman. His ability to read the audience and run the series is impeccable, often helping speakers through tough audience questions or digging into their chosen topic for deeper meaning.

Like any good businessperson, Misha cross-advertises a communication workshop that he runs through the newsletter of Trampoline Hall. Which worked very well for my roommate and me, since we were both lucky enough to take the class over six Tuesday evenings this Fall.

I took the class because I wanted to work on my negotiation skills. I feel that I communicate best on paper, but not as well in the moment. The class taught me many skills to keep in my toolbelt to prepare for negotiation, including how to know when to use those skills in the moment. I also learned that negotiation the process or setting of negotiation plays a big part. For example, I have influence to control the negotiation in the medium of my choosing, which can be over email or some other form of written word. Of course, that's not always possible, so there were lots of interesting cases and examples to study to understand how to work the current moment.

Read on for more detail than you ever asked for...

Class #1

We played an interesting exercise in which we pretended we were competing companies selling an object called The Pepulator. Without conversing with each other except for a quick 5 minutes in the middle of the exercise, we had to price our pepulators on a monthly basis to try to get the maximum profit possible. Since we couldn't converse with our counterparts to make an agreement on a staying at a higher price to provide more profit for both companies, we stayed at the lowest amount possible and neither company made as much profit as they could have.

The exercise was meant to show that in most situations, communication isn't necessary but certainly makes it easier for both sides to get what they want. And so we understood the theme of the class: being about effectively work with your counterpart to achieve something that both parties can be happy with. Of course, that can't work 100% of the time, but it's always worth trying.

We also discussed the notion of how trust is built up between two people. It involves a goal of high substance, and also of a quality relationship with your counterpart. If you only have one of those in mind, it'll be hard to get on the same page. If you have neither, there is no trust at all.
  • hearing a "no" in the short-term may feel like a loss but can actually lead to a future "yes"
    • the same goes for hearing a "yes" too early, you may still have some work to do...
  • try to assess the risk of striving for perfect substance and relationship - will it be possible/worthwhile to try to achieve with your counterpart?
  • be upfront about what you want, and ask the same of your counterpart
At the end of the class, we all made a commitment to be open and participatory throughout the coming weeks (both inside the class, and outside where we would try out these tools on people in our lives).

Class #2

Negotiation Concepts:
  1. Understand Interests
    - Position
    : what people ask for
    - Interest: why they're asking for it (focus on figuring this out)

    Two girls are fighting over an orange. Their dad breaks it up but cutting the orange in half and giving each half to each sister. This was useless to both girls because one needed the rind for a cake, and the other needed the flesh for orange juice.

    Identify your categories of interest:
    - common
    - differing (but not conflicting)
    - conflicting
    This tactic is your surface discovery, understanding what both sides want.

    By understanding interest, you can...
  2. Invent Options for Mutual Gain or Expand the Pie
    - focus on the maximum possible value for both parties, creating it instead of giving to or taking from the other person
    - this is where your creative hat goes on
  3. BATNA best alternative to negotiated agreement
    - discover and weigh all your possible alternatives to the agreement
    - know that your counterpart could also have alternatives, and discover those as well to better prepare for them
  4. Legitimacy/Benchmarks
    - what's fair to both parties?
    - are there external standards we can consult?
    - can we bring in a 3rd party to mediate?
We then played another exercise, involving roleplaying one of either the agent for opera singer Sally Soprano, or the representative for an opera company putting on a play. This play had a famous star playing the female lead, who had to drop out unexpectedly. The opera company had a couple choices to fill the role, but Sally is their first pick. Sally is worried that she is getting older and has already seen her golden years.

The two parties have to converse to strike some sort of deal, and neither knows the personal information or feelings of the other. In the end, as we communicated with each other in our role-playing exercise, we realized that our goals were not conflicting and we could both easily have what we wanted. The opera company wanted Sally for the role for a fair (but not too large) price, and Sally just wanted back into the spotlight. She had little need for a big paycheque, and the two were able to come to an understanding in pretty much every instance in the class.

Both parties:
  • were honest with each other at the start and didn't try to keep anything hidden
  • initiated/responded to trust and began to build an agreement that was equally beneficial to both
  • found value in the partnership beyond money (mentorship, fame, clout, popularity, improvement of the craft of opera)

Class #3

Misha told us an interesting story in which he moved in to an apartment only two weeks before a loud bar became his neighbour. He would often call or speak with the workers in person to ask that the music be turned down, and they would rarely comply. Soon enough he edged further and further to crazy and went to city hall to see what could be done on the legal side. Which was nothing. 

Eventually he caught wind that the bar was going to open a patio, which they would need community agreement in order to build. Misha saw this as his opportunity to gain some leverage, so he gathered his other neighbours (many of whom were as disgruntled as himself) and together they gathered so many signatures on a petition that they were successful in stopping the bar from being able to build the patio. In the midst of their new success, the city councillor asked them to step back into a room with the bar owners and listen to a possible approach that could benefit both sides even more. 

The neighbours were at first unwilling to listen to the councillor, but soon reconsidered since it would cost them nothing to listen, especially since they now had the upper hand. The councillor suggested that the patio permit be given to the bar owner on the condition that they would keep the noise down. Any further noise complaints from neighbours now actually had some weight to them: the bar would lose its patio license. Since the neighbours wouldn't really gain anything from the bar losing its patio (i.e. the bar would still keep them up at night with its music), the neighbours agreed and everyone got what they wanted. Apparently the bar owners never wanted the music so loud either, but they were simply bad at communicating volume needs to rowdy performing DJs.
  • Misha being nice to the bar workers at first, in hopes that they would do what he wanted, was focusing all on relationship and none on substance
  • When that failed, he moved right from relationship to the other side of substance, all the way across the scale (rallying neighbours against the bar)
  • Going to City Hall was Misha's BATNA, but it proved useless the first time
  • The patio plans gave Misha an opportunity to explore a better BATNA (rallying against that)
  • People value what they create together (i.e. the city councillor - mediator - bringing both sides together to create a better outcome)
Negotiation Concepts Continued:
  1. Discovering Interests
    Share your interests before inventing options (so you invent the correct ones)
    Ask things like "why is that important to you"?
    Share your interests and then ask for theirs
    Share your understanding of their interests and ask what's missing
    Use reciprocal disclosure to build trust and momentum
  2. Finding External Options
    Suspend commitment and evaluation while looking for a way for both to win
  3. BATNA
    Be aware of your BATNA and try to know theirs too
    Do not accept a negotiated agreement if your BATNA is better
    Strengthen your negotiation position by improving your BATNA
  4. Legitimacy
    Be prepared with outside information/tools to strengthen your case
  5. Communication
    Sit on the same side of the table, show you're working together
  6. Relationship
    Substance AND Relationship
  7. Commitment
    To the agreed upon outcome, from both sides
Curiosity & Transparency
  • listening
  • asking good questions
  • transferring information from the counterpart to me
  • being honest/upfront
  • inspiring trust
  • transferring information from me to the counterpart
Good communication requires both curiosity and transparency.

It is in your best interest to listen!

  • get over the many reasons for not listening to your counterpart like
    • focusing on yourself/what you're going to say
    • interrupting/discounting them
  • even if the other person is your enemy, you can use what they say to build a case against their wishes
In a negotiation where your counterpart isn't listening to you, don't try to keep explaining. This is when you should be listening more to their point of view, so that you can understand them and find points of common ground/mutual understanding.

Control Vs Influence
What We Control
  • how we behave
  • how we allow others to persuade us
What We Influence
  • behaviour of others
  • the process of negotiation
  • our relationship to the counterpart
  • the results of the negotiation
Try to focus on what you control moreso than what you influence.

Negotiate The Negotiation Process Itself
Who's involved? What are we discussing? When and where?
Do we agree on why this conversation is being had?

Say: "I want to share my concerns with you"
Don't Say: "Stop what you're doing and talk to me!"

The time and place of the negotiation process is not something we can always control, but we should try to create an environment that is conducive to both parties. If your counterpart is demanding your attention and you need more time, you can usually find a way to excuse yourself. Say you're going to the bathroom or taking a call.

Class #4

Four Communication Skills
  1. Inquiry
    Ask questions, learn information that will help you negotiate
  2. Paraphrase
    Summarize what your counterpart said so they know you've heard them
    Could work well as a question, asking if you've gotten it right
  3. Acknowledgement
    of their thoughts/views/feelings (without agreeing necessarily)
    try to move from BUT to AND
  4. Advocacy
    explaining your point of view
Try to keep away from advocacy. You may have different views of what happened, and both think the other person is wrong. It's not about who's right so much as a question: "Why do we see things differently?" Move away from winners/losers, you both can work collaboratively.

Ladder of Inference
We don't see the world as it is, but a lens based on our experiences. We filter and select information, moving more and more into areas that are not necessarily reality.

Try to stay away from assigning blame as the goal of your negotiation. Instead of focusing on the past, focus on the future of learning and improvement.

Know that when people do things, we assume intent but all we know is impact. It's possible that their intent was not the impact at all.

We then played an exercise in which we roleplayed one of either a manager of a company that develops video game software, or the female employee who has just been promoted to head of a department. The manager has chosen to give this prized project, the creation of a casino game, to the new, somewhat untested department head because she will have the opportunity to succeed and gain the respect of her peers. In the end, the project went poorly due to a series of factors, involving the manager not playing enough of a mentorship role and the department head not accepting help from her coworkers because she felt they were being sexist (she is the only female in that role).

The two parties have to converse to discuss the department head's performance now that the project is complete, and it becomes clear that neither party has all the information. The manager is unaware of the sexist comments and general exclusive nature of the other department heads, and the department head thinks she was doing her best without much in the way of instruction. Basically, there is a story that each person has in their mind about what happened, with a lot of inference and assumption, and when the two people come together to discuss, they come to a new understanding of what happened.

Class #5

Negotiating the Process
It's like having a meta-negotiation about the process itself. In order for the negotiation to succeed, both parties must agree on the process. Use the same steps that you would in a normal negotiation. Ask questions and be transparent. Ask if now is a good time to have the negotiation. If not, ask if there's a better time, or why this time doesn't work. There may be a separate interest from the position the counterpart takes, that they're not saying.

Third Story
We're both in a difficult situation that we'd like to get out of.
  1. Your Story (contains at least a little assumption and may be at any level of the ladder of inference)
  2. Their Story (also probably contains some assumption)
  3. Third Story
The third story is one that you create together with your counterpart. You both reach an understanding and uncover facts that were missing before you started the conversation. This will allow you to create a solution to the problem together, and in a way that works for both of you.

We then played an exercise using this third story. There are three rounds, with two roles for each. Let's call the two participants A and B. A has a negotiation coming up, and needs to prepare for it.

Round One: B interviews A about the negotiation
Round Two: A interviews B, with B playing the role of A's future counterpart
Round Three: A and B act out the negotiation, with A playing the future role of their counterpart and B playing A's future role

Class #6

My classmates had wonderful examples of how they'd attempted to use the class tools in situations in the past week.
  • one person laid the cards on the table by bringing up an issue that their counterpart might be thinking about, and reassured them that it wouldn't factor into their work
  • one person overprepared with a bunch of options, but only needed the first thing they prepared (this shows that we actually can prepare the first thing we are going to say)
  • one person did their best to stay in the data pool (without climbing the ladder of inference)
  • one person admitted that they were wrong about something right at the start of the conversation (which inspired trust from their counterpart)
  • one person began by agreeing on the process ("This is a thing that's happening. Can we talk about it now?")
  • one person was upfront about something that would put them in a better light in their counterpart's eyes (why not!)
What happens when emotions are high?
How do you handle a difficult conversation when your, their, or both of your emotions are high? You go into reaction mode, the conversation becomes less about curiosity than winning or losing. You're not your best self and you're unable to see the situation from outside of it.

What doesn't work?
Avoiding the subject, repeating your case over and over, or being passive-aggressive all don't usually work in a situation like that.

What can work?
De-escalating the issue is the key here. Try to find a way to take a break, even if it's your counterpart who needs the break. You might have to make an excuse like a bathroom break. You may want to get a mediator involved, or even try to acknowledge both of your emotions to try to control them again. Repeat your mantra: "there is a third story here". Stay away from attributes like "always" or "never". Note that you're too upset to negotiate when these rules start to seem stupid to you. You can even try setting a goal at the start and ensuring it doesn't change.

What happens when they don't want to talk?
Try to find out why not.
Maybe they're too important to talk to you, or don't respect you. Or maybe they think they know what you're going to say.

What can work?
Give them a reason why they should care about what you have to say. It may not be the same reason you want to talk to them. Ask them why they don't want to talk to you, and try to match their communication style. Perhaps they would prefer you email them, or talk to you another time. If all else fails, find a BATNA.

What happens when there's a power imbalance?
Such as a parent, teacher, boss, landlord, doctor etc.
No matter what the outcome could be, it's important to stay calm and be curious and transparent. Try to say what's on your mind and even negotiate the process to skew the power a little more to your favour. Focus on their interests to get them to inch toward yours.

Overall: The thing I will remember most from this class is that it takes two to tango, and that both sides need to understand the other and work together to find a true solution that will suit both sides. 

The Most Important Thing: Listen more. It will almost always benefit you to listen to the other person.

No comments:

Post a Comment