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We give you actionable advice so you can elevate your influence through purposeful negotiation—helping you overcome the hurdles you face in business and life to become even more successful.
Aram and Nolan tackle a listener-submitted question today: A former student of Aram’s has proposed an operations redesign. Unfortunately, however, her supervisor is resistant. How should she handle it?
It’s a frustrating situation. The former student, now an MBA, knows her idea could potentially increase productivity among new hires. Regardless, her supervisor seems uninterested. She wants advanced, practical advice. That’s what the NEGOTIATEx podcast is here for.
It can be tempting to scowl back at the other side. However, don’t. It’s impossible to change someone else’s mind without first understanding their perspective.
Try to get into the other party’s shoes. Aram cautions against assuming that someone is “evil, crazy, or stupid.” Instead, start from the assumption that they’re acting in their own best interests.
Those interests may or may not be contrary to yours. Most people begin negotiations by planning a case to make from their side. Meanwhile, without some knowledge of your counterpart’s interests, success is unlikely.
Language is meant as a bridge in negotiations, but sometimes it can form an unintended roundabout: Ask yourself what they are most likely hearing from you.
Next, consider how saying “yes” could have a real or perceived negative impact on them. This, in turn, could explain why a “no” could be beneficial from their perspective.
Therefore, try phrasing your question in the worst possible way to yourself.
For example, the manager may be hearing the employee and wondering, “Should I agree to something that is unnecessary? Will create more work and possibly make me look foolish if it fails?”
Other factors, like the time and resources, potentially involved could be concerns. The supervisor could even feel threatened by a good idea from a junior employee. None of these are verified, but they are all worth consideration.
We can’t be certain of the other side’s interests unless they share them. Nevertheless, in a pinch, we can speculate, based on the most common issues.
Once you have a possible understanding of their choice, you can start considering changes. Don’t assume you have a 100% grasp of their side; it’s probably an educated guess.
At the same time, you are closer to understanding them when you started. You at least have an estimation of the other side’s perceived costs and benefits.
Go back and try to make the proposal satisfy their concerns. Seek ways to shift how they are hearing your question.
Are there concerns around time? Address those. Are materials limited? Specify the most exact numbers possible with a sense of economy.
Aram’s student should probably alleviate accountability concerns, as well. This means detailing exactly how—and explaining explicitly why—her idea won’t create headaches for her supervisor.
Nolan and Aram share additional insights in this episode of the NEGOTIATEx podcast. Questions to email@example.com are always welcome. Don’t forget to drop by negotiatex.com and leave feedback, either. There’s a downloadable prep tool there for you.
Your time’s important to us. Thanks for listening!
Nolan Martin : Welcome to the negotiate X podcast. I am your co-host and co-founder Nolan Martin. And with me today is the man, the myth, the legend- he hates when I say that- Aram Donigian. Aram, how are things going in New Hampshire?
Aram Donigian : Good Nolan. They're still cold. Yes, I do cringe every time you say that.
NM : I'll try and definitely minimize that. Cause I know you hate it
AD : They're good. They're good. How are you doing? I'm doing
NM : All right. Going to have a freakishly warm week and for anybody that cares or has been following the podcast, we have found three great homes for our foster puppies. So they have, they are moved on and things are going great.
AD : That's good. Good to hear.
NM : So I'm excited for today's episode. One, because it's another question from one of our listeners and that always kind of pumps me up. That one, someone's actually listening to our podcast. So that's awesome. But then two, that we're actually providing some value, which is the whole point of this podcast. And it's a former student of yours. So another one of me and my peers. So it's awesome. So they reached out to you recently, Is that right?
AD : That’s correct. You know, one of the best things about teaching negotiations is that I often hear back from students because it's something they're all involved in. So I get to hear about the great things they're doing. I get to hear about the new challenges that they're facing. So in this case, it's one of, one of my former students, now well, on her way to a successful career, heard the podcast and, and had a question for us.
NM : Yeah. So I think in kind of how you decided that we're going to try and handle this one is actually to get into the other party's shoes during the negotiation. So typically we look at negotiations from one perspective, but to answer this question, we're going to look at it from the other person's perspective. Is that right?
AD : Yeah correct again, Nolan. You know, I hear from a lot of clients as well as, you know, students, but clients in any number of industries that getting into the other party's shoes, taking their perspective is really difficult to do now. They know it's important. They know they need to, because they know to understand interest, to understand perception, they gotta do it, but it's just really hard to do. So today we're going to talk a little bit about how we do that.
NM : Alright. So I'll try and read this and that kind of screw it up, but basically a little background for kind of the question. So your student earned her MBA about a year ago and immediately got hired into their current company. A major focus for her has been operations redesign project to increase the employee productivity. So it sounds like a pretty great opportunity, especially for a new hire and it's going to be something innovative and also have a pretty profound impact for the organization.
AD : Exactly. Yeah. The project redesign was focused on some database formulas and features, the mechanics that if we revised would yield, increased, you know, performance metrics, so they could report to management to help management with decisions they're making. Unfortunately the rollout has stalled a little bit and that's primarily because of some resistance that my students supervisor is putting up around reviewing the proposal, but also considering how best to implement it.
NM : Great. Well, not so great. Um, so what does, uh, what, what should she do if, you know, she's meeting this resistance?
AD : Well I think that the general advice is going to be pretty obvious to most of our listeners, right? And in most instances like this, I would encourage somebody to really step into the other person's shoes and really consider, you know, both how the other party is maybe preparing or thinking about this upcoming negotiation, but also like how, how am I going to engage them? I think it's impossible to change someone else's mind unless I first understand where they are at.
NM : Now, that's gotta be kind of more difficult to do than say, because I know that I definitely struggle with this. It's always like, especially with Type A personality, I just want to kind of convince them to see how I see it. So how can we be effective and kind of getting into the other person's shoes and seeing it how they see it.
AD : First thing I like to do is I like to make myself pause and just ask why, why is this person saying no? And I find that rather than assuming that they're evil, crazy or stupid for saying no to this brilliant idea that I have, that I, it's more beneficial if I can start from a point of assumption where they're acting in their own best interest. Even if that does not make sense to me or it's not what I would do.
NM : Yeah. It seems like a change from how we often approach these types of situations, at least, you know, like I said, for me, it's a definite shift.
AD : Yeah, it is. Yeah. One funny thing too, is that when we sent you into the assumption that the other person is crazy evil or stupid, it's never that we are okay. It's always, it's always, they, they've got to be for not seeing the things the way, the way we do. The problem here is that most of us spend the majority of our time preparing to influence someone by putting our case. And, and if we're good, right. If we prepare well, we're going to put together our case really well. We're going to think about all the reasons that they should say yes. And we're going to discount why they're saying no. So in contrast to this, I find it really helpful to consider what do they actually hear me saying? What's the question that they hear me asking them and how might saying yes to that actually have a real or perceived negative impact on them? And that explains why a no in their mind may be maybe beneficial.
NM : Yeah. So in this kind of example, that we're running through to help out your former student, like what is her supervisor hearing as she kind of runs through this proposal?
AD : I like to frame the question that I think the other person is hearing in the worst possible light, um, to really try to understand why a no makes sense. So maybe in this case, it's something along the lines of, should I agree to something that is unnecessary will create more work, and possibly make me look incredibly foolish if it fails.
NM : Yeah. I think some other considerations that I can see is, you know, how much time are they going to have to devote to this project? How much resources are they going to have to devote? Some of the things that come to mind is do we even need to change or is this a change that we need to work on right now? Or, um, is someone junior to me coming up with a better idea that it makes me look ineffective as a manager? I mean, these are some things I can imagine that the managers kind of working through in this case.
AD : That's right. Yeah. Well, I know might have perceived benefits, uh, such as continuing to place personnel, um, energy and, and, and, uh, and team efforts on things that have immediate importance, uh, clearly remaining the team leader and not rewarding a junior person for, uh, possibly stepping over their authority and so on. All those are benefits of saying no.
NM : Yeah. So then what do you do with your possible understanding of, of their choice?
AD : That's a good, that's a good, uh, word choice on your part Nolan. Because it's possible, right. It's my best understanding is just a guess of what they're thinking. It may not be accurate, okay. I may not fully understand how they're seeing their situation, but I'm very likely closer to having an idea of what they're thinking now that I've at least paused and tried to consider their view. So now that I have an idea of what's the question you're hearing the perceived benefits, or sorry, the perceived costs of saying yes. Perceived benefits of saying no. Right? That's what you and I were just chatting about a little bit. I go back and I try to find ways to make the proposal satisfy their concerns, so that we can shift how they are hearing the question. I really want to come back and address that question. Are there ways I can reduce, you know, the concerns around time or resources needed. Maybe keep a focus on my supervisors, key concerns and priorities. Ensure that accountability, uh, for implementing the ideas, doesn't create more headaches or work for my supervisor. These are things I'm going to need to address as I attempt to re-engage.
NM : Yeah. Is there anything else you do in preparation after you have a better idea of how your counterpart may be seeing the situation?
AD : Yeah. Once I've stopped and I thought about the other person's thinking, by the way, this, what we're talking about is easy enough. It can be done on the back of a napkin. I've done it in that, in that way, when it's been really quick or, back in our military world on the back of an MRE box. But it's, uh, something else I'd like to do if there's time. I like to actually rehearse what the conversation, um, it may sound like. But rather do it from my perspective, I like to try to negotiate from there. So get a partner and, and negotiate from my counterpart’s perspective.
NM : That's pretty interesting. So your student is going to be, you know, negotiating from your supervisor's perspective and then someone else negotiating from the students.
AD : Yeah, that's right. Yeah. Again, it's just a shift. It's a different way, to prepare them how we typically go about it. But the goal here is to really get in the other party's shoes. Right and this, this can be a powerful way to do that. I've done this with both military and corporate leaders, and it's a real powerful thing. When a leader, after doing a rehearsal in this way where they're negotiating or where a real world counterpart says something like, wow, is that what I sound like? I'd be saying no to me as well. Or is that what they're thinking? Like, no wonder they're saying no.
NM : Yeah. I think, uh, it's I imagine it's pretty eye opening and you get kind of a really critical perspective, especially when you're like seeing it from a completely different side of the coin there. So I can only imagine, uh, what you find that is helpful for when you're at the table. As you prepare, you know, before you get to the table.
AD : Yeah. So two things, Nolan first, I like to ensure that I bring to any discussion, but particularly difficult conversations, tense conversations, um, a balance in those conversations of inquiry, which is genuine curiosity about how the other party views something. Acknowledgement, showing not saying I understand, but actually showing the other party that I understand, both the kind of the content, the substance of what they're saying, as well as their kind of emotional reaction to it, their feelings. So acknowledging those things. And by the way, that doesn't mean a good acknowledgement doesn't mean, I agree with their perspective. It just means that I do on a various sincere, uh, and deep level understand where they're coming from. So inquiry, acknowledgement, and then certainly advocacy. And when I advocate, I'm going to advocate clearly, directly, succinctly, and also with some humility, being open that I may not have all the facts. So it's a balance of those three things.
NM : Yeah. I think when I kind of think about the past kind of pre, you know, negotiations course and learning about this stuff... I would say that I would do advocacy, not necessarily humility in advocacy, but I don't think I would do much of the acknowledgement or even the acquiree. So I imagine most other people probably struggle with that as well.
AD : That's really true. That's a very fair wager on your part.
NM : Yeah. Well, thanks. I, I just don't know that it can take a lot for me personally, to not prioritize, you know, my own perspective and to actually slow down, ask the good questions, really listen, and then be able to articulate what I heard and then to really let the other person know that they've been heard. So that I can test that and kind of show them that, that they've been hurt, you know?
AD : Yeah. That's, I think it's a very natural response for us. In fact, many people get into selling and debating approaches in these sorts of conversations and selling debating are perfectly fine in the, in the appropriate context. I don't find them particularly helpful in trying to understand someone else's perspective. Same thing with advocacy. Advocacy is great. We need to be able to advocate really well for our perspective where we're coming from. It just doesn't lend itself to really helping us improve our understanding of the other party's concerns. So in the example we've been talking about, I would encourage my former student to come up with some really good questions to ask their supervisor and then use both the power of inquiry and acknowledgement to demonstrate a willingness and a desire to comprehend their view.
NM : So I know we've talked about this in the past, Aaron, I'm not sure if it's something you want to bring up here, but the ladder of inference, is that something that applies here?
AD : Yeah, it really does. So the ladder of inference, I wish I could claim some credit for this. It's not at all my work. That's the work of Chris Argyris and then built upon by Vantage over the years. Very simply put, the ladder of inference is a model for how we think, how we observe something and observe data and then infer give it meaning. And so we look at the situation, we look at some pool of information, we select out certain pieces of information that are more relevant to us than other pieces of information. Then we make sense of that information through some lens, some interpretive lens of experience, beliefs, our values, our culture, our position, past experiences, all those things are going to impact how we interpret information. And then at the very top of the information is where we come to a conclusion. So it's how we infer. It's how we give meaning to some set of data.
NM : So how do we find this model? Like how is the ladder of inference helpful?
AD : It's a helpful illustration for me to look at something in a situation and understand how I'm thinking. And the other person that I'm dealing with also has a ladder. And it's easy for the two of us in difficult conversations to get stuck at the top rung of those, of those at the conclusion level and just debate it. And then that tends to be very ineffective, going back and forth, arguing over two different conclusions. What we find is that it tends to be a lot more productive to work down each other's ladders, understanding each other's interpretations and the basis for those interpretations, maybe looking at what information we both are selecting or have available to us and so on. So it just becomes a more productive conversation to, to walk down the ladder.
NM : I think this kind of goes back to earlier, we were talking about how it's difficult for a lot of people to kind of hit those other two parts from advocacy and that's acknowledgement and inquiry.
AD : Yeah. I mean it really is. I mean, to move beneath someone's conclusions to their interpretations or to the information they have available or looking at I'm going to have to inquire and inquire well. The best negotiators are those who tend to ask the best questions. And then those who can really listen well, that's a, those skills asking good questions and really listening for both what is being said and what isn't being said tend to be really helpful. So I have to really check that I understand their ladder too, and that's the acknowledgement piece, doing those things kind of buys me the ability to then move up my ladder through effective advocacy. Here's the information I'm looking at. Here's how I'm interpreting it. Here's the conclusion I'm reaching. What am I missing? Yeah.
NM : So with your former student, maybe she has different information than her supervisor regarding the effectiveness of their current procedure versus what she's recommending, or maybe she's based on the positions or time with the company, a different understanding of the resources involved or time required to implement. And all these things are leading them to different conclusions, the different outcomes.
AD : That's a really nice summary. You know, the ladder of indifference by itself does not solve any problems or differences, but it will help us, or in this case help my student and her, um, her supervisor to better understand where they're at. Engage in a more constructive conversation so they can actually come to a better resolution of the problem.
NM : I think, think what we discussed today of, of really being able to look at this problem from the other person's shoes, you know, this is just one of the things that really helps us elevate your influence through purposeful negotiations, just kind of something that's our tagline here at negotiate X and hopefully the listeners as you listen to these podcasts, hopefully you're getting something from it. And it's just kind of helping you elevate your game. If you're interested, we offer the one-on-one services for negotiation. Aram or I are able to play that opposite role, help negotiate with you as you act in your counterpart's shoes. So with that being said, this is a podcast that is all about delivering value, helping you negotiate better in business life and in conflict. So with that, Aaron, what are some key takeaways for our listeners today?
AD : Yeah. Thanks Nolan. Listen folks in the face of different perspectives, we need to work to understand the other person's story. Each of us tells a story about what happened. We may have different information or different interpretations or have different information, often ambiguous information, and we will be making, we always do this, we make assumptions about what information is missing or even what it all means. So different conclusions in any context, professional life, personal life, they're inevitable. So we truly should not be surprised when these situations arrive, debating conclusions, it's unpersuasive, it escalates conflict. It hurts the relationship. So we should seek to understand the other person, their story. It can help us generate new insights that will strengthen the relationship, it'll lead to greater creativity, and it truly will help us resolve conflict. Yep.
NM : And, uh, and I just have two takeaways today. And first one is to inquire, acknowledge and advocate. It's really going to help you build that stronger relationship during the negotiation process. And number two, as always, if you listen to this podcast for a little while, you know what I'm about to say, but please head to apple podcasts or wherever you listen to this podcast, give us a five-star rating. We're really, we're really growing. We appreciate the reviews that you're leaving us. It's really helping us out in getting this podcast out to other aspiring negotiators or people that are just trying to influence their negotiate game. We really appreciate the question that we had today. It allows us to, to answer a question on it was something on your mind. That is it for us on today's podcast. If you have a question like this that you want us to answer, just shoot us an firstname.lastname@example.org and we will see you in the next episode. So thanks.
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