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Key Takeaways

  • Two-Column Case Methodology: A concept that differentiates between what’s said publicly and private inner thoughts. This approach reveals individuals’ defensive behaviors, particularly when they skirt around confronting uncomfortable topics.
  • The significance of empathy, especially during critical feedback, is discussed. The notion of imagining oneself on the receiving end of feedback and then adopting an empathic stance during the actual conversation is presented.
  • Recognizing and owning one’s defensiveness is a significant step toward effective communication. Overcoming defensiveness can enhance personal satisfaction and improve interpersonal relationships.
  • Individuals and teams should reflect on their methods and continuously strive to be more engaging and effective communicators.
  • Preparation for Difficult Conversations: The emphasis is on clarity of words, practicing communication, and managing tone. Role-playing and anticipating defensive reactions are part of the preparation process.

Executive Summary:

Hey folks! Welcome back to the NEGOTIATEx podcast. We are continuing our conversation with  Don Rossmoore, a renowned author and a management and organizational consultant. 

In Part A, Don delved into the complexities of team communication. Drawing on decades of experience and his unique insights as a yogi, Don highlighted the pervasive challenges of defensiveness and miscommunication within organizations. 

Additionally, he introduced a transformative approach to listening — an almost meditative state of attunement — and emphasized the power of asking the right questions. Through anecdotes and actionable advice, Don offered listeners a roadmap to navigate team disagreements, foster genuine understanding, and ultimately achieve organizational harmony. 

We strongly recommend that you check out part A if you haven’t already. Now, without further ado, let’s jump in! 

Balancing Advocacy With Empathy In Negotiations

Aram poses a question about how individuals can balance listening with advocating their perspectives in negotiations. Don responds by highlighting the importance of truly listening in conversations rather than rehearsing responses or letting internal thoughts distract. He suggests that truly listening allows for more accurate and on-point responses. 

Don further touches on the value of pauses in conversation and highlights a breathing technique that he practiced for 30 years, which involves a longer exhale than inhale. This method helps in quieting internal dialogues and reducing emotional stress.

Cultivating Productivity And Genuine Connections Through Mindful Engagement

Moving on, Nolan highlights the frequent inefficiencies of meetings, asking Don for strategies to make meetings productive and foster connections among participants. The latter emphasizes the need for a well-thought-out agenda, ensuring that the topics are relevant to attendees and that there’s sufficient time allocated. 

He also suggests active summarization, fostering an environment of inquiry, and quickly addressing any negative or judgmental statements. The overarching theme is to promote mindful listening and thoughtful inquiry to enhance the overall quality and outcome of meetings.

Navigating Conversations With Authority And Tactful Directness

Next, Aram asks Don about the concept of “interrupting interruptions” from his book, especially in the context of meetings. In response, Don mentions that interruptions are rude and can alter the flow of a conversation. He has a practice of interrupting those who interrupt, which typically curbs the behavior. 

When Aram inquires about the potential backlash, Rossmoore mentions that no one has ever reacted negatively to him, pointing out an interruption, attributing this to his strong moral authority in these situations.

An essential element Don discusses is the tone of voice. He admits that earlier in his career, he had a judgmental tone, which didn’t sit well with some colleagues. Over time, he recognized the importance of voice and has since adjusted to a more balanced and less judgmental tone. The right tone can enable someone to be direct without coming across as confrontational.

The Hidden Barrier To Peak Team Performance And Transparent Communication

Nolan inquires about the concept of defensiveness as Don addressed it in his book, particularly its effect on team dynamics and productivity.

Don defines defensiveness as the manifestation of unmanaged issues that teams systematically avoid. Symptoms include acting differently than planned (often covertly), avoiding conflicts, and not addressing pressing issues. He emphasizes that every team he’s worked with, regardless of their caliber, has had their performance capped due to defensiveness.

To illustrate the impact of defensiveness, Don recounts his consulting experience with a data storage unit. The company’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) was an alcoholic, leading to delayed decisions and inefficiencies. The employees were aware but avoided addressing the issue directly. 

Upon Don’s intervention, he brought the topic to the forefront in a meeting, causing relief among the employees. However, the CMO defended himself, only for subsequent investigations to prove him wrong. This exercise shed light on the need for open communication and addressing defensiveness to improve team productivity.

Harnessing Honesty And Fine-Tuning Communication To Break Down Defensive Barriers

On a similar note, Don sheds light on the technique of a “two-column case” from his book to manage defensiveness. The method involves two columns: one for public utterances and the other for private thoughts. Initial attempts typically result in more crucial content being kept in the private column.

To illustrate, Don shares a story about an engineering supervisor who hesitates to communicate his concerns to an underperforming engineer. The supervisor is reluctant to be direct about the engineer’s lapses, believing it would be rude. This captures the essence of defensiveness, where one avoids uncomfortable conversations.

Upon Don’s counsel, the supervisor acknowledges the dilemma: either he provides candid feedback, risking rudeness, or avoids being direct, potentially allowing the engineer to lose his job. By articulating this dilemma, Don helps the supervisor realize the need for direct communication. After several role-plays, the supervisor finds the right words and approach.

Don further elaborates on the importance of words, tone (voice), and facial expressions in communication by sharing a personal anecdote with a client. He emphasizes that crafting the correct message requires multiple iterations, and even then, the tone and facial expressions play a significant role in conveying the message appropriately.

A Guided Blueprint To Navigating Difficult Dialogues With Empathy And Precision

When asked about the challenges of approaching difficult conversations within a team, Don highlights the importance of preparation and the significance of words and tone. Additionally, he mentions the following:

#1 Clarity In Expression

It is essential to articulate what you want to convey. Writing down the words ensures clarity and offers a platform for feedback.

#2 Role-Play For Tone 

Once the words are clarified, role-playing helps adjust the tone. Difficult subjects typically induce defensiveness, making the listener anxious. A softer voice can mitigate this anxiety. It’s essential to envision and write down possible reactions from the listener and plan responses to avoid being caught off guard.

#3 Self-Awareness 

It’s vital to recognize your physical and emotional state. Being relaxed and aware of one’s breathing and tension aids in effective communication.

#4 Trust And Compassion 

Creating a safe space and fostering trust is crucial for effective communication. Sharon Salzberg’s definition of compassion (from her book “Loving-Kindness”) emphasizes taking the right action with the necessary effort and addressing suffering with empathy.

#4 Empathy In Feedback 

Before delivering critical feedback, Don recommends imagining how the other person would receive that feedback. Adopting the empathic body posture one envisions can make communication more effective.

Aram acknowledges and appreciates the dual approach: internal self-awareness and external compassion. The discussion promotes a mindset shift, urging individuals to empathize and consider how their words might sound to the listener.

Unraveling The Path To Effective Communication And Self-Awareness

As the conversation draws to a close, the speakers discuss how to be great communicators. Don first talks about defensiveness. He emphasizes that everyone naturally exhibits defensiveness, and understanding and accepting this is foundational. 

While the process of discovering one’s defensive tendencies can be uncomfortable and even painful, it’s essential to confront these feelings. Recognizing, owning, and then actively working on one’s defensiveness can lead to personal growth, improved self-satisfaction, and enhanced relationships.

Aram takes a moment to advocate for Don’s book, describing it as more of a practical handbook than a traditional cover-to-cover read. It’s a resource that offers targeted guidance in areas of need, mirroring the advice Don shares during their conversation. 

Don, Aram, and Nolan discuss more on this episode of the NEGOTIATEx podcast. Write to us at team@negotiatex.com and share your thoughts on this informational podcast episode.

Thank you for your time!


Nolan Martin : Hey everyone, thanks for joining us on the NEGOTIATEx podcast. We are continuing our conversation with Don Rossmore, a management and organizational consultant. If you haven't already checked out part A of this show, be sure to do that first. Let's jump into the conversation with Don.

Aram Donigian : The students that I teach in some of my courses on negotiation are sometimes really resistant to the soliciting and inquiring advice that you've been giving because there's this fear that if I do too much of that, it's going to come at the cost of advocating my own perspective. So I'm curious here with what you've shared around good listening, good inquiry, how do you balance those things with what we would call maybe productive advocacy as we're engaging with somebody else? And do you have any examples?

The Pause Between Words: Cultivating Presence In Conversations (1:39)

Don Rossmoore : It turns out, and this requires experimentation, that the more we listen and the less we talk to ourselves when somebody else is talking, you need to trust yourself that the right answer will come up. And that's what we don't do. We don't trust ourselves to spontaneously come up with the right answer. So then we rehearse, but it turns out the quieter we are when we listen, the more on point our responses when we talk and it takes practicing this to discover it. And so Aram, let me ask you, when you're in conversation with somebody and you're talking to yourself, what's the point of the conversation?

AD : Which one? The one going on side my head or the one that I'm having with you?

DR : The one that you're having with me.

AD : Well, I think I'm minimizing the point of this conversation with you if I'm really focused on this one inside my head, I guess what I try to do with, and I would love to know how you would fine tune this, is I try to be aware that I'm having this conversation inside my own head and I try to just silence it kind of through breathing or something else, and I just listen to learn to understand, to get you. And then I'm going to have to use a pause because I don't know what my response is going to be. There's going to have to be a pause after I've listened to you.

DR : So pauses are wonderful. Silence really enriches the talk, and breathing is very useful. So a breath in which the inhale is longer than the exhale excites the nervous system, a breath in which the exhale is longer than the inhale calms and quiets the nervous system. So I spent 30 years every day sitting and facing an analog clock and controlling my breath by the secondhand. I would inhale for 10 seconds and exhale for 20 seconds. And I did it long enough that my wife says that even when I'm sleeping, my exhale is longer than my inhale. So it's a breath with an exhale longer than the inhale that really helps to quiet the internal voices

AD : Since I think I can walk and talk at the same time, I think I can breathe and listen at the same time, which is I am picking up on a cue here, which is that it would be some good advice rather than trying to manage two conversations, my internal voice and the conversation we're having at the same time, that's not going to be very effective.

DR : Yes, yes. And quieting the internal voices reduces emotional stress.

NM : So corporate communications take many forms, emails, memos, etc. A commonplace where things get discussed is during meetings and there's probably no one listening who hasn't been part of a meeting that they felt that was just an absolute waste of their time.

How do you approach meetings to ensure they don't just achieve a purpose but also strengthen connection between the participants?

From Agendas To Engagement: Building Connection Through Mindful Listening And Thoughtful Inquiry In Meetings (05:20)

DR : A wonderful question. Make sure that the agenda items are important to the people present. Make sure they're allocated enough time. Almost every meeting has more agenda items than get addressed or can get addressed. Make sure that people are summarizing. Make sure the people are inquiring, interrupt any emotionally negative voice as soon as possible. Interrupt statements that are judgmental, but mostly focus on summarizing and listening and inquiring.

AD : In your book, you talk about this idea of interrupting interruptions, and I feel that interruptions are fairly common, a common tendency, especially in meetings as we've had this conversation now and processing. It's kind of the outward, I have this internal voice that's not being managed, and this is now the interruption is the kind of, it's coming out because I really wasn't listening anyways.

Can you talk a little bit about this idea of interrupting, interruptions, why interruptions in general are problematic and how this idea can help us have more productive meetings?

Tone And Transparency: Crafting Accountable Conversations And Navigating Interruptions In Professional Dialogue (06:43)

DR : Well, interruptions are rude, disrespectful. It tilts the balance of power to the interrupters. And an interruption often changes what's being talked about. And it's interesting, every group starts off interrupting that I work with, and I start interrupting interruptions right away. And then I encourage everybody else to interrupt interruptions and they go away fairly quickly once this starts.

AD : What does this interrupting interruption sound like?

DR : You just interrupted Nolan. You didn't, but that's how it goes.

AD : And so you're just shedding light on it. And I know we're about ready to talk about defensiveness. So I as the interrupter who probably felt very justified in my interruption because my interruption was brilliant, was going to get us back on track. What Nolan was saying was silly anyways, didn't need to be. So is there a fallout with I say, Don, how dare you interrupt me?

DR : No one's ever said that. No one's ever said that. I did this training group for four years, we bet, 20 days a year. And a guy came in in the second year and he interrupted constantly and I kept interrupting his interruptions and he didn't stop, and I kicked him out of the group.

AD : How long did this go on?

DR : This went on a year. So about 20 meetings. That's the only time nobody has said, what are you doing? Everybody accepts my interrupting their interruptions. I come to a group with a huge amount of moral authority at this point.

AD : Do we also know, is there something like when I am not actually blind to the fact that I interrupted Nolan, so when you hold me accountable, right? You didn't say it in a jerky way, right? You just named what had happened. So are you actually helping me, I guess in my process management of the meeting by just shedding some light on what I'm doing here?

DR : You just introduced a really important issue, which is voice. So when I started out, I sounded harsh and judgmental. And in fact, one of my favorite projects was this integration of the three systems labs. And the guy who is heading it up is a wonderful human being, first rate character, great sense of humor, really smart. But I was still judgmental in my tone of voice. And I talked to him five years after he retired and he said, I was really glad I worked with you and I was really glad I never had to work with you again.

And it was tone of voice. And a couple of years ago, I was talking to a woman rabbi who's really smart, really sensitive, and I was talking to her like, I'm talking to you. And she said, I'll bet you can get away with murder with what you say to people. And it's the tone of voice.

NM : We've been talking about defensiveness earlier, and in your book you label it an insidious scourge for teams. How you define defensiveness? What are some of the symptoms that people should look for in their teams and when have you seen it impact team productivity?

Identifying And Overcoming Defensiveness As A Way To Enhance Overall Team Performance (10:11)

DR : Every team I've ever worked with, no matter how good they were, their defensiveness put a ceiling on their performance. So what is defensiveness? It's producing issues that need to be managed better, that are systematically avoided. It's acting in ways that are different from plan that usually are hidden. It's avoiding conflict. So there are all sorts of issues that don't get addressed systematically.

The boss's indecisiveness, the boss's abusiveness, somebody's lack of performance. In my first consulting job outside of Hughes Aircraft Company, which was with a dated storage unit, which was VC funded, which ended up being the largest IPO in history to that date, they had a Chief Marketing Officer who was an alcoholic, and the people in the marketing department said, if you want a straight answer, you got to get to him before 10 o'clock. And they called him the black hole of Calcutta because once you put something on his desk, it disappeared forever.

And two quarters after their product launch, they still didn't have a marketing plan and nobody was talking about this. Everybody was talking to me about it and nobody was talking to anybody else. So I had a meeting and I put it on the table. The night before the meeting, I couldn't sleep. I was so anxious about this. I put on my dress shirt and I drove to their place, which was 15 minutes away. And by the time I got there, I had huge sweat rings under my arms and I sit down and I put this on the table and everybody expressed relief.

NM : Except the CMO

DR : Yes, who insisted that there were at least five prospects within the 5-yard line. So I suggested that the other guys go out into the field and see for themselves, and they discovered nobody was past the 50-yard line. And then that helped them make a decision.

AD : In your book, one way that you discuss managing defensiveness is around what you call a two column case. And I know in your book you described how you've used it in practice with senior independent consultants in Silicon Valley. Could you share a bit with our listeners just what this process or methodology is and how it's been helpful in achieving behavioral change?

Empathy in Expression: Navigating Awkward Conversations with Poise (12:40)

DR : So, a two column case has two columns. One is what's said publicly that everybody can hear, and the other is what you're saying privately to yourself. And the first time, and usually the third or fourth time that somebody writes a two column case, all of the important stuff is in the private thoughts and feelings, not in the public. So a very early case, there was an engineering supervisor, this is before computers, so engineers were doing drawings, and this engineering supervisor had one guy who did fabulous drawings, but he did half as many as anybody else.

He was on the phone much of the day on personal calls or he was flirting with secretaries at the water cooler. And I asked the supervisor, have you talked to him about this? And he said, yes. And I said, say it to me like you said it to him. And he said, John, you have to improve your citizenship. And I had written down everything he had said about, and I said, what if you said that? And he said, well, I couldn't say that. He said That would be impolite. It would make him feel bad. There's defensiveness right there.

And then I said, so you have a dilemma if you tell him what he needs to know so he can improve his performance and avoid being fired, you have to be rude. To avoid being rude, you can't tell him what he needs to know so he can keep his job right.

AD : Don, that's fascinating. That sounds like you're kind of caught in a catch 22 there. How do you navigate the way out of that when saying something's going to be rude, but saying what he was saying or is barely saying nothing?

DR : Well, I articulated his dilemma for him. I let him sit with it. A couple days later, he came back and he said, I think I have to tell him. And so we role-played it and it took him about eight role plays before he got the words right. My favorite example of this is one of my favorite clients. This is aside, but I love this part of it. This woman and I, we talked on the phone for 18 months before we met and we met in her office up in Silicon Valley in San Jose, and I was sitting in a conference room that had glass walls waiting for her, and I could see her walking towards me and I could see that as soon as she put her eyes on me, she was disappointed in what I looked like. She's a very attractive woman and she's always dressed to the nines. And there I am dressed like this and I'm a yogi, but I'm a fat yogi, not a thin yogi.

So anyway, and three months later I had the courage to say to her, it looked like you were disappointed in what I looked like. And she said, you're right. And we worked together for 20 years. So she sent me an email, an email stream, and she said, what do I do about this? And I said, you need to apologize. And it took her at least five drafts before she got the words, and then it took us role-playing it for 90 minutes before she got the voice. So there's words and there's voice. There's also face in it.

NM : When difficult conversations need to happen on a team that can be frightening or awkward thing to do. What preparation is needed to show up and have the most productive discussion possible in these situations.

Operating Beyond Words: The Importance of Tone And Empathy In Tough Dialogues (16:36)

DR : Well, there's words you have to be clear about what you want to say. You have to write the words down so somebody else can say those are the right words or those are the wrong words. Then you have to role play so you get the voice right. It's really interesting because the first level of resistance to saying something that needs to be said is getting the words right. And the normal defensive response to getting the words right is to be ambiguous. And then when you go to role play, usually we come to the situation with too much tension and stress. So the voice emits from the listener anxiety.

So it's my practice, the harder the thing I have to say, the softer the voice I use, but the preparing is imagining what you need to say, writing it down, imagining what things the other person's going to say that could trigger defensiveness and then figure out how you want to respond to that and make sure that you're aware of the body that you were in when you imagined receiving the thing you didn't want to hear and then relaxing out of that. We want to be as relaxed as we can possibly be for these difficult conversations.

AD : I really appreciate this kind of two-sided approach that you've taken. So much of it starts with how I show up my own breathing, my own practice, my own self-awareness. And then you also just talked about kind of this creating a safe place, reducing anxiety for our listeners, for our audience. As you think about team communication and how do you improve it, how important is it to build trust and demonstrate compassion and how does one actually do that effectively

DR : To act compassionately? There's an American Buddhist named Sharon Salzberg who has this fabulous definition of compassion, and it's in a book called Loving Kindness. Her definition of compassion is ‘to take right action with all necessary effort while responding to suffering and injustice with empathy’.

So, what I have my clients do as part of the preparation of giving critical feedback is once they are clear about what they have to say to the person, that's critical. They put themselves in the other person's place and imagine receiving those words and it's in the body that you imagine receiving those words in that you want to take to the conversation itself. That's the empathic body.

AD : I just love that definition. I'm going to have to look this book up love and kindness, and I love how you to put myself in their shoes. What does it sound like to hear me? That's a bit of a mindset shift.

NM : Don, virtual teams and meetings are going to be here to stay. So what advice do you offer to organizations to remain successful and practice the concepts you've been discussing? Even in the virtual world?

Navigating Communication And Engagement Within Virtual Meetings (19:58)

DR : I've worked with more than 10 virtual companies at this point. One key is you have to get together regularly at least once a quarter, and you have to spend work time and social time together. Everybody needs to get their smell on each other. So that's one thing.

The other is follow the instructions in my book. And a key is for each individual to remove all distractions, have no other screens available, have nothing else you're looking at, turn your phone off and focus. And part of focusing is attend to your body, and as soon as you're feeling uncomfortable, change your posture and you need to stretch every so often. Thinking, emotions, the musculoskeletal structure and the autonomic nervous system are tightly coupled.

You change any one of them and it changes all of them. And as soon as we have stress in our body and we put up with it and it builds more stress, we're turning up the volume of the voices inside our head. It makes it harder to be present and pay attention.

AD : Don, it's amazing to me how many companies that Nolan and I do virtual programs with where there seems to be an accepted culture of we don't turn on the video and so we'll be the only two with video on, we'll invite them to join us there. Occasionally they will. Somebody might come off mute, turn video on or something, and sometimes they'll turn it on when they get into a breakout room or something. What are your thoughts about that as a kind of a cultural practice? What does it indicate about that team?

DR : At one level? I don't know. It would be useful to ask people why they weren't turning on their video, what they were concerned would happen if they did turn on their video. As you were talking, I thought to myself, I wouldn't work under those conditions, but when I started my career, I was compromising with my own values and principles all the time just to get work and to keep it.

So, it's a hard place to be. I haven't ever encountered that. But the context under which I work is I'm always working with the team and I'm working in their meetings. I'm not calling extra meetings for myself. I'm in their staff meetings, I'm in their planning meetings, I'm in their project meetings. So I would do a bunch of inquiry with people who are not turning on their video, and I'd really explore with them what bad things would happen if they turned it on. It could be that they're doing other things and they don't want to be seen doing other things.

AD : I often get the feeling that they're not fully engaged. So it goes back to the listening piece, probably goes back to multiple screens and other things.

NM : Don, as we get ready to wrap up, what final thoughts would you like to leave with listeners who are truly committed to becoming master communicators?

DR : Before I do that, I want to challenge the two of you to figure out how to be sufficiently compelling in these trainings that you do that people would want to turn their screens on.

NM : Yeah, Aram, you got to do better.

Closing Words: The Process Of Unravelling Defensiveness And Its Ability To Enhance Relationships (23:22)

DR : So we're all defensive. It's normal. It's painful to discover how we're defensive. There is enormous payback in sticking with the discomfort so you can see yourself until you own your defensiveness. I think of that as walking all the through the fire. Once you own your defensiveness, you'll find the motivation to replace it with something. And the replacing it brings enormous self-satisfaction and brings an increasing satisfaction of gratification in terms of relationships.

AD : Don, that's beautiful. And I want to say thank you for how you turned that the way I phrased the initial question certainly indicated or suggested some blame without ownership on my part. Thank you for the challenge, and again, a second challenge accepted from this episode. So thank you.

DR : You're welcome. You guys are great. It's really nice doing this with you, and if you wanted, I'm happy to talk to you about what you do. No charge.

AD : Thanks.

NM : Well, thank you, Don, for joining us today. Like turn it over to Aram for any final thoughts and closing comments.

AD : I'll just echo Nolan's appreciation. Don, thanks for taking the time. Very insightful. I really do suggest people pick up your book, find it as a handbook. I like that you say, Hey, listen, it's not a book you read all the way through. It's a guidebook, it's a handbook. Go to where you need help. It really aligns well with the advice you've given us and a few challenges that we're going to take and put into practice. But practicing things to make them a habit is really the way we overcome defensiveness or at least keep it in check. Thanks. We're going to walk away more effective because of this conversation today.

NM : Well, that is it for us on today's episode. If you could please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast and we'll see you in the next episode.

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