Bears (2)

Negotiating as a Leadership Skill

Deborah Stollery

Did you realize that you are in 5-7 negotiations per day?  “How can that be,” you ask?  Well, whenever you hear the words “I want” or “I need”, you are in a negotiation.  Your pulpit plea for catechists for the year usually  begins with “We need.”  When a parishioner or staff person asks, “Do you think you could do…?” there is the unspoken “I need” or “I want.”  That means a negotiation is underway.

At the Global Leadership Summit 2019, we heard from Chris Voss, a 24-year veteran of the FBI.  He served as their lead international kidnapping negotiator.  At first, I was skeptical that I could learn transferrable leadership skills from a former FBI agent, but soon learned a lot of good negotiating phrases.  I was so impressed with Chris that I bought his book Never Split the Difference.  Let’s see what Chris has to say.

The first thing you should do in a negotiation is to hear the other person out.  Listening leads to connectedness with the other.  Listening in a negotiation is a way to apply empathy:  the desire to understand where someone is coming from.  It is not taking on their position or their emotional state.  Empathy is related to the Holy Spirit’s gift of understanding.  It is different from compassion, the willingness to suffer alongside another.  Empathy is the desire to understand. 

A second negotiating skill is mirroring what the other person said; that is, repeating the last few words of what the speaker said.  This approach keeps people talking.  It’s a simple technique and helps to expand the conversation by indicating you are carefully and thoughtfully listening to understand.

A third negotiating skill is to practice silence.  This means you should be willing to go silent by having effective pauses in the conversation. This gives the other person time to think.  It also gives you time to manage your own emotional responses and so to maintain an empathetic listening posture.  Two out of three of us are uncomfortable with silence.  Notice how the assembly will squirm when there are long silences between the readings or after the homily.  We want to fill up that space.  Remember, silence serves these important functions in negotiation:  rest, thinking, and emotion management.

A fourth negotiating skill is a reminder:  Don’t say “you’re right.”  Your assent permits the other person to just shut up.  Say, “that’s right.”  Think about the difference.  When someone says “you’re right,” you think the negotiation is over and you have won.  It’s a definitive declaration of assent to a whole set of ideas.  What a skilled negotiator wants to do is to continue to have the conversation.  So agree with segments of a conversation, with an idea or an observation to foster continued conversation.  Don’t agree with everything.

A fifth negotiation skill is to refrain from saying, “I understand.”  That’s what someone says when they want you to be quiet.  Since negotiation is based on building some trust through ongoing conversation, continue to see to understand by asking questions like, “What makes you want that?”  or inviting additional response by the invitation to “Tell me more.”  And remember, asking someone “Why?” will make them defensive and will likely elicit frustration or silence.  Stick to “What?” questions.

Sixth in the negotation skillset offered by Voss:  Be likable.  You are six times more likely to get the outcome you prefer if you are likable.  You’re more likely to negotiate with someone friendly than with someone who causes you to be defensive.  Voss caught my attention when he said we do not have control over whether the other person likes us, but we DO have control over our likability:  smiling, listening well, being approachable and curious, expressing vulnerability appropriate to the situation, and being open to connections.

As the interview with Voss was drawing to a close he offered two last pieces of negotiating advice.  Ask open-ended questions and be honest about the situation.  Open-ended questions are those that begin with “How?”  They trigger in-depth thinking.  They slow thinking.  In a negotiation you don’t want the other person to bounce around inside her/her thoughts like a BB in a barrel.  Questions that slow thinking make space for the conversation to keep going with the other person doing most of the talking.  That’s why asking a question that can be answered with a yes or no is a mistake when negotiating.

Finally, be honest about the situation.  If you feel a negotiation is slipping away, call it out.  Say something like, “I feel that I’ve not earned your trust.”  That alone lets the other person know you have been listening actively and are paying attention to the movement of the conversation.  Naming your observation, and then asking “What?” or “How?” can strengthen a slipping connection

Negotiation is a way of life for us, whether you’re asking for catechists, buying a car, trying to get your child to go to bed.  Learning these key techniques can make the effort at negotiation successful.

Imagine the negotiation every catechetical leader has every year:  the need for catechists.  While there is no guarantee the person will say yes at the end of this interaction, what if it sounded something like this:

You:  Hi David!  How are you?  And how are your wife and children?

David:  I’m fine and they are great.  Thanks for asking.

You:  What ever happened with Susie’s knee injury? (Hear the other person out to build a connection.)

David:  Tells you some of the story.

You:  Wow, how much time and energy did that take from you and your wife in these last weeks?  (Learning where the other person is coming from and strengthening the connection.)

David:  More than we thought it would, what with doctor’s appointments, imaging and then the physical therapy…

You:  Wow, physical therapy.  (Mirroring.)

David:  Yeah, We’ve just got a few sessions left.  Hoping this is all done before school starts so she can return to volleyball.

You:  Say nothing (Silence.  Allow David to shift gears and address what he thinks is the reason for you talking with him.)

David:  I’m guessing that while I know you care about Susie, you are wanting to ask me something?

You:  I do want to ask you something, but the timing may be a little off given all that you’ve had to do this summer.  (Assent to part of what he said, but refrain from saying “You’re right.”)

David:  It’s okay.  Go ahead.  What’s on your mind?

You:  The parish’s need for parents like you to work with our young people this year is in the role of weekly catechist.  (Ask for what you want and then invite more conversation.)  What comes to mind when you think about this?  (Keep the conversation going.  Move from immediate resistance which is an emotional response, to slowing down the conversation and asking for thoughts.)

David:  Says things like he recognizes the need, that it’s important, that he is not sure he can commit, and that he feels under-equipped to serve.  And he says all those things very quickly and with increasing intensity.

You:  So you are feeling a little cautious about this, like you don’t have what it takes?  (Mirroring and re-phrasing a little.)  Tell me more about what you are thinking and feeling.  (Continue to slow the conversation down and move it from emotion laden to more thoughtful.  Use of an open-ended question.)

David:  I just don’t know.  It’s so much.  I love kids, and I know this is important…but I don’t know.

You:  I sense your uncertainty (Be honest about the situation.)  What can I do to help you feel more comfortable considering this role?  (Focus thinking and keep the door open.)

David:  Well, maybe if I could see the materials and the calendar?

You:  Smiling, and touching his arm, you ask him to give you a minute to get those items for him.  When you come back, you bring him not only those items, but a booklet of prayers for Susie and a cup of coffee for him (Likability.)  Thanks so much for considering this.  Will you look through these materials, pray about this and talk with your family?  Could we talk again on…(Ask for specific action and a time frame.  The negotiation is still open.

Negotiating is a leadership skill!  ConSpirita Consulting Network is available to offer coaching and mentoring to increase your capacity for just this kind of interaction.  Contact us for a free hour of consultation.

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