In the UK we’ve had some high-profile industry conflicts that seem to have been dragging on for ages (with a few more in the pipeline as well!)
We’ve seen big personalities at the forefront of these discussions – people like Mick Lynch and Grant Shapps. With a change of prime minster came a change of Transport Secretary, (the new broom being Mark Harper) and with him, what seemed to be a change of approach. The emphasis now seems to be on face-to-face discussions and the need for reform. In short, the noises being emitted sound a bit more positive.
Sometimes changing the people involved in negotiations can help to make progress, but why is that?
Whilst good negotiators should be objective (focusing on the issues with the other party’s ‘position’ rather than the individuals ‘personalities’), it’s often extremely difficult, but not impossible, to reach this level of objectivity.
The reason is that often when we encounter an ‘event’ or an external stimulus related to some form of conflict, our brains are wired to immediately look for a possible ‘hack’. This is otherwise known as a set of similar past cause-and-effect outcomes whether good or bad, which we can then overlay on the current situation. This in turn can help us to make an appropriate judgement for our current set of circumstances and gives us a possible pathway to move things forward. In a word, it’s about experience.
Now, experience can be both a blessing and a curse. When dealing with people where there are legacy issues, we may have experienced behaviours such as double standards, being economical with the truth, or even sarcasm, and ultimately the end result hasn’t been acceptable. It then becomes easy to see this person and their behaviour as the ‘cause’ and the poor outcome as the ‘effect’ – even when this might not always be the truth. If this is the case, it’s always going to be difficult to move away from this bias and prejudice that we might feel.
So, whilst changing some of the people involved might be a quick ‘hack’, it may not always be possible – we might have no choice but to continue to deal with the people we’re engaged with. If this is the case, we need to leverage our Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ) to cut through some of these preconceived notions. Firstly, we need to try and dissociate ourselves from any lingering prejudice that we might feel from previous events – this may well take time and reflection. We can try and do this by attempting to resolve past inconsistencies, reframing events or using a more positive imagery against the actions and associations with this person (or persons) past actions.
So when we might (in the past) have been waiting to pounce on comments from the other side to reinforce our biases and help support our need to win the argument – removing this judgemental mindset can help us to take a different approach. Alternatively, we can employ empathy to read the room better, focus on more actively or reflectively listening to the nuances of what's actually being said, with some relevant thought-provoking questions to follow.
This should leave us free to consider more creative and compelling ways in which we can approach the issues. The end result – hopefully we’re pitching more realistic, attractive proposals which are less likely to come off the rails.
Sam Macbeth, 29th November 2022
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