John F. Kennedy, 20 January 1961
You met Sandy last month. She asked for advice as she prepared for a family meeting to talk about caring for her 84-year old father. But she (or you) could be entering any meeting, negotiation, mediation or collaborative session. You want the conversation to be frank but civil and ultimately result in resolution. You want to develop a plan and put the conflict or tension behind you and move on. So did Sandy.
In our last issue, we covered 1) be patient; 2) focus on the future since it’s the only thing you can change anyway; and 3) acknowledge the other side has a point. Click Negotiate-Part 1 to review that post.
Today we will look at the fact that there’s usually more going on than what’s being said in the room. Sandy’s sister, Erin, couldn’t seem to move past detailing every step involved in Dad’s care. It was driving Sandy crazy. She considered whether there was more Erin wanted to communicate than which prescriptions are taken with breakfast and how touchy the brakes are on the walker. Since Sandy’s goal was to make real progress, she paused and avoided insisting that Erin “move it along already” and contemplated why these details seemed so important to Erin.
Did Erin feel under-appreciated, believing her siblings didn’t understand what was involved in Dad’s care? Erin was, after all, the irresponsible teenager who had now stepped up and really did know more about the daily details. Maybe Erin just wanted her new role in the family recognized. Sandy also considered whether Erin wanted to impress her siblings with just how overwhelming it all was in order to secure some autonomy over decisions about Dad. But Sandy would never have known if she steamrolled past the details and failed to Affirm and Inquire. “Erin, there sure is a lot to keep up with in order to care for
Dad the way he deserves. What’s that been like for you since you live so close to him?” That simple acknowledgement (which affirmed Erin’s efforts and gave her the assurance she’d been heard), followed by an open inquiry, allowed for a richer conversation—and real resolution. Erin participated differently in the discussion from that point on, which allowed Sandy to learn more about Erin’s core concerns. They discovered where their views aligned and what needed to be further explored rather than simply talking past and over each other.
Employ this simple tool the next time you are involved in a family meeting or other negotiation: Affirm and Inquire. Note what the other has been trying to communicate, as best you understand it, and then inquire. Ask yourself, “Is there something more this person wants me to understand?” And then ask questions genuinely designed to increase your understanding like, “What has that been like for you?” Or “What am I missing?” Or, “Do I have that right?”
Let us know how you use this tool in your next negotiation!
Wishing You Wisdom,
Deborah Bennett Berecz