Five ways to set yourself up for a strong resolution
In the last post we looked at a few reasons why you might find your conversation going backwards as you get closer to resolution, and what to do about it. In this post, we’ll look at some ways to prevent it from happening in the first place.
If you want to reduce the chance that your conversation will stall or backtrack just as you get close to an agreement, you can take steps to make whatever agreements you reach along the way stronger. This will prevent you from getting to the end of a negotiation thinking you’ve reached agreement, only to discover that you haven’t. And it will also help you avoid situations where you do reach an agreement, only to have the same issue arise months or years later.
- Let everyone talk. Obviously, some limits apply to this. There are people who will talk forever if given a chance. But most people will stop talking once they’ve fully expressed themselves, so creating the conditions for people to fully express themselves is usually more efficient than rushing them. Those conditions vary from person to person. An enthusiastic talker probably just needs you to be patient while they take a little more time than you think they should. A more hesitant one might need you to actively draw them out – never assume that a quiet person is an agreeable person! Some people need follow up questions and encouragement in order to tell their whole story, while others will feel interrupted if you ask a question. Notice what people need in order to participate fully. And provide time for sharing at different points in your conversation, because you may have participants who aren’t comfortable at the start, but warm up as you go along.
- Express understanding, and be open to correction. You can let someone talk all day, and if they think you didn’t understand them, the time was wasted. Listen carefully, not just to the facts, but to the meaning and emotion underneath the facts, and check to make sure your understanding is correct. Understanding the motives and values underneath facts and positions makes it possible for you to move forward in a direction that works for everyone. If you have multiple participants, encourage others to express their understanding, too.
- Discuss every issue. This seems obvious, but it isn’t. It can be very tempting to skip something, either because it isn’t important to you, or because you know it is going to make resolution harder. If anyone in the group thinks something should be addressed, address it, even if you’re only agreeing to talk about it another time.
- Don’t get stuck in your own perspective. Two people can be in the same conversation and have a totally different idea of what is being said. When you are sharing your thoughts, be as clear as you can be, because other people will fill in your blanks with their own assumptions. And be aware – and skeptical – of your own assumptions.
- Check for agreement whenever you think you’ve reached an agreement or finished discussing an issue. Do it clearly, out loud, and be open to clarification or correction. Remember that if you react badly to clarification or correction, you reduce the chance that people will feel comfortable correcting you next time, and that could lead to an “agreement” that isn’t really an agreement.