In my previous blog I provided some questions that will help you prepare for any negotiation. The questions below are supplemental. They are additional preparatory questions to help you orient yourself and ground yourself when there are conflict dynamics in a negotiating relationship. These questions also deepen your preparation work.
The questions below also function to help you get more out of any conflict that you might be in.
You will notice that many of the questions ask you to examine yourself. There are several reasons for this. Foremost, we have limited direct control over others. Paradoxically, the greatest influence on changing a situation depends upon showing up differently ourselves. Additionally, conflict presents a growth opportunity, but we have to reflect inwardly to gain the benefits of that opportunity. The questions follow.
1. What direction is my life going in? How does the conflict fit into my life?
I find that people with clarity of direction are generally less consumed by conflict or distracted by it from what matters most to them. Getting in touch with your sense of direction will assist you in making good decisions about a conflict you are in.
2. How does this conflict provoke me to see myself?
Some of the greatest defensiveness arises when the opposing party views us as having negative qualities, for example, the opposing party may have said, “You are a liar.” Rather than dismiss such characterizations, instead, consider why someone might view you in such a light and whether it is worth doing something to alter that perception.
Also, ask yourself what part of the statement is true.
With regard to truth telling, almost all of us sometimes lie, even if it is only because we are temporarily thrown off balance. Frequently, we lie so as to not upset the apple cart; we want to preserve the nature of a relationship. You will fare better in conflict if you accept your complexity and stop trying to defend an idealized image of yourself. Stone, Patten, and Heen’s book Difficult Conversations has an excellent chapter on fortifying one’s identity in conflict situations.
3. What else does this conflict have to teach me? What does this conflict have to teach me about myself?
“I will stay away from people like him – I don’t trust them” is a response I sometimes hear. Despite the fact that research indicates we are very poor at detecting how trustworthy someone else is, the statement does not represent much learning. I would be more satisfied if one of my clients were to say, “From now on I will be more careful in the contracting process.” The latter statement is empowering because it represents actions to be taken that could make a significant positive difference in several practical ways.
The second question in the double-barreled inquiry might yield, “I need to think more carefully about the kind of work I want to do”, or “I let my enthusiasm carry me away too much.” The question has generated a fundamental shift in how the person wants to orient her or himself to the environment.
4. What statements are most likely to trigger me or result in my over reaction while I am in conversation with the other party? How can I prepare to stay in balance?
For instance, you may anticipate hearing the other party say, “You are lying,” which you know is likely to be highly aggravating for you.
Emotional reactivity has a physical (nervous system and hormonal) component.
You have to notice your reaction then shift attention to one of the following: feeling yourself breath, feeling your feet on the ground, feeling the sensation in your body that corresponds to the emotion, imagining an iron rod passing down through your spine into the earth, or some other similar practice. Which works best for you? You have to practice doing it when you are not in a difficult conversation. Switching attention to the physical helps to dissipate your reaction, after which you will be able to respond more intentionally and constructively.
Having prepared yourself to self-manage, you might be able ask curiously, “What tells you I’m lying?”
5. Having reflected, what further action or reflective steps do I need to take before I am ready?
Put it all into a practical plan in preparation for negotiation. Preparation is work and it takes time, but it is well invested.