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"When your opponent has dug in his heels, successful communicators know that this is the time to step into his shoes."
Liz Simpson, Harvard Business Review

Everything - everything - in life is a negotiation. From clarifying the terms of a merger and hammering out details of a contract to determining how much we pay for our cars and if we let our kids stay up an hour later, virtually every aspect of our life and work is negotiable. Whether or not we see the results we want...well, that's another story. Overcoming resistance is a critical skill in forging satisfactory agreements. But, how exactly do you do that when your opponent has "dug in his heels"?

"Winning Over the Other Side"

To overcome the obstacles that are thrown up during negotiations, it is essential that you walk a mile in the other party's shoes. The reality is that people make decisions emotionally and justify them rationally, so you have to tease out the motivation behind their decision-making. Why do they believe X? Why are they resisting Y?

As Liz Simpson writes in "Get Around Resistance and Win Over the Other Side," "Understanding your audience means understanding...the why behind their no."

What's the Why?

The why can vary greatly. In "Why Don't You Want What I Want? How to Win Support for Your Ideas without Hard Sell, Manipulation, or Power Plays," Rick Maurer suggests that there are three levels of resistance.

  1. "I don't get it." The other party's resistance centers on interpretation. They may not see the issue as you do - or understand your method of explaining it.
  2. "I don't want to get it!" Here, emotion comes into play. Your idea causes fear or distrust in the other person. For instance, if you announce you're restructuring the company, your employees may resist because they're afraid of losing their jobs.
  3. "I just don't like you." It's not your message; it's you. This is a purely emotional reaction - and one you need to pay attention to if you have any hope of overcoming resistance.

You need to understand the why behind the no so you can start "bridging the differences." Too often, people try to convince the other party without taking the time to see where they're coming from. This is a mistake that can easily, and sometimes irrevocably, derail your negotiations.

Stop Talking; Start Listening

The definition of listening: waiting for your chance to talk? You have to redefine, and rediscover, the lost skill of listening. Dr. Xavier Amador, creator of the LEAP (Listen-Empathize-Agree-Partner) Method, says, "You don't win on the strength of your argument. You win on the strength of your relationship."

And, fortunately, you can "strengthen relationships in seconds, and easily, by putting down your rusty overused communication tools and picking up some new ones." Namely, your ears.

The LEAP Institute has trained thousands of leaders and a common, though powerful, revelation is: "When I stopped trying to convince him and instead focused on listening to his point of view and respecting it, the resistance just disappeared."

Greek philosopher Epictetus said, "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." It's an essential negotiating strategy. People need to feel validated; they need to trust you. Listening is the quickest, most effective route - and only then can you start to persuade folks to see, and buy into, your side.

Engage the Learner

All that active listening pays off. You'll hear phrases like, "I see what you're saying. "I feel as though..." or "I hear you but..." These can help you determine the learning preference of the other party. If, for instance, you're dealing with a visual processor, you'd be well-served in making your points with graphs, pictures, and images. This is how they process information; it increases the likelihood that they'll "get" what you're trying to communicate.

You don't always have the luxury of knowing that the other party is a kinesthetic learner or an auditory learner, but you can prepare. Create a presentation or tailor your communication so that it incorporates aspects of all three processing styles. It will target their preference and reinforce your message.

I Know This...

Chances are, that as a leader, you've heard this all before! Often, though, people need to be reminded rather than taught. It's easy to get wrapped up in the current situation and let these lessons go out the window. Well, when that happens, our negotiations can go right out the window too. Take some time to remind yourself of the basics of negotiations before you sit down at the table; you'll be better positioned to make your point - and achieve the results you want.

When everything in life is a negotiation, we're bound to run into pushback and opposition. The key to overcoming resistance is to listen, understand the why behind the no, and connect with people in a way that makes sense for them. Step into their shoes, and see just how far they take you.


Larry Hart

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