The Leadership Value of having a “We Will Agree” mindset
One of the key competencies of an effective leader is the ability to negotiate, influence others and manage conflict. Achieving success in such negotiations, however, can be difficult, as multiple barriers often get in the way. How a leader navigates these barriers will, in many cases, determine the outcome.
Many years ago, while working on resolving labor disputes, I had the good fortune of meeting a management attorney during negotiations that were particularly challenging. The union leader involved in the dispute happened to be very difficult to work with, throwing up obstacles, grandstanding and, in general, slowing down the process, thus avoiding or at least trying not to effectively address the issues at hand. Negotiators who had previously dealt with him would come away frustrated and unable to get him to focus on resolving issues. This attorney, however, took a different approach. Rather than get frustrated or emotional as others had, his approach was from the beginning based on the mindset of “We Will Agree”.
As we first started he declared, “we will find an agreement during this session”, meaning that all outstanding contractual issues would be resolved to the satisfaction of both the management and union. His mindset was focused on insuring that an agreement was reached, and even though this appeared impossible given who he was dealing with and the issues being addressed, it enabled him to overcome any barrier that was thrown in his way. For example, when an issue was being discussed and the union leader became emotional and began to orate about the unfairness of the management position, he would calmly listen, let him say what he wanted to say without interruption or challenge. Instead, when the union leader was finally finished, the attorney calmly asked “how are we going to solve the overtime problem”? To our amazement, his approach worked. While prior negotiators in dealing with this person would become impatient, make threats, become emotional or throw up their hands in frustration, this attorney’s approach resulted in the union representative feeling he was being heard. Importantly, it did not allow him to use emotional reactions as a way to stall or hinder progress but got him to recognize that decisions were not going to be made based on emotions and compelling him to discuss practical solutions.
The attorney, through his “We will find an agreement” mindset, was able to:
• Defuse emotions
• Patiently wade through and overcome any obstacle that was raised to hinder the process from going forward to agreement
• Create a sense that he was really interested in the other person’s point of view
• Help understand why they were asking for what they wanted, which enabled him to creatively think of solutions to resolve the issues
• He was able to manage the process effectively vs. having the process manage him
The attorney’s approach reminded me of a ”leitmotif” or “idee fixe”, a recurring theme in classical musical or literary composition. “We will agree” was the theme or the anchor the attorney kept coming back to throughout the discussions. Nothing threw him from that purpose. Holding on to the mindset of “we will agree” is a very powerful tool for leaders who are attempting to influence others, negotiate or manage conflict. It will help them to keep discussions on track to find mutually agreeable solutions as a basis for win/win outcomes.
What challenging people are you trying to influence, negotiate with and/or manage conflict? How are you addressing the barriers that arise during these discussions? What teams, functions and areas of your organization need to work more collaboratively and are having difficulty doing so? What is your “mindset” in dealing with these situations? Having a genuine mind set of “we will agree” alone will, of course, not guarantee success. Other principles, techniques and methods of effectively influencing and negotiating are equally essential to achieving long lasting, mutual gain outcomes. However, these outcomes will be much more difficult to arrive at without a real genuine mind set of “we will agree”.