January 1, 2012 – Today is New Year’s Day, a time to contemplate resolutions for the coming year. Topping many lists are traveling to foreign countries and learning a new language. And what’s the biggest challenge in traveling to a foreign country? First and foremost is the difference in language, which more often than not is as foreign as the landscape. Indeed, the ability to effectively communicate while traveling can spell the difference between a great vacation and an awful one.
What about communicating while at home? We are, after all, social creatures who are inherently tied to our linguistic ability. We experience and learn about the world and other people through our use of language. Miscommunication and misunderstanding might be expected while speaking a foreign language. But how is it that we, even while speaking our native language, so often misinterpret and misunderstand each other? The source of our misunderstandings and misinterpretations often lies in unshared premises and assumptions. We might use words differently from one another. Our agenda in our discussions or negotiations might be different from our partner’s. In short, we fail to speak the same language.
Jonathan M. Hyman, in his article “The Roots of Impasse in the Mind of the Mediator,” delineates four different mental modes, approaches, to explain this phenomenon:
1. Positional/distributive – I want a bigger share of the pie;
2. Value creating – I want to help you get what you want too;
3. Relationship – I want to maintain a solid relationship with you; and
4. Understanding – I want to be understood.
Essentially Hyman highlights the challenge of establishing true communication or negotiation when the parties operate from different mindsets, that is speak different languages. Learning to bridge this communication gap is critical not only for a mediator facilitating clients in reaching their agreements, but also for anyone engaged in conversation or negotiation. Consider any conversation you may have with your spouse, your partner, your team member, your boss, or your employee. Remember anytime you had a disagreement or failure to understand each other in a conversation. Think about what led to that misunderstanding. Consider how the conversation might have unfolded had you responded to what the other person really was concerned about by being aware of the mindset and understanding the language.
This is the goal of active listening. Listen carefully, read between the lines, when engaged in conversation or negotiation. Consider your negotiating partner’s true agenda, the true motivation, and then consider effective ways to address that concern. Doing so acknowledges and validates your negotiation partner’s mindset and makes a meeting of the minds and the reaching of an agreement more likely.
So much for understanding the other person. Now, what about yourself? How well do you know yourself – recognize your true motivations? You’re engaged in a conversation and you suddenly find yourself reacting emotionally without thinking clearly and painting yourself into a corner. How did you get to such an extreme position? Where, in the talk, did the communication get derailed? Assuming your goal was to reach an agreement, how did you lose sight of that goal and get distracted to the point of reverting to positional arguing/negotiation?
A more constructive response would be to sidestep the trap of button-pushing and keep a firm eye on the goal of reaching an agreement. In other words, keep a finger on your own pulse during the conversation, and stay true to your goal driven path of truly communicating with the other person. Stay on target. Remain in conversation mode. Continue speaking the same language.
Speaking the same language while engaging in serious, intense conversations or negotiations is a matter of maintaining the delicate balance – the dance – between your true agenda and that of your partner. It takes two to tango. It takes two (or more) to communicate and engage in conversation.
So this year, resolve to learn not a new language; but rather to speak your native language more effectively. Be aware of your partner’s mindset as well as your own. In short – remain in effective conversation mode, maintain the balance and enjoy the dance.
Consider the Possibilities
Adam J. Krim www.driveconsulting.net