One of the most difficult aspects of negotiating well is to learn how to see things from the perspective of the other side. This is especially difficult when you are in conflict. But we have to do it if we want to say anything that is constructive.
One of the tools that I use to do this to try to see myself in a different way. Sure I have my own values, interests and desires. But I also try to see myself on the stage of life. To watch and analyze myself as a third person would. A sympathetic third person, of course, but outside of myself none the less. I found at first that it can be a bit disconcerting to see myself, warts and all. But one gets used to it. And I have a role model - Michel de Montagne.
Sir Kenneth Clark called him the most civilized man of the late 16th century. He retreated from the religious violence of his day, and from his tower in southern France carried on an extensive dialogue with himself and others. And He invented the essay form of writing. His main rule in this was always, no matter how painful, to see things from the point of view of the other person. He treasured this old saying (that he had etched into a ceiling beam) which is fascinating if you think about it
I am a man and think that nothing human is foreign to me.
And as for self righteousness? He said
In trying to make themselves angels, men transform themselves into beasts.
This is not the type of chit chat for the weak of heart. But it does help me to settle down and think more clearly whether an agreement might be possible even while someone is shouting at me.
FOLLOW - An odd footnote — I first wrote above that I have “interests and desires” as if this defined who I am. The word “interests” is a term of art in the field of negotiation training and that is why I used it here. But when I re-read the post, I realized that I had left out the word “values”. Values, of course, produce interests and thus are more important in forming our individual identities and passion for connecting in groups. Values energize us. For that simple reason, values can be more dangerous as a negotiation anchor especially if we think that they are not shared in a given context. In that setting, we then tend to see our negotiating partners as “outsiders” and in extreme cases, perhaps even less than human. This is one of the reasons why I criticized the approach taken below in the book entitled “Honor Code”. This is also why I like Bill Ury’s “yes, no, yes” formulation so much. It starts with an affirmation of shared values.
FOLLOW - One way to understand this better is to think of communication from two different perspectives. To break apart the communication into its substantive and functional meanings. To understand the functional meaning of the communication you need to think in terms of its effects on the listener. To do that, you need a tool to “get inside his or her head”. Voila. We have entered the intellectual world of Montagne.
FOLLOW - But how does this square with the advice one hears about building energy from finding an enemy? I have posted about this before. Here is a link to the core idea. Here is a link to a second perspective about “being in the arena”. The answer is simple. We should not take the word “enemy” too literally. It is a substitute for “opposite”. We tend to see things more clearly in terms of their opposites. Lincoln was fascinated with this idea. Indeed, it is also Hegelian. If we take over a value, we are naturally energized by seeing its opposite. It is, in a sense, our “enemy”.
But if we personalize this, we tend to reduce dialogue to melodrama and farce. This was why Michael Jordon’’s induction speech at the Basketball Hall of Fame sounded so odd. It was not because he revealed that he used the idea of the enemy as an energizing and focusing tool. He went further, defining his greatness in playing basketball in terms of personal anger towards real people (who had no idea that they had taken on this role). This tended to diminish his huge accomplishments. Back to our focus, personalizing opposition is nearly always counterproductive in a negotiation setting. I say nearly always because in some cases domination strategies can work. But it is not a pretty sight and they do not produce creative relationships.