This is a guest post by Gabe Lett, FSMPS, CPSM, LPC
Most content that centers around communication and conflict resolution has to do with assessing your feelings, your body language, your decision-making process, your attitudes, and your behaviors. Not that these are bad recommendations, but they fall short of what makes the biggest impact when resolving conflict and negotiating. Where most advice falls short is that the advice focuses on YOU, YOUR feelings, YOUR body language, YOUR decision-making, YOUR attitude, and YOUR behaviors.
Many of you have heard the saying, “God gave you one mouth and two ears. He intended for you to listen twice as much as you speak.” Ears are the gateways to receiving critical information about your environment. Ears collect sound waves. During conflict or negotiation, ears are data gathering reservoirs collecting what is coming out of the other person’s mouth. Ears are your strongest weapons in resolving conflict and negotiating a solution.
To be fair, your ears are only the front-end of a process that leads to great conflict resolution and negotiation. But if you cannot get the front-end of that process right, nothing else in that process will work. Therefore, ears are where you begin.
When you focus on opening your ears, closing your mouth, and focusing on the other person, several key dynamics are put in motion:
- The other person has an end goal in mind. They have an expected outcome. What is it? You will never know if you don’t open your ears and listen.
- Once your ears are open, listen. You may hear noises coming from the other person’s mouth, but you must listen to decipher and understand what they mean.
- Listening takes intentional focus and sustained effort. LISTENING IS NOT marshaling your arguments or assuming conclusions. LISTENING IS focusing on the other person’s message, seeking to understand that message, and then syncing that message to the broader context.
- Once your ears are open, your mouth is closed, and you are intently listening, only then will the other person truly feel you are partnering with them, interested in helping them achieve their end goal.
A Real-World Example
You are in discussion with a material vendor who is angry with the contractor on your job. The vendor says in a very agitated tone, “The contractor is impossible!” Your ears have informed you the vendor is in conflict with the contractor and is angry. So you say, “What do you mean when you say the contractor is impossible?”
PAUSE – To make your ears work better, you sometimes need to ask CLARIFYING questions. You want the vendor to clarify what he means by the term “impossible.”
The vendor responds, “He rejected some of our material and it’s going to cost us more money than is budgeted for the job. We are going to lose money.”
Now you understand impossible means the contractor’s decision to reject the vendor’s material is costing them money. So you ask the vendor, “Tell me what happened. Walk me through the story step by step.” Again, you are only opening your mouth to request more DETAIL for your ears to receive.
The vendor proceeds to explain, in detail, that they delivered the ordered materials to the job site only to have the contractor stop them from unloading and reject the materials. The contractor claims the materials do not meet the specifications of the design. The vendor showed the order slip signed by the contractor’s foreman, but to no avail. The contractor begins yelling and cussing demanding the material be loaded and returned.
Without belaboring the example, we now have DETAILS AND CONTEXT from which to work toward resolution and negotiation. The same process is required once you speak with the contractor. You do not assume, but give the contractor the benefit of telling his story with his details. It is only at this point you may be able to proceed with negotiating a solution to this conflict.
Opening Your Ears Means:
- Being curious and only asking questions that help to clarify, define, and explain.
- Focusing your attention on the other person, their thoughts, and emotions.
- Partnering with others to team up and resolve a problem together.
Use your ears to negotiate a resolution!
About the Author Gabe Lett, FSMPS, CPSM, LPC
Gabe is a people person. Making friends and connecting with people for mutual benefit is what he loves. Being with people and learning about them energizes him. He uses marketing and business development to benefit his employer, his professional network, and his friends. Gabe has served three civil engineering firms, utilizing these traits in people skills to help build the business. He brings several key benefits to employers, clients, and his network. Gabe is a self-starter and likes to initiate new thinking about solving problems. He also loves working in teams and encouraging others to be their best.
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To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success