Category Archives: Interpersonal skills

Hope or Trust (Faith)

Scientist Dr Lauren Oakes poses this question to her peers:
“When you think about the future in terms of environmental change, how would you distinguish hope from faith? Do you experience either or both when thinking about the future (of planet, humanity, or self)?” From: In Search of the Canary Tree, The Story of a Scientist, a Cypress, and a Changing World

Exploring our responses to her question, you may not resonate well with the word faith. If you don’t, swap “trust” for “faith”.  Which is stronger. You might like to look at your writing, I suggest that people who start a sentence by by saying “I hope …” change it to “I trust …” and see if that generates more a positive than tentative tone to the sentence.

and what of the phrase “I guess…” which many people use, either because they are not completely confident, or they don’t want to come across as arrogant. With a critical audience it can leave them wondering – even subliminally – if you really do know your stuff.

Lastly, the differences between “I think…” and “I feel…”.  The former tends to indicate a more general truth, while the latter a more personal truth.  Neither is right or wrong, both can be useful in the right situation.

Conversation – for converging not converting

What if we had conversations with the purpose of converging our ideas, rather than trying to convert others?  Then instead of two ideas we could have an new and interesting third idea.

With just one change of letter we can have a whole new experience of conversations in business and at home.

Thanks to Desmond Sherlock for a great idea and a great interplay of words. I look forward to learning more in Rethink Perfect.

[How] are questions better than affirmations?

Thanks to John Campbell at Growth Coaching International for the link to recent research into the benefits of asking questions before doing a task, versus making affirmations.  The research shows that asking “Will I…?” helps generate more internal motivation and success on tasks than stating “I will…”

I am also an advocate of asking “how will you …?” or “how can you…?”  when managing others, so it would be interesting to know whether the “how” provides even more benefit.

By the way, the link to the underlying research led me to the Science Daily website – which looks like a great source of updates for a research junkie like me and led to another article, which I will review tomorrow.

Will I test this out on myself this week? Hmmm it would be helpful to see if there was a difference.  But will it work if I know what I am doing?  I will just have to try it and see.

The ultimate negotiation strategy

What do you do when negotiating – start high, low, be tough or tender? A lot depends on whether you are negotiating in a ‘once-only’ situation – say buying a house – or a situation where you will deal with the person or organisation repeatedly. Research shows that in repeat negotiation situations ‘tit for tat’ is the ultimate negotiation strategy.  This updated version is an enhancement that really covers all bases – tit for tat with gratuitous friendliness.

The traditional tit for tat strategy says to start cooperatively then match the other party’s response (but don’t escalate).  For example: “this is what’s important to me, what do you need for this to be a success for you too?” If the other party acts co-operatively, you do so too.  If they act aggressively / selfishly, you act assertively by stating the minimum you need to feel that the arrangement is beneficial.

However it may still escalate, e.g. if the other party say “it’s my way or the highway” repeatedly. So when things seem to be getting out of control, the skill of ‘gratuitous friendliness / forgiveness’ means you can call a halt to the escalation.

Examples include “let’s take a step back”, “I think we are furiously agreeing here”, “let’s check in what we both agree on”, “we seem to have gotten off to a rocky start, let’s start over”, “I’m sorry if I have misunderstood”.  All these friendly / accommodating phrases, now make even more sense as ways to break a spiral of aggression.

To find out more: Search for Anatol Rapoport the creator of tit-for-tat or Robert Axelrod whose tournaments showed tit-for-tat and ‘tit-for-tat-with-forgiveness’ were superior negotiation strategies. Or read these popular posts from Psychology Today and Stanford University

Above the line / Below the belt

Above the line / below the line is a commonly used concept to talk to managers and employees about what sorts of words and behaviour are helpful / not helpful in the workplace.

I have devised a facilitation activity entitled “Above the line / Below the Belt” which explores this concept through mock debates.  If you would like to recieve a copy of the instructions for this activity, send an email to sharon[at]

Would you be willing to try something?

Flicking through Robert Cialdini’s latest offering – Yes! 50 Scientifically  Proven ways to be  Persuasive and came across the section on the hypothetical questions.  I have long recommended it as a way to soften a request and avoid an outright “no”.  Cialdini and his colleagues Noah Goldstein and Steve Martin, say that there is an additional benefit to the hypothetical, – it encourages consistency, so people are more likely to be consistent with their hypothetical views.

So rather than ask “will you support this change?”, a hypothetical question asks “would you be willing to consider supporting this change?” and to cement the consistency, you can further ask “what do you think will be most beneficial for you about the change?”

So, would you be willing to try this in the next week? We’d love for you to try it and tell us what happens.

Humans are hypocrites – use this knowledge

In a recent interview with business philosopher and author Paul Hawken in BOSS magazine, there’s a “phrase bite” I loved about greenwash – “Hypocrisy is one place to start… It’s human nature to start with little white lies [about your intentions] before you actually change what you really do. So business is telling lots of white lies, and not so white ones. But pretty soon people ask them questions and one thing leads to another.”

I presume he’s talking about the power of our need to appear consistent and how we can use that need.  Let’s look at two ways we can work with ourselves and others and deal with hypocrisy.

Firstly, the traditional way, is to point out the gaps between our rhetoric and our [lack of] actions and trust that embarrassment will generate some change. I used to do this all the time (even to myself) and now I’m not so sure it works. It raises our defenses and the temptation for senior people is to use the power of their position to shut the questioning down. It takes a big person to respond well to this sort of questioning and most of us are normal after all.

The second way is to point out the inconsistencies in a way that keeps reminding the person how great it is that they want to change. If we allow everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume a gap between belief and action, rather than a lack of belief, we support people to take actions to regain consistency.

So let’s all keep reminding ourselves and our leaders how great it is that we’ve said we intend to improve the workplace and environment and contribute to social justice, and support us all to really walk our talk.  Which reminds me I said I’d donate to …… time to take some action.

Read the full transcript of the BOSS interview with Paul Hawken at

Google Robert Cialdini for more information on consistency as a tool of influence.

How to deal with Shafters

I was talking to a colleague recently about collaboration and we were lamenting how hard it is to stay in collaborative mode all the time. He said: “if I think they are a shafter, I go straight for the money – e.g, “sorry this is no longer a conversation, we are now consulting and my fee is…”.

It reminded me of the book “The New Negotiating Edge“, by Gavin Kennedy, who talks about red (shafting) and blue (collaborative) behaviour. Certainly many of my course participants want to know what to do when they have to deal with “shafters”.

The classic response pattern in game theory is “tit for tat”, which somehow got a bad name where I came from. Maybe it got overridden by the catholic mantra “turn the other cheek”, which a buddhist monk once described as strange behaviour. He said “I don’t understand this strange behaviour. If someone throw a rock at me, I duck”.

In essence tit-for-tat means: start co-operatively, then match the behaviour of the party you are negotiating with. If they behave co-operatively, so do you and if they behave competitively, so do you.

For more ideas, here’s a good article about how to deal with ‘shafters’ of all varieties.

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To be influential – be influenceable

I’ve been running a number of workshops recently that revolve around enhancing participant’s influencing skills – for those in matrix management situations and those in technical or professional advice roles. I’ve been struck by the difference between what I call ‘service oriented’ people and ‘professionally / technically oriented’ people. The professionally / technically oriented participants value and are rewarded for being “right” while the service people are valued and rewarded for establishing relationships.

What seems to happen is that technically oriented people, confuse being “influenceable” with giving in and so resist the message that they can become more influential by being prepared to be influenced by others.

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Scissors Paper Rock – Dealing with Avoidance

At a recent Negotiation Skills course I ran, some of the group wanted to know more about how to deal effectively with the “Avoiding” conflict mode. The following day I played scissors, paper, rock and made the connection – every conflict mode has a mode that can “beat” it. Avoiding “beats” Competing because it doesn’t allow Competing to ‘win’, just as Competing usually ‘wins’ over Accommodating, because Accommodating gives in too quickly or for the sake of the relationship. For more information on the TKI conflict modes, check out the Kilmann website.

It took few weeks longer to make the obvious connection, even though I have been preaching the technique for years – starting co-operatively means Accommodating can ‘win over Avoiding (in the positive sense of winning over).  Accommodating just needs a bit of patience.
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