Have you ever been bursting with a great idea, only to have the door metaphorically shut in your face? I call those dialogue-stoppers “door closers,” and while they’re often delivered in a way that sounds firm and permanent, the right question can often re-open that door.
In conflict and negotiations, people reject ideas and solutions for reasons like these:
- The solution doesn’t meet an important interest of theirs — or they don’t see how it does.
- The solution was offered too soon, before they’re ready to be amenable after a long period of tension.
- The solution solves a problem different than the one they care about solving.
- They view the solution as unfair.
- They feel judged, diagnosed, manipulated, etc, which makes them more inclined to stonewall.
When we sense someone resisting, it’s tempting to push harder or try to help them see the light. It’s often much more fruitful, however, to try first to understand the rejection. When you try to understand instead of trying to push, you continue dialogue instead of engaging in figurative battle.
Here are examples of door reopening questions and invitations for such moments:
- Help me understand your thinking…
- What about that solution missed the mark?
- Ok, you’re clear that it can’t work. But if it could, what would it take?
- What would turn the idea from something unworkable into something possible?
- Let’s sleep on it and see if a better solution occurs to us when we’re rested. Can we plan to meet tomorrow at 9:00?
Seek first to understand, as Stephen Covey said, then be understood.