Really good negotiation skills and knowledge won’t completely do the trick. Learning the mechanics of confronting successfully usually isn’t enough. Deeper conflict resolution toolboxes only get you part of the way there.
You’ll still be missing a crucial 25% (maybe even up to 50%) of the puzzle. Without that missing piece, you can’t be fully on your game. And all the terrific conflict resolution and negotiation tools, techniques and skills in the world won’t really make much of a difference in your life.
My first hint of the missing piece came when I was asked to redesign and teach an interpersonal conflict resolution course to mediation students in 1999. I loved teaching that course and the students loved taking it. They ate it up. They sang its praises. As the semester progressed, they talked enthusiastically about what a difference this material would make in their lives and work.
Then we got to the second-to-last week of class. On the last day of class, they would be doing presentations I’d assigned on the very first day of class. They’d had three months to prepare and do the assignment and they could have done it anytime in that three-month period. In the second-to-last week of class, I reminded them of the upcoming presentations. Everyone got very, very still.
That’s interesting, I thought. So I asked: “How many of you have completed your assigned conversation? I’m not asking how many of you are ready with your presentation. I’m asking how many of you have actually had the conversation you need to present on next week?” Two hands went up. Many eyes stared at the floor. From the expressions, I could see plain as day that this was not just typical student procrastination.
Other hints followed and they stacked up quickly, now that I began to watch for them: The organization that asked me to teach their project managers how not to avoid important conflicts. The human resources association that brought me in to show HR managers how to confront more forthrightly. The negotiation course where I watched students ace even the most challenging salary and contract negotiations in class but continue to avoid even easy negotiations outside of class. Information and skill weren’t making as much a difference as they should have been.
Of course, the missing piece wasn’t just in other people’s lives. I looked back and could see a trail of the same missing piece littering some of my negotiations and attempts at confrontation and conflict resolution over the years: The large chunk of change I’d left on the table when I negotiated the salary of my first job out of grad school, even though I had damn good negotiation skills. The badly handled confrontation with the president of a college I worked at—where I taught conflict resolution, for goodness sake. The list was humbling.
I took that missing piece and faced it head on. I worked and worked on my inner game. I didn’t get it right all the time (and still don’t—no one can), but I got it right more and more and more. I learned what worked and what didn’t.
Then I took what I’d learned on myself and made a dramatic change in the way I taught conflict resolution workshops and graduate courses. I made similar changes in the way I handled my clients’ fear and anxiety in mediations.
And very gratifying things started to happen. As my clients began to master their inner games, their negotiations got more successful and they began to deal with conflict much more effectively. Confronting began to be something that was no longer feared. In my mediations, I watched clients shift their own behavior in order to access their best problem-solving and clear thinking. My coaching clients got better results much sooner than before.
And that assignment in Interpersonal Conflict class? I started teaching my grad students far more about mastering their inner game and I taught it much earlier in the semester. Procrastination of the assigned difficult conversation, the single largest piece of their grade, plummeted, while satisfaction with the results of their difficult conversations soared. And that’s been a recurring result for over a decade now.
Mastering your inner game during conflict, confrontation, and negotiation is learnable. And this is why I created Calm, Cool, and Collected, the online course I’ll be opening for registration soon. No need to be my grad student. No need to travel to one of my workshops. I’m bringing the material to you.