There has never been a more polarizing time in the Philippines, at least as far as I personally remember. Aside from the COVID-19 situation and how the government is handling it, there are a few “controversial” (to say the least) developments happening and a lot of people are not taking it lightly. On the other hand, there are likewise a lot of people who support the government’s decisions and will apparently defend it to no end.
I’m not writing to share my opinions on the matters at hand. But I have to say the extreme polarization of our society these days really bothers me. I’m sure there have been similar situations in the past, but these days, social media has amplified it to the point of being unavoidable. Unfortunately, instead of being a platform to gain consensus and unify efforts towards better results, the internet has only seemed to make things worse, creating a larger divide between both sides.
The way I see it, that only makes it more difficult to achieve what we all want – better results.
I truly believe people on both sides of the argument just want the same thing – good governance. Unfortunately, a lot of the exchanges only serve to confuse or, worse, alienate those on the other side. I think better communication, while not a complete cure, could alleviate a lot of the pains on both ends. The same holds true not only for political issues but also for a lot of business and work scenarios.
I’ve never been a natural communicator. In fact, dealing with people used to be a weakness for me before I embraced it as part of my role as a manager. I don’t hesitate to say though that despite my limitations, I have had quite some success in negotiation scenarios throughout my career.
I’m far from an expert, but I’d like to share four principles that have helped me along the way. I believe these simple rules often lead to bringing a more effective message and improves the chances of getting people on your side – or at least to hear you out.
Don’t preach to the choir.
The first thing is reaching the right audience. Rallying people who are already on your side isn’t bad – retention and loyalty are important, after all. On the other hand, if you want to make a difference, your message could be more valuable for people who do not yet share your views.
On the opposite end, “preaching to the devil” probably won’t be productive either. It’s hard to convince someone who already believes to the core that you’re wrong. You might eventually get to them, but it’s going to take a lot of work and your energy might be better spent elsewhere.
If you want to get your point across, it’s better to start with those who are relatively neutral. Sure, they have their opinions, too, but the fact that they aren’t very vocal about it can mean they’re open to change their minds. At that point, they’re likely to be more open to listening.
Avoid shaming and blaming…
… especially in a public setting. There’s no faster way to get people to stop listening to you (or, worse, start antagonizing you) than blaming them for the problem or shaming them for their behavior.
“Blaming” manifests in more nefarious ways than outright telling people they’re causing the problem. The phrases below seem harmless but, by most accounts, will generally not get a positive response from people:
- You ought to know…
- I don’t understand why you think that way.
- Can’t you see that…
- With all due respect…
Injecting these into conversations implies an air of superiority (that you’re better than them and they should be more like you). That definitely doesn’t sit well with most people. “Common sense” is actually based on personal experiences, and there are very few things that are really “common”. In the end, the reasonable among us all want the same positive outcomes but our personal experiences and environment often tell us different stories on how we can achieve them.
Speak for yourself.
This is a common principle in conflict resolution – use an “I” statement in your argument. Not “you”. Not even “on behalf”, unless you’re actually representative of a group. The only thing people can’t really argue with is how things affect you personally as you know your own experience best.
“This affects you“, which is a common way we try to convince people of our cause, is actually often ineffective. People’s gut response could be, “who are you to know what affects me?” And that’s fair, since you probably have no idea how they experience the world around them. “For the greater good” is not very convincing either. The greater good implies a decision you’re making for everyone else. Again, unless you actually represent a group, you won’t convince anyone you speak on behalf of them.
Starting with “I need your help” is a more effective way to go. It emanates humility and vulnerability and it invites people to actually listen. If they’re decent people, they might even consider going out of their way to help you. A personal story is always more convincing than a general observation.
Make friends, not enemies.
“A temperate message is often more effective than a radical one.” This is a key thought brought up in Adam Grant’s “Originals“. In the book, he narrates the example of the women’s suffrage movement, which only started to make progress once they stopped fighting and started working with those who were holding them back.
I’ve always believed this and I think it has been key to my success in negotiations. Often, we argue with people without realizing that these people are actually on our team and want the same fundamental things we want. Your boss didn’t approve your last purchase request not because he wants to stifle your productivity, but because he wants the company to succeed and that means being financially sound. I’m sure you want that too. Start there, and build your case towards how you can achieve what you both want.
Negotiation and effective messaging takes a certain level of humility to pull off, and that’s why it’s so difficult. Often, especially when we feel strongly about a certain issue, it’s not easy to let our guard down. Learning to master these feelings, however, can lead to better communication and getting the results you want.
In case you missed the news, I’m writing my first eBook and look forward to getting it out by August. The book will be about risk management, one aspect of management that can be undesirable but ultimately a game changer. I’m giving it away for FREE on my mailing list, so if you want to be one of the first to get a copy, subscribe to my mailing list here.