Do you feel like you are negotiating with terrorists some days at work? No really — do you? If not, and everything is hunky dory for you, please move on. If not, continue as planned, because you may now be intrigued.
The pressure of work these days is intense. As AHRI’s recent Fair Work Survey shows, the legislators aren’t making it any easier on us either. We all have huge dollars at stake in our decisions, and not much time to decide about what to do next. The military deals with situations like this too, but a Code Red is becoming a daily term used in business.
In an analysis for the Harvard Business Review, three professors at the West Point Academy — Jeff Weiss, Aram Donigian, and Jonathan Hughes — identified five paradigms that help the military get through their extreme agendas, and that are skills ex-military personnel have also applied successfully in their later business careers.
Weiss & Co say the top brass get through their deepest predicaments by:
Assessing the big picture
This means soliciting other stakeholders’ perspectives on the situation, and particularly the available evidence on the terrorist’s mindset. We often have more time than we think. Under extreme pressure we need to take further time in order to make the necessary enquiries of others who may know more than we do. Taking the ‘Ready, fire, aim’ approach can end up blowing the wrong heads off.
Under pressure, top negotiators try to look strong and act like they are more in control than they really are. During this period, these ‘surface-cool’ leaders begin proposing multiple solutions, thereby extracting data on the thinking and responses of those trying to hold us to ransom.
Elicit genuine buy-in
This may seem an oxymoron. The evidence is that facts and the principles of fairness, rather than brute force, are more likely to persuade others. Going further and arming your protagonists with arguments they can use to defend their decisions with their own parties higher up, can be a valuable strategy. Trying to find ways to crush them quickly is not. After all military crises, the debrief will focus on questions from the commander as to what efforts were made to identify the terrorist’s objectives and situation, in order to change the basis for their co-operation. It’s often the same expectation at work.
Dealing with relationship issues head on and upfront is the wisest way. Making quick and arbitrary concessions to buy trust is a poor weapon, and will usually be seen for what it is — a weakness exercised under panic, that suggests more harvesting opportunities for your protagonist. Spending time exploring major issues of concern to them, and solutions that might ameliorate the pressure on them but are inexpensive for you to give, is a better option.
Focus on progress
Working to change the game by not reacting to the other side can be a positive and productive philosophy. Many military campaigns are heavily process-oriented, and reflect a relentless commitment to sustained measurable progress that will often take the steam out of your protagonist, and slowly marshal them into playing your game.
Weiss & Co conclude: “Control and power can be asserted more effectively by slowing down the pace of the negotiation, actively leading counterparts into a constructive dialogue, and demonstrating genuine openness to alternative perspectives. That isn’t giving in. It is being strategic rather than reactive. It’s thinking several moves ahead about how your actions might be perceived. And it’s about making tactical choices that elicit constructive responses and advance your true objectives.”
Give these ideas a try next time you feel under siege.