WOULD YOU RATHER BE RIGHT OR GET WHAT YOU WANT?
By Gigi Sage
Several years ago I was hired by a large energy company to work with 80 of their top executives who were struggling to advance their careers within the company. I found that the executives had a mindset of competition and conflict with one another. They were so intent on proving themselves and getting their ideas heard that countless opportunities for collaboration and cooperative ventures were being ignored. When I explained the counter-intuitive fact that by yielding they would actually get more of what they wanted, some participants were hesitant. However, when they understood that yielding isn’t the same thing as passivity – in fact it gives you more leverage than resisting – the results were powerful. Within 6 months, over 50 percent of the executives were promoted.
Yielding is rarely cited among the skills of a leader. But after training hundreds of CEOs and board members of international organizations to utilize it in their businesses – with resulting increases in the productivity and profitability of the firms – I can confidently attest to its effectiveness. In these turbulent times, yielding can give leaders the edge they’ve been looking for.
Consider this example: eight board members are in a meeting. Seven of them are trying to get their way and make sure their points are heard. One (Margaret) is more receptive, patiently listening to everyone’s views and staying neutral. At the next meeting, the board unanimously votes in favor of a proposal Margaret has been spearheading for months. Why? Because when everyone else was going up against one another, Margaret just listened. She encouraged everyone’s ideas and even offered support and suggestions. This allowed her to build trust with the other members of the board, while also gathering information. Following the initial meeting, she knew who to speak with that would be most likely to support her ideas, and could help her convince the others to do the same. Thus with a few brief conversations, she was able to put the proposal into action. Margaret understood the power of yielding to get what you want. The company – and everyone in it – benefitted from the results.
There are three main steps in the yielding process. They seem counterintuitive, but I always tell my clients to just try them out for 30 days. The results have yet to disappoint.
Step 1: Be Receptive
When a person disagrees with us, or says something we don’t agree with, our automatic instinct is to go up against them. Society has ingrained in us the idea that in order to avoid being taken advantage of, we have to meet any force head-on. More often than not, this leads to a standstill. When two people argue or go out of their way to undermine each other, no one ends up getting what they want. Being receptive eliminates this kind of conflict before it even begins. The next time you feel like arguing with someone, take a deep breath and get receptive instead. When their forcefulness doesn’t meet any resistance, they will calm down and become more receptive themselves.
Step 2: Get Curious
Everyone wants to be heard. Some claim that the human need for attention and approval runs almost as deep as our need for food and water. One of the greatest services you can do for anyone – and for yourself – is to get curious about people and what they have to say. Instead of half-listening, arguing, or even ignoring them, practice asking questions and watching to see what “lights” people up. This tells the other person that you value where they are coming from, which in turn builds rapport and a sense of trust. And more people on your side means that much more support when you need it.
Step 3: Make Your Request
When you practice being receptive and getting curious about people, they will respond to you in completely new ways. Instead of conflict and resistance, you’ll get calm and cooperation. This opens the door for you to make a request or propose an idea you have for the business. Because you’ve listened to others and built trust by getting curious about them, they will be much more likely to be open to what you have to say. Keep it simple: state what you want and ask for their help if you need it. Instead of posing the request as a problem (“We don’t have enough sponsors for the benefit”), frame it as a solution (“I have some ideas for getting sponsors to sign on for the benefit. I’d love to hear your thoughts”). Most people are actually happy to contribute. All you have to do is ask.
CEO as Coach
When a single person in an organization masters the skill of yielding, it can have a profound impact on the organization as a whole. Research on mirror neurons has proven that when one person observes another completing some action – e.g. crying, walking, cleaning – the same areas fire in the brain of the observer as in the person who is doing the action. In other words, we mentally “mirror” the actions of others. In my experience, this mental mirroring often translates into action. Thus, when one person gets receptive, curious, and clearly states his/her requests, others in the organization will begin to do the same. Particularly when they see what great results come of this new pattern of behavior.
To foster a culture of cooperation and collaboration more quickly requires a more direct method: coaching. There’s a process I do in my seminars that can be easily adapted to use in business meetings or corporate training sessions. Start by asking one person to come to the front of the room and role-play as though he (or she) is the head of the company’s sales division. He is to inform everyone else in the room – the “employees” of that division – that performance has been steadily declining. Management has decided that from now on, in addition to the normal telephone sales method, employees will be sent to do in-person sales visits to potential buyers.
Instruct everyone else in the room to respond with all of their arguments for how this can’t work. “Are you going to pay for my car?” “I’m not good at face-to-face sales.” Tell the division head to respond to these arguments as best he can. After a few minutes of this, stop and ask everyone – including the “department head” – what they noticed. What was the impact of this kind of response? Was the resulting discussion productive or unproductive? Then start over, except this time, instruct everyone to get curious about this change as a new opportunity. If they still have concerns, tell them to present them as solutions rather than problems. “Could we carpool to save on gas and expenses?” “Will there be any possibility to get training on in-person sales?” After a few minutes, stop and ask everyone: same or different when they cooperated versus when they went up against their “supervisor?” What was the difference for the person in front of the room?
Now that everyone has seen the impact that yielding can have, tell them about the 3-step process. Make a game out of it. Ask everyone in the organization to try using these steps for the next 30 days. Instead of reacting and coming up with problems during meetings, everyone is charged with coming up with solutions and making clear requests. It may be challenging at first, but the more everyone practices, the better they will get at it.
There’s a question I tell my clients to keep in mind if they feel resistant to the idea of yielding: Would you rather be right, or get what you want? Of course, everyone wishes we could have it both ways. However, if two or more people are stuck on being right, no one will get their results (because they are too busy preventing the others from getting what they want). When people learn to get receptive and curious instead, reactive organizations transform into thinking organizations. Employees become more cooperative, productivity and collaboration increase, and less time is wasted on interpersonal conflicts. All of which benefits the bottom line.
This exercise will help in physically understanding how yielding actually gives more leverage
Ask a partner to do this exercise with you.
Stand back to back with your partner and push against each other. Each of you is trying to steer the other person where you want them to go by pushing against their back with yours. Be careful not to hurt each other. After a few moments of this, stop.
Who succeeded in getting the other person to go where they wanted? Typically, this exercise results in a standstill, or only one person accomplishing their goal.
Stand back to back again with your partner. This time, begin by matching your partner’s pressure, but then slowly start to give in. Don’t let them push you around completely, or you will both fall down (this is what happens when one person is completely passive). Instead, match their pressure and then slowly begin to give in. Walk around back-to-back this way for a few moments, then stop.
Who was steering/deciding where you went? The person who was giving in. This is the power of yielding. It eliminates the conflict of going up against one another, and the person who yields is actually choosing the direction you go.
Gigi Sage is an international communication expert and coach who inspires leaders to follow their curiosity, discover what “lights them up,” and become highly effective communicators in their professional and personal relationships. Contact her at email@example.com.
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