When asked about the secret of success, Woody Allen offered ‘turning up’. Anyone who has preferred the comfort of warm bed to the rigours of a boot-camp knows the truth in this simple statement. In a similar vein, Jerry Seinfeld said that ‘paying attention’ was a key element; so simple and yet easily overlooked in our 24/7 networked world. The constant connectivity and the blurring of the distinctions between work and play place new demands on our time and attention. And now a new threat has emerged to our ability to turn up and pay attention.
On a recent flight, I was alarmed by the proliferation of the large noise cancelling headphones worn by passengers. They are the new status symbol among the tech savvy. Those wearing them are sending a clear signal to their fellow passengers and flight attendants not to engage. They were cocooned in their own private world of entertainment.
The hazards of mobile phone use while driving and particularly texting is well known, but few pedestrians would acknowledge that their mobile phone use was compromising both their and other’s safety. Evolution equipped as with sight, taste, touch, hearing and smell to survive the harsh world of the hunter gatherer. We needed to deploy these skills to ensure we had enough to eat and to ensure we were not eaten by the many predators that inhabited the African savannah.
As negotiators and communicators, we need to engage all our senses to gather and interpret the many sources of information available to us while we are negotiating. This information comes in many forms. These will include the actual words used by the other party. Their words may express flexibility through signals. A particular clause may be difficult to accept (not impossible ). Our standard contract would not allow this (a non-standard contract may be possible).
Our ears would pick up tone. “You have taken us to Planet Stupid!” may be a lame attempt at humour, or a sign of exasperation from the counterparty. Tone of voice will allow us to decide. Our sight allows us to observe eye contact, shuffling of papers and general unease on the other side of the table. And of course we could all list many others.
Rich communication can only be received and interpreted if the receiver has the discipline to present in the moment and focused on the other party. This takes both concentration and stamina as all who have endured daylong meetings can attest.
So when you turn up to the table, check that you are fully engaged, that you are relying on all your senses and that you are reading the signals that guide you through to a successful deal.