Living Entrepreneurship Blog / Babson Entrepreneurs

Seek first to understand.

On Friday, Debbie Goldstein explained the art of handling a difficult conversation. The techniques she mentioned are designed to help overcome the agreement gap between two people. The techniques can be applied in difficult conversations with just about anyone including a roommate, co-worker, or family member. The next day, I learned Ray Allen decided to leave the Boston Celtics. Ray Ray, Ainge, Doc and Rondo would have benefited from a session with Debbie.

In conversation, most of us converse to “be heard.” Instead we should, in the words of Stephen Covey, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” When two people are in a difficult conversation, each person typically has thoughts that are not verbalized. It’s helpful for each person to recognize and understand the other person’s thoughts.

Debbie explains that two people in a difficult conversation are often already at the top of their respective “ladders of influence.” The ladder is a metaphor representing a person’s thought process.  A person is lower on the ladder when he or she is reasoning and have not yet come to a conclusion. A person is higher on the ladder when he or she has come to a conclusion.  Two people are high on their respective ladders when they start a discussion with strong convictions. And if they are both seeking to be understood, the conversation goes no where. When you’re in a difficult conversation, first seek to understand the other person’s reasoning that has led to his or her conclusion. In doing so, you need to walk that person down his or her ladder while addressing his or her core interests. It’s only after you’ve walked the other person down his or her ladder that you can advocate your point of view, and attempt to walk the person up your ladder.

Pat Riley of the Miami Heat was able to address Ray’s core interests and then walk Ray up the Riley ladder.

Cliff is the co-founder of SidewalkAd, a smartphone advertising solution for local businesses.