Questioning Your Way to Success

Many books have been written about negotiation strategy and the different approaches to negotiation, from interest-based to traditional bargaining to win-win to principled, and many more. Much less, however, has been written about the detailed mechanics of successful negotiation and problem solving, about the face-to-face tools and language skills we must master to be more effective negotiators.  In particular, one of the most important skills is the “art of the question” — the ability to ask effective, powerful questions and to combine that ability with strong empathy and listening. These are the skills that deliver better outcomes and win-win solutions.

This is why we wrote BrainFishing: A Practice Guide to Questioning Skills. This new book delivers clear, useful skills in a practical format. It is both a “how to” book for making questioning skills your forte, and an informative guide to understanding the neuroscience behind why the use of questions is far more effective than arguing, telling, or debating. It identifies many different types of questions and when to use them; it highlights the effective use of acknowledging and empathy statements; and it even offers a few “magic words” – words that facilitate effective engagement. It’s also a fun, fast-paced, and at times irreverent look at the skills we can all use to be successful in times of constant change, whether it be at the negotiating table, during a workplace interaction or in a social situation.

In the book, we equate “telling” with “hunting”, which is done by targeting other people by demanding and pushing them to see your point of view. We then equate questioning skills and “asking” with “fishing”, which is done by attracting and engaging the creative, powerful, problem solving parts of our brain.

In this excerpt from BrainFishing, we demonstrate why telling, in most cases, is a failed communication strategy, and why our brains nonetheless get trapped into telling, arguing and debating.  We then offer some ways to start dramatically improving each and every interaction we have with other people.

Download PDF: Questioning Your Way to Success

Building Trust in Business Partnerships

If you ask anyone to name the most important elements of any long-term, satisfying relationship, trust is usually near the top of any list. This is certainly true for personal relationships, but it is also true for business relationships.

The ability to quickly establish and build trust is becoming even more important in today’s business environment, where partnerships and strategic alliances are common practice. Companies and organizations are strategically focusing more and more on their core competencies and high value activities. They are looking to partners – both external and internal – to contribute added value through complementary services, products, and expertise. Adding value from partners allows companies, business units, and specific departments to innovate and to differentiate themselves from their competitors. And the foundation of these successful partnerships is trust. In this article, we outline a method through which trust can be formed quickly and proactively, and sustained over time.

External and Internal Partnerships

So, first, what do we mean by “partnerships.” They are everywhere – in your organization and ours – even though we don’t sometimes think of them as such. The obvious partnering initiatives include public joint ventures between two companies, mergers and acquisitions, construction projects involving multiple owners, architects, contractors, suppliers and trades, and distribution models that allow greater product and service reach through a broader set of distributors or resellers. These are partnerships with highly visible external partners. But there are other, less visible, external partnerships as well. These include relationships with suppliers, with legal or auditing counsel, with training companies or with IT experts. In the most successful organizations, these traditional buyer-supplier relationships are being run not as price-driven, pain-filled, win-lose procurement exercises, but rather as trust-based, win-win partnering relationships. This focus on partnership and trust is driven by the increasing need for speed, innovation, shared knowledge and investment on behalf of both parties, necessities in today’s market place if organizations are going to survive and flourish.

The same paradigm applies to “internal” partnerships as well. Closer and more flexible relationships are demanded by business units or government agencies in their relationships with all internal departments – with HR for faster, more relevant recruiting practices; with Finance for better predictive analysis and timely decision making data, and with IT for faster, value-added technologies, streamlined security, and implementation practices. Internal departments need to support each other to add value and to respond to the urgency placed on them by demanding consumers and a faster, dynamic marketplace. This is true in business; it is true in government; it is true in any organization that needs to do more with less to compete and survive.

Defining Trust

Participants in workshops and seminars we run universally agree: a foundation of trust makes both external and internal partnerships stronger and increases the chance of success. So we ask them: How important is trust? Very important. How long does it take to build trust? A long time. How long does it take to break trust? A single moment. The answers are uniform and – in a positive way – predictable. Then we ask: What is the definition of trust? You would think this would be an easy question to answer, given the importance of trust. But here the answers vary: honesty, integrity, doing what you say, starting what you finish, being trustworthy, being someone I can count on – all good answers, and all certainly capturing an element of trust, but still not nailing it down to a clear, working definition that points to a sustainable course of action. Then we ask: What do you do if you need to build trust quickly and sustain it over a long period of time? The answers tail off to silence. So two key questions: What is trust? How do we quickly establish trust? Yet, no clear answers. However, everyone agrees that when a partnership is formed, it must be formed in a way that establishes trust as rapidly as possible.

A Working Definition of Trust

So what is trust? We have developed a working definition that can be applied anywhere:

“Trust is the level of positive expectation we have of another person, when in a situation of risk.”

Risk is the key element that drives almost everything related to trust. All relationships possess some degree of risk. This is true in our personal lives; if anything, it is even more acute in our business relationships, particularly in circumstances where we are critically dependent on partners – both external and interna – in order to succeed. The relationship between risk and trust is symbiotic; if risk is high, it challenges or diminishes my sense of trust with you. If I already trust you, I am willing to work faster and take greater risks.

To add even more complexity, in business partnerships we need trust to exist between individuals, as well as between entire departments or organizations. Often, we need it to be established very fast and sustained through numerous interactions and constant change. How do we achieve speed and sustainability? To understand how to do this, we need to break down trust into two distinct elements.

Two Kinds of Trust

When we commonly think of trust, we are thinking of the interpersonal relationship between two individuals. We call this personal trust. This is our willingness to trust an individual with whom we are working. It is the trust we think of that builds over time. For example, I assess your honesty, your integrity; I watch as you promise something and then you deliver (or not), and I gauge your intentions, your willingness to go the extra mile to help me or the team. From these experiences, my willingness to trust you either grows or erodes. This trust is critical to the strength of our relationship and how willing I am to take on more – or less – risk in concert with you as an individual.

The problem with personal trust is that, while we desperately need it, we can’t build it proactively. We can’t make it happen just because we want it. It evolves situationally and slowly; but to be frank, in most current business environments, we don’t have the time to allow that to happen at a leisurely pace.

There is a second form of trust that we can focus on in the early stages of a relationship, one that we can move on proactively and quickly, and from which we can build a foundation of sustainable trust. This second form of trust we call procedural trust. It is where both parties initially place their trust in an agreed structure or a clear procedure that they execute together. It is the ability to create transparent, consistent, and verifiable steps – with clear checks and balances – that allow us to create the long-term, sustainable foundation upon which organizational trust and, eventually, personal trust can be built.

Procedural trust has evolved from the practice of procedural justice, in which defendants were given a defined process to have their story and facts clearly heard before a judgment would be passed. This concept has now been built into a broad range of societal structures, human resources practices, and project management disciplines. Procedural trust is grounded in the concept that if we have a clearly defined process in which we initially place our trust – we trust the process, not the individual – then trust can be quickly established. From procedural trust – the trust in the process – personal trust can be established and the process can be extended to build upon that initial trust and sustain it into the future. The key benefit to establishing procedural trust is that it can, unlike personal trust, be done proactively, with a plan developed by and agreed on by both parties.

Building Trust in Partnering Relationships

When establishing, or in some cases repairing, business partnerships between internal or external partners, there is a clear process that can be agreed on at the start of the relationship that will align the objectives of the partnership, identify challenges and risks, and establish the ongoing processes that will build and sustain long-term trust.

The process to establish trust between business partners follows four clear steps:

  1. Alignment of Objectives and Interests
    In this critical first step, the objectives of the relationship and partnership are agreed between the senior leadership of the two parties.
  2. Identification of Issues and Challenges
    Once the objectives are aligned, the two parties identify all of the challenges, issues, and risks that they think or imagine will arise within the relationship. These issues are prioritized, assigned owners by the parties, and solved accordingly. The key here is that everyone’s issues are heard and addressed, in the calm of an adult discussion between senior leaders, not in the heat of a deadline on a loading dock or construction site between employees without sufficient information, resources, or decision making authority.
  3. Issue Resolution and Decision Making
    Ground rules, or working principles on how the group will interact, are then agreed upon, including how decisions or problems will be escalated. By defining and agreeing on a clear process for escalating and resolving difficult issues, trust grows in the partnership’s ability to work effectively together. This allows the partnering process to sustain trust and build a strong, long-term relationship.
  4. Regular Review of the Relationship
    As a final step in the partnering process, the parties establish a regular schedule to come back together to review the relationship, to recalibrate objectives and resources, to publically celebrate successes, and to ensure that trust is continually and consciously strengthened and sustained.

The partnering process is frequently used at the start of a new relationship – an outsourcing agreement, a merger, a construction project, or a joint venture product development. It can also be used to repair relationships that have gone off the rails. In these cases, while we can’t change history, we can start to write a new history from today, a chance to clean the slate and build a future of strong and sustainable trust.

In all businesses and public organizations, we are being asked to do more with less, to move faster to create and deliver value, and to work with a broader, more complex range of challenges, opportunities, issues, and partners. Organizations and individuals that are skilled at quickly and proactively building and sustaining trust will be a competitive step ahead of the market in meeting these challenges.

 

About the Authors

Jim Harrison, Queen's IRC Facilitator

Jim Harrison is an international consultant focused on relationship management, senior level strategy, and business development skills for large organizations. He has a background in financial services and professional writing, and has more than 18 years experience in consulting, training, and development. He teaches in North America, Europe, the U.K., Australia, and Asia, and has facilitated training programs for Manulife, Clarica, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, and Bank of Nova Scotia. He designed and delivered a sales and negotiating program for Group Insurance Representatives that supported significant increases in business for a major group life insurance supplier.

In recent years, Jim has focused predominantly on helping senior sales executives understand, plan for, and build trusted advisor relationships with senior business executives. There are specific requirements of building relationships in the “C-Suite” and Jim has chosen to refine his knowledge in helping others to succeed in this realm.

Through his continuing work with Accenture, Agfa, Deutsche Bank, and IBM, Jim has developed the expertise and focused tools to help account teams land large dollar contracts and to build meaningful long-term relationships. Jim has also helped structure and deliver strategic partnering workshops with long-term clients.

Jim received his B.Sc. in Finance from Florida State University and Masters Degree in English from University of California, Irvine. In addition, Jim has won the Canadian Junior Golf Championship and the Ontario Amateur Golf Championship.

Gary Furlong

Gary Furlong has extensive experience in mediation, mediation training, alternative dispute resolution, organizational facilitation, negotiation, and conflict resolution. Gary is past president of the ADR Institute of Ontario, is a Chartered Mediator (C. Med.) and holds his Master of Laws (ADR) from Osgoode Hall Law School. Gary is the author of The Conflict Resolution Toolbox, (John Wiley and Sons, 2005), and the co-author of The Construction Dispute Resolution Handbook, (Butterworths, 2004). Gary was awarded the McGowan Award of Excellence in ADR in 2005.

As a mediator, Gary has worked in the areas of commercial, personal injury, estates, construction, shareholder, insurance, wrongful dismissal, real estate, and workplace conflicts, and specializes in intervening in difficult organizational and workplace disputes. Gary was regularly called in to the court-annexed ADR Centre in Toronto for the first three years, and is now appointed a roster mediator, Ontario Mandatory Mediation Program, Toronto. Gary has mediated personal injury, insurance and long-term disability claims ranging from $30,000 to over $1 million dollars. Estates files include multi-party claims ranging in size from $200,000 to well over a million dollars. Contract and tort claim files have ranged from $10,000 to $2 million dollars. Gary was a regular mediator and fact-finder with the Education Relations Commission, and was also appointed a provincial facilitator and mediator with the Education Improvement Commission, assisting with the financial reorganization and amalgamation of school boards in Ontario. Gary has also been on the Law Society of Upper Canada’s complaint mediation panel, and the Teachers College of Ontario mediation panel. Gary has conducted fact-finding and investigations for the past 6 years.

Gary has delivered ADR and conflict management training for judges from across the country through the National Judicial Institute, and for hundreds of lawyers through the Law Society of Upper Canada and law firms such as Gowlings, and Sims, Clement, Eastwood. In addition, Gary has trained RCMP officers, firefighters, and hundreds of front-line managers and employees for companies like Purolator Courier and Transport Canada, over 1000 by-law enforcement officers with most of the cities in the GTA, as well as numerous departments of the federal government, provincial government, and many municipalities. Gary has worked with the Queen’s University Industrial Relations Department conducting research into employment models of dispute resolution in Canadian companies, and teaches Negotiation Skills at the Queen’s University Industrial Relations Centre (IRC). Gary also spent 6 years as an organizational development consultant to both large and small corporations in Canada and the U.K.

Gary is a partnering facilitator to the construction industry, and has pioneered the use of partnering in unique organizational settings. Gary has mediated a number of construction matters, both construction design and contract issues, along with construction lien disputes. Gary has facilitated conflict systems design projects for numerous clients, including the Royal Bank of Canada. Gary is a principal with Agree Dispute Resolution, and is a graduate of Stanford University in California. He is distinguished fellow, International Academy of Mediators (IAM) and an Ontario Bar Association ADR Section past member – executive.

Cultivating Effective Management-Union Relationships in the Unionized Workplace

In almost all organizations today, both public and private sector, managers are looking to deliver better results and greater productivity. And within these same organizations, the union is often seen as a barrier to management effectively achieving these goals. From the union’s point of view, management views the collective agreement as an impediment to achieving results, leading to frequent violations of the collective agreement. This dynamic leads to ongoing conflict between management and union, further draining the organization’s energy and resources, eroding the very productivity and results the company is seeking to achieve. Both management and the union need to revisit how the collective agreement is used, and could be used more effectively, within the organization.

To meet the challenges of the future, the onus lies on both management and the union to help create a working environment where every member of the organization contributes to the organization’s success. Based on the experience of a number of labour relations professionals, below are some of the most common mistakes and challenges that management and unions face regarding the collective agreement. These mistakes and challenges create the very issues that both are trying to avoid.

Common Management Mistakes

Lack of Training in the Collective Agreement: Lack of clarity and knowledge about the collective agreement among front-line managers and supervisors is a common problem in organizations. Recently, I was conducting a focus group with managers as part of the development of a training module on the organization’s collective agreement. I asked a group of 10 experienced managers (some of whom had been managers for 15 to 20 years) how many considered themselves to be very knowledgeable about their own collective agreement. Two raised their hands. Surprised, I asked how many had actually read the collective agreement within the last two years. The same two individuals raised their hands. Even more surprised, I asked those two why they, in particular, had read the collective agreement, and both told me they had recently been members of the union at this company, and had just been promoted to supervisors. In other words, eight of the ten managers were not at all knowledgeable about their own collective agreement (regardless of their length of service), and regularly made decisions without having a clear idea if they were complying with the labour agreement. Even worse, it was very likely that many of their staff did know whether their decisions complied.

The greatest building block for establishing credibility in the workplace for a manager or supervisor is clear knowledge and familiarity with the collective agreement. Without this knowledge, management lack credibility with their staff, impairing their ability to lead and drive change with their workforce.

Lack of Interpersonal Skills When Applying the Collective Agreement: Even when supervisors and managers do know and understand the basics of the collective agreement, they sometimes use it as a form of “power” to force their employees into compliance, rather than as a jointly agreed framework everyone must operate within. Once this workplace framework is clear and understood—both through the collective agreement and overall policies and procedures—it is still critical that managers and supervisors effectively engage their staff in a positive, productive relationship. Management-union relationships don’t run effectively through the use of power; they function productively when a climate of respect and engagement exists. And it’s up to management to take the lead in creating this climate.

Ineffective Communication with Staff: While there may be many meetings held, and a great deal of e-mail flying around the office, management has frequently still not communicated effectively with staff. The essence of good communication is answering the question, “Why?” Why is this initiative taking place? Why are we doing this? Why is this or that important? Much research shows that without everyone clearly knowing and understanding why decisions are made, or actions taken, little engagement, or commitment will arise. Effective communication requires management to have a communication strategy, one that prioritizes information, communicates it clearly, and repeatedly in a range of forums, from the company newsletter to labour management meetings, to shop floor meetings. When the “Why?” question is answered clearly and unambiguously, engagement and commitment are not far behind.

Common Union Challenges

Creating or Allowing a Reactive Environment: Many times, unions feel shut out by management, and react by simply resisting anything that isn’t crystal clear to them. Instead of resisting management decisions, unions should take the lead in asking: “Why?” That is, unions should hold management accountable to having clear, understandable reasons and rationale for decision-making. Further, unions must demonstrate a willingness to listen and take management’s goals for the organization seriously. By taking a proactive stand, rather than a reactive one, the union assumes a leadership role in helping to create a positive work environment for all staff.

Creating or Allowing an Adversarial Environment: In addition to resisting management decisions when feeling shut out, unions may become flat out adversarial on principle, refusing to support even positive changes the organization is implementing. These adversarial feelings often stem from a long history of conflict. Regardless of their root cause, a defensive stance makes it even easier for management to ignore, or marginalize the union, leading to even greater levels of resistance. This adversarial environment is characterized by the thought that, “If management wants it, it must be bad for us!” Once a strongly adversarial mindset takes hold, many opportunities to improve the workplace disappear. Once again, unions should hold management accountable by requiring both a clear understanding of management decisions, along with respect for the collective agreement. In turn, management will likely be encouraged to engage with, rather than marginalize the union.

Seeing Discipline as Purely “Punitive”: Discipline, when properly executed, is corrective in nature; discipline that is properly and fairly applied is necessary in workplaces. Unions that approach all discipline as unnecessary or unfair foster the wrong mindset. Unions have a clear duty to fairly represent their members, and must hold management accountable for fair and corrective use of discipline. This accountability doesn’t mean, however, that all discipline must be resisted and fought. By enforcing an approach that balances fair representation with a reasonable and corrective use of discipline, both parties will be promoting a culture of high performance and fair treatment in the workplace.

Summary

Both unions and management have a duty to create productive, respectful, and engaging workplaces. The collective agreement is one of the main tools that both parties must use effectively to create this organizational culture. Unfortunately, in many workplaces the collective agreement is seen by management as “the union’s document,” an attitude that prevents management from being able to manage effectively. And unions, in turn, may see the collective agreement as the primary way to resist most management changes and initiatives—an attitude that fosters conflict, rather than productivity.

Only by promoting knowledge and clarity of the collective agreement across the management team, as well as by supporting productivity and change initiatives that respect the collective agreement, can management teams and unions build strong organizations and better working relationships.

 

About the Author

Gary Furlong, Queen's IRC Facilitator

Gary T. Furlong is a facilitator with Queen’s IRC Labour Relations programs.

Getting to Yes

In his research and practice, Queen’s IRC Facilitator and mediator Gary Furlong has found that when it comes to real-life conflict, one size does not fit all. In the following sampling from his new book, The Conflict Resolution Toolbox, Gary discusses the value of the Circle of Conflict as a multi-purpose tool — one of his “top eight” to help mediators, negotiators, lawyers, managers, and supervisors reach agreements in even the most intractable disputes.

The Circle of Conflict is strong as a diagnostic model, in that it proposes specific categories for understanding the dynamics that are driving the conflict without being limited to any particular substantive type of dispute. For this reason, it can be used with just about any type of conflict a practitioner may be involved in. In addition, this tool gives practitioners a way to identify the different causes of a conflict, and helps them look beyond the “presenting” problem to begin to question underlying or root causes.

The Circle of Conflict diagnoses and assigns the underlying causes or “drivers” of the given conflict to one of five categories:

  • Values (belief systems; right and wrong; good and evil; just and unjust)
  • Relationships (negative past experiences; stereotypes; poor or failed communications; repetitive negative behaviour)
  • Moods and Externals (factors unrelated to the substance of the dispute; psychological or physiological; “bad hair day”)
  • Data (lack of information; too much information; collection problems)
  • Structure (limited physical resources; authority issues; geographical constraints; organizational structures)

The model offers concrete suggestions for working with each of these drivers, and directs practitioners toward Data, Structure, and a sixth category, Interests, as the focus of resolution. “Interests” refers to an individual’s wants, needs, hopes or fears. Put simply, the guiding principle for the practitioner is to help the parties stay focused [on these three categories], as this is effective in moving them toward resolution rather than escalation. The Circle does this because it asserts that you cannot directly “solve” Values, Relationship, or Mood/External issues with the other parties.

When working with the Data and Structure categories, the model gives specific strategies for the practitioner to focus on, with an emphasis toward joint problem solving.

Some strategies for working with Data problems are:

  • Have each party explain, challenge and correct erroneous data
  • Jointly assess data
  • Surface assumptions around the parties’ assessment of data
  • Challenge assumptions made about other parties’ motives
  • Jointly gather data that each party will agree to accept and rely on.

Some strategies in working with Structure problems are:

  • Identify structural issues both parties face, and brainstorm solutions jointly
  • Negotiate a ratification process if authority is a problem at the table
  • Negotiate who needs to attend for both parties to most effectively resolve the issues
  • Renegotiate priorities for both priorities that are more compatible and workable
  • Brainstorm ways to maximize use of scarce resources.

By far, the Interests slice is the most important area to help parties focus on. Some strategies in working with the Interests of parties are:

  • Identify the full range of interests the parties have in relation to the issues they face
  • Identify and focus the parties on their common interests
  • Look for solutions that maximize meeting each party’s interests
  • Help the parties creatively solve the problems by trading low-priority interests for more important ones.

Two additional conflict patterns the Circle highlights can be very useful to a practitioner in diagnosing conflict: the Values/Data dynamic, and the Structure/Relationships dynamic.

Values/Data Dynamic

If one party sees the conflict primarily from a Values perspective (i.e., feels that it is primarily a moral or ethical problem), and the other party sees the conflict as a Data problem, an interesting dynamic takes over. The person who perceives the conflict as a data problem will tend to give more and more information to the other party in an effort to convince that they are right. The Values person, of course, is very unlikely to change his or her mind based on more data (and are unlikely to even read the data!). The conflict is likely to escalate rapidly, with the Data person accusing the Values person of bad faith(“I keep giving you important and relevant information, and you just ignore it!”) while the Values person will start to consider the Data person unethical or unprincipled (“What kind of person would try to rationalize this kind of decision?!”) The real problem, or course, is that they are actually dealing with two different problems, and are unaware of that fact. If this happens, the conflict will migrate to the top half of the Circle fairly quickly, landing on the Values and/or Relationship drivers, two of the hardest to resolve.

Structure/Relationship Dynamic

Suppose two individuals, A and B, work in different departments, and A needs a report from B to complete his work. For B, this is a low priority, but for A, it is very high. This is a structural problem, in that A has no authority to order or direct B to do what he needs. For the first few days, A will accept B’s promise that he’ll “get to it as soon as possible.” After a week or two goes by without getting a report from B, A will stop thinking that B’s problem is a lack of time, and will start to personalize it, saying, “The problem isn’t B’s time, he’s had two weeks! The problem is B; he doesn’t want to help me.” And rather quickly A and B will no longer just have a Structural problem, it will become a Relationship problem – and much harder to solve.

 

 

Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution Systems in Canadian Nonunionized Organizations

Responding to a growing interest in the subject in recent years, this study is intended to improve our understanding of conflict management and dispute resolution systems in nonunionized workplaces in Canada. It sets out the key reasons for the increased interest in effective systems, describes the various procedures being used, and evaluates their effectiveness. The authors identify the strengths and pitfalls of various systems.

Download PDF: Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution Systems in Canadian Nonunionized Organizations

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