When negotiating with others, it is important to focus on the other party’s needs and problems, and not just your own. This sounds counterintuitive, but it isn’t.

There is always a good reason why the other side takes the position they do. It may not be a position you like, but it is, from their viewpoint, appropriate because it is based on their wants and perceptions. Their wants and perceptions are, in a work setting, largely determined by where they sit, that is, the work they are paid to do and the channels of information and communication they are open to.

One thing I have found useful in understanding others and the setting in which they work is knowing what they really do and how. Job titles are of no help in this. All job titles are vague abstractions that tell us almost nothing but fool us into thinking we understand.

Why is it important to know what those you work with daily really do? It not only helps build a better relationship with our colleagues, but also sets the stage for resolution when problems or discord come up later. Where people stand in a disagreement depends much on what they are responsible for. If we understand their point of view and how the problem between us fits into their work picture, we stand a better chance of reaching a more stable agreement.

The time to get the picture in their head is not when disagreement occurs, but long before that point, perhaps when you share a casual lunch. You’ll be surprised at how much you may learn about their day, as long as you don’t pry like an attorney. Most people like to talk about their work with those who are genuinely interested and willing to share their thoughts.

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