In Training Magazine’s January/February 2014 issue, Consensus’ Stepping Into Their Shoes article shares practical advice for resolving conflict.

Stepping into their Shoes

A lot of our training – from Emotional Intelligence to Consultative Selling – promotes the idea of considering another person’s perspective. That’s easier said than done. Can you offer any advice on how to put it into practice?

A great way to understand another person’s point of view is to describe the situation the way the other person would tell the story to themselves, their friends, and their colleagues.

With very few exceptions, people tend to see themselves in a positive light. We feel that we act rationally and justly, show others appropriate respect, and are good people. We are the protagonists, if not the heroes, of our life’s story.

Unfortunately, when a conflict surfaces we tend to cast our counterpart in the role of antagonist or villain. We attribute all kinds of negative assumptions and characteristics to them. It’s how we easily make sense of the world, while protecting our “hero” status.

Our counterparts are no different. When they analyze that same conflict situation, they put themselves in the “hero” role. And, they draw on all kinds of data to support their position.

So, if you want to get a sense of how they look at the world, describe it the way they would…with them being the protagonist at center-stage.

For example, salespeople often experience clients pushing back on price. When I consult to these salespeople, they tend to describe the clients as being greedy, insensitive, and/or obtuse. “The client is trying to squeeze me, because they feel that they have the upper hand. They don’t even care if this eliminates our profit. Or maybe, they just don’t even understand what we’re bringing to the table, even though I’ve tried explaining it to them a thousand times.”

I ask these salespeople, “If I were sitting down your client, and I asked them to tell me what was going on in your situation, what would they say to me?” I emphasize that the client most likely would not say, “I am a greedy person who likes to squeeze salespeople as much as I can. I don’t want them to make any money off of me. Who cares if they could offer me real value?!”

What happens next can be transformative. The salesperson is pressed to see the client in a more complex and favorable light. They realize that the client has a separate set of pressures and constraints that they must respond to. For example, the salesperson might envision that their client’s narrative could be:

“I just stepped into this job, and I’m under tremendous scrutiny from my boss. I’ve been given a budget that I must adhere to, even if I think that it’s too low. I’ve looked at several providers, and several of them could meet our needs. However, I want to give the business to this person, because I really respect the way they’ve approached the sale. At the same time, they keep promoting certain aspects of their offering that really don’t matter to me – I don’t want to insult them, but I can’t justify paying for something we don’t need. So, I’m doing my best to send them the work while staying within budget.”

To most effectively tell their story, try to consider the following:

• External factors and other parties that might be influencing or pressuring your counterpart
• The emotional impacts of the situation on your counterpart
• Your counterpart’s interests – the underlying motivators behind their demands (why they are asking for what they’re asking for)
• How your counterpart might see you and interpret your actions. You can poll your friends and colleagues about how they might see you if they were in your counterpart’s metaphorical shoes

You’ll know you’ve done a good job if you come away feeling sympathetic to your counterpart and to their situation. And, with your new insight, you’ll be ready to better address their needs and concerns and to collaboratively problem-solve together with them (rather than against them).

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