Recently I attended a negotiation training course and I was pleasantly surprised with it. Initially I felt that I was already well-versed in negotiation through a mixture of previous experience, good emotional intelligence, and my "gut instinct" for reading people, and thus I did not expect to gain too much from the training course. I was wrong, but not for the reasons you might expect. While on the training course I did learn a handful of new tips, techniques and structures from the course but these were more like adding polish to my existing skills rather than creating a big shift in thinking. The biggest benefit that I actually got from the course was the subtle reinforcement that I was "travelling the right path" with my current attitude toward life and other people.
The course gave me a timely reminder to be confident and back myself and my thoughts even in the face of resistance. It reinforced the strength and power that underlies my way of thinking (which is often counter-point to the normal), and it demonstrated the simple (yet difficult to master) skills that I believe are required to build positive and successful relationships.
And that is exactly what inspired me to write this: 3 tips on building positive relationships.
Think Judo rather than Sumo
This was one of the key phrases from the training that resonated deeply with me and my attitude towards dealing with other people - think Judo rather than Sumo.
Consider a Sumo wrestling match. Two big and powerful guys launch themselves at one another and a tremendous crash is heard as their massive opposing forces collide in the middle. The sheer force generated in this initial clash is amazing.
But a lot of that force is wasted. Both wrestlers exert most of their energy in direct opposition to that of the other person and the result is that they create a near-stalemate situation in the middle where each wrestler is pushing their entire force against the other. In the end, the man that is stronger or more powerful slowly establishes control and eventually wins the match by pushing the other out of the ring. If the wrestlers are anywhere near equally skilled or powerful then the match is not won or lost in that initial clash of bodies but in the tussle that follows.
This has a lot of parallels to how some people interact with others, especially in a business environment. These people believe the best way forward is for them to throw all their force and power at a problem in the hope of steam rolling the opposition. But, as in most sumo wrestling matches, this initial energy is just met with an equal opposing force and no progress is made. A lot of pushing, grunting, and sweating occurs but not much progress.
Which is why it is better to think Judo rather than Sumo.
Judo, meaning "gentle way", is a martial arts technique that focuses on reacting to, and using, the force of your opponent to control and win the fight. Instead of utilising direct and forceful attacks, Judo minimises the effort expended by harnessing the energy of the opponent to immobilize and subdue them.
Extending this metaphor into establishing relationships should be obvious. Judo, in interpersonal interaction means avoiding direct attack-on-attack situations. Instead you focus on being flexible and adaptable, deflecting direct aggression and turning it into a positive situation for yourself. Let the aggressor come at you, be strong and prepared, and ready to use their own force to change direction and take the interaction where you want it to go.
This judo-esque approach is not just for business relationships either. It has applications to all forms of relationships within life. If you and a friend get into a heated discussion don't counter with direct sumo aggression. If your wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/lover gives you some criticism then don't get angry and respond with a personal attack. In these examples the controlled Judo approach works just as well as long as you apply a slight twist - aim for a win-win outcome. In personal relationships it is not about an individual winning the fight but about creating a positive win-win situation that encourages the relationship to grow.
Win-Win (aka "Don't try to screw other people over")
This philosophy is one the fundamental "rules" I live my life by - always offer win-win situations. I always try to create scenarios in which all parties get a win and I never try to screw anyone else over for my own advantage. This is a key aspect required in order to achieve successful and long-lasting relationships with other people. If you start building these relationships on a foundation of positive intentions (i.e. creating win-win outcomes) then people will respect you more, trust you more, and like you more. It's simple nature. No-one likes being screwed over.
But the funny thing about the negotiation training course was the number of people that operated from a completely selfish viewpoint. Some of these people did negotiation as part of their daily job but not many of them could grasp the concept of constructing win-win outcomes. In fact, most of the time these "experts" spent too much time arguing and trying to screw the other person down as hard as they could rather than trying to find a middle-ground solution that was positive for everyone. More than not, these people failed to come to an agreement and failed to achieve their desired outcomes simply because they were only thinking about what was best for themselves.
In fact over the three days we had nine simulated negotiation sessions and only managed to reach an agreeable outcome three times, and this was with a bunch of people who do some form of negotiation as part of their jobs. These are poor results simply because they could only focus on what they wanted and not on what others want. To create successful working relationships it is imperative to consider what everyone wants and needs, and not just our own motives.
And this attitude applies to all facets of life, not just business. All positive long-term relationships need to be built on a win-win foundation. If one person begins purposefully trying to get the upper hand at the disadvantage of the other then the relationship is ultimately doomed. This is particularly true for personal relationships.
Each personal relationship has a unique power balance that underlies all the decision making within that relationship. Sometimes one person is the clear leader of the relationship, making most of the decisions, and sometimes both people contribute equally, acting more like a committee for important decisions. Either way (or anywhere in between) can work but only if the people making the decisions are opting for win-win outcomes.
Even the most lopsided relationships (in terms of power) can be positive relationships if both people operate with a win-win attitude. Think about it. If one person is making 90% of the decisions there is a definite possibility for selfish win-lose decisions to be made (think corrupt politicians and businesses). But if that person never tries to screw the other person over, if they are always trying to find the outcome that is best for everyone, then the relationship will be successful.
Win-win is how great relationships are built.
Be honest, without being desperate
I believe in being honest at all times but the negotiation trainers added an interesting twist to it – be honest without being desperate.
I like this take on it. Previously I had recommended a technique called Brutal Honesty, for learning how to be more open and honest in life. I still believe this is a great method for building confidence and becoming comfortable telling the truth but the caveat of being honest without being desperate makes a lot of sense for everyday usage.
The main reason for this thinking is that sometimes other people are not interested in playing fair and building win-win outcomes. Even though I hate admitting it, some people are just selfish. These people are always looking to find an advantage for themselves even if it comes at the direct expense of others. For dealing with people like this, it is not always best to lay all your cards on the table, especially if any of your cards will make you seem desperate. Don’t give these people an excuse to try to screw you over.
Normally I would just recommend not dealing with people like this at all. I am a strong believer in the benefits to be gained just by removing all negativity, including constantly negative people, from our life. These kind of people create a build-up of negative energy that attracts other negativity towards it so the less time spent with them the better.
But sometimes this is not always possible. Sometimes we are forced into situations where we cannot just cut and run from these negative people and instead we have to try to work with them. It can be extremely difficult to do so and even harder to maintain a positive attitude in these situations but you must resist the urge to "fight fire with fire". Don't get caught up playing their negative games as that will just make you angry and ultimately disappointed. Always maintain your integrity and your honesty, without being desperate.
Honest win-win Judo. That's all you need to remember. In fact if that's all you remember from this article then I'll still be happy for that is the blueprint to beating negativity, building strong positive relationships, and turning into a relationship zen master guru. Which, by the way, I'm told is an extremely exclusive club that requires that you wear long flowing robes or have a long flowing beard. Or both if you can manage it.