Have you ever described a difficult negotiation by saying:
“They’re being unreasonable.”
“I don’t know why they don’t care about fixing this.”
“They’re just jerks; that’s the problem.”
If you answered “yes” you may be suffering from a serious, but curable, condition known as conflictus conflatiitis.
Sometimes referred to by its common name, Confusing the Problem with the Person, conflictus conflatiitis can strike even the most seasoned negotiator.
Treatment is painless, though full recovery requires focused attention and commitment to completely rid yourself of conflation issues.
Follow the steps below, repeating as necessary, to achieve complete recovery.
1. Realize What’s Going On
Often times when we confuse the problem in a negotiation with the person we’re negotiating with, it’s because the problem is complex and confusing. Our brains don’t like difficult problems. Our brains much prefer simple problems that are easy to pick apart.
So when we’re flummoxed by a problem that we can’t pick apart, our brains, often without our awareness, will substitute a much simpler problem to solve.
Namely: why is the other person such a complete jerkface and why can’t they understand how they are ruining everything?
It is much easier to blame the current conundrum on our counterpart than it is to delve deep and figure out what is really going on.
Therefore, the first and hardest step in treating conflictus conflatiitis is to realize we’re conflating the person and the problem.
How can you tell if you’re confusing the person with the problem at hand?
Describe the negotiation in its current state.
–Is your instinct to describe the stuff of the negotiation or the reason the other person is standing in the way of a solution?
–Do you express frustration about the lack of agreement or anger at the other person for not agreeing with you?
–Are you describing the negotiation’s current state by ticking off the other person’s flaws? (stubborn, myopic, arrogant, inflexible, etc.)
The more you talk about the other person, the further you are from the problem. The person, no matter their faults or points of view, is not the problem. The problem is the problem.
2. Pretend You Like Them
When suffering from conflictus conflatiitis, one usually ends up disliking or even hating the other person. This emotional fever further drives a wedge between you and the possibility of solving the problem at hand.
So play pretend.
If you liked the other person, what might you be doing differently?
Would you address a need outside the negotiation that you know is distracting them?
Ask them about their family?
Sit next to them at the table instead of across from them death staring into their hateful little eyes?
Those small touches of humanity really can help. At least for small things like middle east peace talks and border disputes.
Seeing the other person as a person, not an adversary, can allow you to consider options that you might otherwise have shied away from or outright rejected. Trick your brain into believing that it’s not preparing for a fight and you’ll be amazed at how much more creative you are about problem solving.
3. Name Bad Behavior & Encourage Good
If someone is mistreating you in a negotiation (or, you know, in life), it’s important to stand up for yourself and stop them as soon as possible. It’s not acceptable for them to mistreat you.
So call out what’s happening. But do it in a way that doesn’t cut out the possibility of future conversation.
“Stephanie, we’re not going to be able to solve this problem if you keep swearing at me.”
“Eric, when you raise your voice it makes me less inclined to listen. I want to hear what you have to say, so please stop yelling.”
Politely, but firmly, reject the behavior but not the person.
By telling them how you’re interpreting their behavior you give them the chance to either (1) change what they’re doing or (2) correct any misunderstanding their behavior might have caused. They might not realize what they’re doing or that what they’re doing is impacting you in a negative way.
At the same time, be sure to thank them for behavior that is helpful in solving the problem; by doing so you’ll encourage more of what you like.
“Thank you, Jake. That really helped me see how this project fits into your goals for the year. With that larger context, I think I might have more ideas on how we can tackle this.”
Conflictus conflatiitis is a serious disease and everyone is susceptible. But it doesn’t have to be deal killer. With proper attention, restraint and self awareness, you can separate the person from the problem and experience a full recovery.
Categories: Dealing with People