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Do I Understand You? Acknowledgement Demonstrated…

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    Acknowledgement enables us to build rapport with even the most resistant negotiation counterparts. And in the end, they get to determine whether we have succeeded in understanding them or not!

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    Do I Understand You? Acknowledgement Demonstrated…

    Acknowledging your counterpart’s needs and concerns—in any challenging conversation or negotiation—has many benefits. Plus it costs you nothing: That’s why it’s called the “cheapest concession you can make.”

    Today I want to show you what high quality acknowledgement looks and sounds like.

    Let’s imagine I’m speaking with one of my direct reports, Maria. I’ve just listened to her fully, and here’s my response:

    Look, Maria, I really appreciate you coming in to speak with me about this. As far as I’m concerned it demonstrates your commitment to this organization.

    I actually see things a bit differently than you, but I want to make sure I understand where you are coming from, ok?

    Acknowledgment does not equal agreement: Many people hesitate to acknowledge because they fear it implies that they agree with their counterpart. One way to address this is to respectfully flag at the start that you see things differently, but that you nevertheless want to understand their perspective.

    So you’ve stepped up, a bit reluctantly, to lead this new division and it sounds like you feel we haven’t given you what you need to make it work, including adequate budget and staffing. You even feel your team’s work space is sub par.

    You also said you get the sense that I don’t make your work a priority, and as two examples you mentioned that it takes me a while to respond to your emails, and also that I didn’t give you any feedback on the site design before the deadline. This forces you to operate “in a vacuum” as you called it. And it’s frustrating for you.

    Finally, you said you wondered why you weren’t asked to present an update at the executive team meeting like some of the other division heads.

    Include essential details: Effective acknowledgement includes the most significant parts of their experience, their thoughts and feelings, and even key expressions and phrases that they use.

    I get the sense that you’ve been reading all this as a sign that we don’t believe in you somehow. You also implied, and I may be wrong here but I just want to mention it, that I might still have some hard feelings from what happened last year and your role in Ron’s departure. I definitely want to address that a bit.

    Listen for latent meaning: Skillful acknowledgement highlights things that aren’t said explicitly but that you sense might be important to your counterpart. Use a light touch because you may be wrong. But when you get it right, it deepens their experience of “being understood.”

    So that’s it I think. Is that correct? Did I miss anything or misunderstand anything?

    Your success is up to them: Finally, end your acknowledgement by checking in with your counterpart and asking for feedback. You don’t have to get it right on the first pass; they’ll correct what you may have missed. But getting confirmation from them that they feel like you understand is crucial.

10 responses to Do I Understand You? Acknowledgement Demonstrated…

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Thanks for writing, Jason. And I like that you called it a “pivot” after acknowledgement; often that is truly what it is: a shift in focus from you listening to them to you sharing your perspective. Typically there is a pause, because they have said what they need to say, and you might begin by saying something like: “OK, well if it’s ok with you, I’d like to explain my take on all this. Is that ok?” Nine times out of ten they will say “sure,” and you are off! And because they have felt heard, they will be more open to listening to you. That doesn’t mean it’s easy from there, but it’s a good start.

  1. Stephen Linsky says:

    I agree with Jason. Another great episode. As for the ‘pivot,’ there seemed to be an opportunity for the executive to engage his direct report a little differently. Instead of stating at the outset that he saw things differently than her (humorously illustrated by the out-takes), the executive could have ‘pivoted’ to instead offer what he shared with her. The effect of this pivot might have better enabled them to experience shared commitment if that was, in fact, the goal.

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Say more, Stephen. Sounds interesting, but I don’t know what you mean when you write the executive could have “pivoted to instead offer what he shared with her?” What do you mean by that sentence?

  2. Stephen Linsky says:

    I was focusing on the executive’s statement at the outset that he saw things differently (than the report). My question simply was, what was the purpose of that statement? If the goal of the meeting was to achieve better alignment between the executive and this person who reported to him, I was suggesting that an alternative starting point might have been to couch the executive’s acknowledgement more in terms of what was shared rather than what differed between the two.

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      The “I see things differently” statement of the executive’s might be perceived as a bit harsh or discounting. I was trying to demonstrate that it’s ok to say that you disagree, particularly if you fear that demonstrating understanding will lead your counterpart to assume that you agree with them. “I see things differently AND I want to make sure I understand how you see them.” Thanks for your insights, Stephen.

  3. Sheella Mierson says:

    I am impressed by the depth and breath of what you covered in acknowledging what the person said. Would you be relying on memory for all this? I ask because when I am reflecting back I sometimes need to pause in smaller chunks to reflect back to make sure I remember everything the person said. Unless of course you are taking notes while they are talking.

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Most often I would be taking notes, Sheella. That’s actually one aspect of this that seemed unrealistic to me in hindsight. I would typically be glancing down at my notes occasionally to ensure that I didn’t miss anything. Thanks so much for writing! ;o)

  4. Ben Stich says:

    Great job as usual, Richard. What you label as acknowledgment is what other people call reflective listening, or showing empathy, or summarizing, or clarifying concerns, or checking for understanding — no matter what one calls it I agree that it is the best way to help someone feel understood, and once they feel understood, you’re in business. Defensiveness decreases, openness to other perspectives develops, and the path to constructive communication flows from there. Your talent is that you can illustrate this in such an engaging and entertaining way! And yes, the outtakes are fabulous.

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Thanks, Ben. Yes, many, many benefits result from doing this, no matter what you call it. Acknowledgement refers specifically to the act of repeating back to one’s counterpart their perspective to ensure that you understand them. It’s one of those strategies that is so simple to understand, so powerful, and yet many of us don’t do it.

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