On Negotiation and Influence

I took a class through work yesterday on how to influence people without having formal authority. It’s not just a workplace skill, though, and when we broke up into groups to discuss one specific scenario, the group I was in wound up working not on “How do we allocate resources to competing software development projects?” but “How do three brothers help their mom move to a new apartment?”

My co-worker, the middle brother, didn’t just need to find an apartment and schedule a move. Mom and all three brothers had to agree on the details about size, price, location, and schedule.

Our conclusion during the fifteen minute training exercise was that it would be critical to finesse the older brother. He’s contrary and doesn’t like taking suggestions or orders from the younger brothers, so the middle brother would have to meet with him separately and make sure he felt that he was really a major part of the decision-making process.

That wasn’t the only problem. The thing was, nobody in the conversation was truly working in good faith. Mom says she’s fine with whatever, she’s ready to move to a smaller apartment, and any of the three or four neighborhoods they’ve been considering would be fine. But the youngest brother is always breaking up with girlfriends and asking to move back home, so she wants a second bedroom just in case. She can’t say that because it seems unfair to the other boys, who are helping her pay for this apartment, and also implies a lack of faith in the success of her baby boy’s life choices.

Similar subtexts and unstated preferences apply to neighborhoods: Mom’s in charge of picking the location, since it’s her house. All the brothers want her to move to the neighborhood which will make visiting her most convenient for them. They won’t say that because, you know, it’s mom’s house.

The relevant analogy for national politics kind of writes itself.

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