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The Way of the Wise

Optimize Blog - December 14, 2015 - 0 comments

There is an old saying that states that “The difference between a smart man and a wise man is that a smart man knows what to say, a wise man knows when to say it.”
As leaders we should recognize that timing and what to say is very important. Asking for resources during budget cuts, criticizing someone’s work after he or she stayed up all night to finish a project, and pointing out that you knew it was all going to end in tears are all examples of poor timing.
Some people are so concerned with demonstrating they were right, or so sure that they know the best way, or simply oblivious to what others think and feel, that they shoot themselves in the foot with poor timing.
To combat poor timing, you may wish to consider these suggestions:
• Before delivering your message, think: “How will others feel if I say that?” or “What will others reaction be if I say this?”
• Be aware that timing is important, not just the “rightness” of the message.
• View your comments or requests in the context of what is going on.
The other lack of wisdom that we often come across is knowing when to fight and when to back off. Leaders who have to win every battle, even at the expense of others, reduce their overall effectiveness as well as their influence in the organization. Because they are so busy championing their own agendas, they may not be aware of the needs or agendas of others. Or, if they are aware of them, these individuals tend to ignore the agendas that are contrary to their own.
You can increase your influence and foster greater cooperation by learning when it is appropriate to assert your agenda and when to set it aside for negotiation. Consider the following:
• Analyze the impact of pushing your agenda to the exclusion of others’ agendas. If you win, will you receive the cooperation of the “losers,” whose help you may need to accomplish your goal? Will you develop a negative reputation as a result of your need to win every point?
• Ask your manager or a respected peer for feedback on your reputation in the “fight/compromise” arena. Do you fight too many battles? Do you fight the wrong battles? Are you viewed as stubborn and unwilling to compromise or as being too willing to give in at the first sign of resistance?
• Consider pre-selling your agenda to a couple of key players. Ask to meet one-on-one with these individuals, and explain your position. If you can gain their support in advance, you may be able to avoid later conflict with less influential players.
• Recognize when others are resisting your agenda by observing both their verbal and nonverbal behaviors. (Are some members of the group more argumentative — or quieter — than usual? Are one or more people leaning back from the table with their arms crossed, or avoiding eye contact with you, or doodling when they should be listening?) Often, the harder you push an agenda on unwilling partners, the stronger they will resist.
• Be aware of others’ needs and goals before you assert your agenda. Do your homework by finding out the issues and concerns of key decision makers ahead of time.
• Don’t concede immediately if you meet resistance. Instead, be willing to discuss and consider compromises.
• Before presenting your agenda to others, identify the areas in which you are willing to compromise. By anticipating resistance and having ready compromises, you can maintain control of the situation while negotiating.
So remember that what to say and when to say it are critical skills for every leader. As Maurice Switzer once said, “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.”

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