Four Steps to Winning an Entrenched Fight

Tempers were escalating as was the loudness of the voices in the room. Each side of the table grew more recalcitrant and less willing to listen. Barry, the leader of one group, rolled his eyes and stood up to leave the room. A voice from the other side of the table said, “You know, you’re completely right on that issue.” Barry sat back down, ready to hear the other side out. The impasse had passed.

When you’re sure you’re right, it can be difficult to give an inch. It’s easy to get so entrenched that you’re no longer listening or engaging in a dialogue. If that happens, it’s time to get strategic. To make progress, follow these four steps.

Step 1: Look for something that you agree with

Telling someone that they’re right is disarming and works in your favor. Examine all of the points the person is making. There is almost certainly a place to find common ground.

Let’s say that you’re in a meeting in which management is pushing back on sending an ethics and culture survey to the company. They argue that it’s too expensive and that employees have compliance fatigue after taking the recent Code of Conduct training. In response, you could try something like:

  • I completely agree with you that we need to protect against compliance fatigue

  • You’re so right about preventing compliance fatigue

  • I love that you brought that up because we have to watch out for compliance fatigue

  • You’re so smart to focus on preventing compliance fatigue

These statements will catch them off guard. The phrase “off guard” is just that – the person lowering their guard, which gives you the opportunity to move to the next step.

Step 2: Avoid “but” - use “and” Instead

Once you’ve agreed with the adversary,

Tempers were escalating as was the loudness of the voices in the room. Each side of the table grew more recalcitrant and less willing to listen.  Barry, the leader of one group, rolled his eyes and stood up to leave the room.  A voice from the other side of the table said, “You know, you’re completely right on that issue.” Barry sat back down, ready to hear the other side out.  The impasse had passed.

When you’re sure you’re right, it can be difficult to give an inch.  It’s easy to get so entrenched that you’re no longer listening or engaging in a dialogue.  If that happens, it’s time to get strategic.  To make progress, follow these four steps.

Step 1: Look for something that you agree with

Telling someone that they’re right is disarming and works in your favor.  Examine all of the points the person is making.  There is almost certainly a place to find common ground. 

Let’s say that you’re in a meeting in which management is pushing back on sending an ethics and culture survey to the company.  They argue that it’s too expensive and that employees have compliance fatigue after taking the recent Code of Conduct training. In response, you could try something like:

  • I completely agree with you that we need to protect against compliance fatigue

  • You’re so right about preventing compliance fatigue

  • I love that you brought that up because we have to watch out for compliance fatigue

  • You’re so smart to focus on preventing compliance fatigue

These statements will catch them off guard.  The phrase “off guard” is just that – the person lowering their guard, which gives you the opportunity to move to the next step.

Step 2: Avoid “but” –  use “and” Instead

Once you’ve agreed with the adversary, do not immediately reassert your point of view.  “You’re right about that, but…” won’t release the tension – it will escalate it.  Use an “and” statement such as:

  • and building on what you’ve said

  • and keeping that in mind

  • and since we agree on that

Step 3: Find a way to Reframe or Concede a Small Point

Find something you’re willing to concede or renegotiate.  It can be tiny. 

For instance:

  • I completely agree with you that we need to protect against compliance fatigue and building on that, we could send the survey to a subset of the employee group…

  • You’re so right about preventing compliance fatigue, and since we agree on that, why don’t we shorten the survey to eight questions instead of the ten we originally envisioned?

Step 4: Expect Reciprocity

According to social scientists like Robert Cialdini, wholeheartedly agreeing with someone is akin to a compliment, which triggers the social norm of reciprocity.  By genuinely agreeing with a person’s statement, you prompt the deeply ingrained social behavior to respond in kind.  Your agreement is likely to create a desire in them to agree with one of your points, moving the needle forward toward an acceptable resolution.

Steve Jobs said, “I don’t really care about being right, I just care about success.”  By telling the other person that they’re right about something, you’ll be much closer to what you really want, and that’s success.

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Kristy Grant-Hart

Kristy Grant-Hart is the founder and CEO of Spark Compliance.
She's a renowned expert at transforming compliance departments into in-demand business assets.