3 steps in solving for the human side of issues


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Bruce Macmillan on 29/06/17

I have been reflecting on several discussions over the past week that have really shown the importance of solving not just for the "factual side" of an issue but also for the "emotional side" as, being humans, how we feel about the way that a problem is solved is frequently at least as important, sometimes more so, than the actual factual solution. Less (but enough) given with good grace can often feel better than more given with bad grace and not just in home life, in employment relations, in dealings between business and consumers ("Treating Customers Fairly"), but also in more purely commercial dealings.

So, when thinking about building, repairing or ending relationships (and when building systems and processes to deal with these things - like customer service escalations, consumer dispute resolution, enterprise risk allocation and management frameworks etc) it is helpful not just to ensure that you understand which factual points need to be resolved and what will be adequate to achieve this but also, looking at the individuals involved, to consider in respect (1) of the overall situation and (2) for each point within it:

Emotional Alertness ("EA"): Who is engaging emotionally and how strongly? Who is apparently unconcerned? But are they actually unconcerned? Try to test your assumptions as appearances can be deceptive and "disinterested" and "disengaged because you are so far away from understanding what is really annoying me" can look very similar;

Emotional Intelligence ("EI"): Having worked out who has an emotional connection to what you are doing; then try to work out what is actually wrong/causing concern/upset (including within yourself if you are a party to the issue and not simply a facilitator). Bear in mind that (1) most upsets are multi-layered and people often articulate the easiest to express concern first with the most important one(s) only being surfaced later when they trust that you understand them and are empathetic; and (2) if multiple people are involved then the issues that they have are likely to be interconnected meaning that one thing could solve more than one problem. Or it could solve one problem and worsen others. So step back and look at the overall picture regularly while trying to resolve the individual components;

Emotional Outcomes ("EO"): Trying to create a solution which consciously and adequately addresses the emotional needs that you have identified - whether it be a consumer apology letter that does not read like a template; a resolution of an employment grievance that does not sound grudging; a compromise that does not leave an executive looking foolish publicly; a negotiated outcome to a dispute where all parties look like they are sharing the pain (even if some of them are secretly delighted with the result); even an acknowledgement that you could yourself have done things better or differently yourself (though this might be more of an expedient rather than an accurate comment).

Ultimately, no "rational economic person" is without inner emotions and no business operates other than through its people. So businesses, and the deals that they make and cancel, are all a mix of facts and emotions. 

And, if you only deal with the facts; or only deal with the emotions; then it is likely that what you do, negotiate, resolve etc will work less well than if you deal with both!

For more from the Centre for Legal Leadership on a related topic, read this article: Influencing the science of the art of persuasion.
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