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03/03/2014

Telling "The Third Story"

IStock_000001056012_webI looked at the time.  Just 5 minutes before I was to teach communication skills in conflict management with Hippo Solutions to a group of employees at a company in Franklin, Tennessee.

Since I had a few minutes to spare, I checked my email.  Wow- what timing!  A friend had just sent a distressed message, forwarding on an email she had sent to a client, asking me what she had done wrong. The client had called her on the phone spewing a verbal firestorm, saying her "tone" in her email was totally out of line.

I looked at what she had written.  She had started the email by defending herself, stating her perspective of something they had discussed earlier.  Right out of the gate she had shot herself in the foot (how's that for two idioms in a row?).

I hurriedly wrote her back.  "It's best to have these kinds of conversations in person or at least on the phone.  Email often doesn't relay our 'tone' accurately.  In any case, you might want to try starting your conversation by showing that you believe the best about him, stating something you can both agree on."

It was exactly what I was about to teach.  Advisors from The Harvard Negotiation Project in their book Difficult Conversations recommend that we start from "The Third Story."  Instead of starting from The First Story, your story, in which you would say, "I think you are wrong," or from The Second Story, in which you would say, "I know you think you are right," try starting from The Third Story.

Whether it's a tough conversation with a coworker or your spouse, the Third Story is the story you can both agree on, the story which starts, "You and I both want this relationship to work," or "We both want to keep this customer," or "You and I both love our kids."  In so doing, you start by affirming the other person as having good intentions and paint the picture of the two of you on the same team working together to solve a problem.

Then you can clarify, "It seems like we have different perspectives on this.  I would like to hear yours and share mine with you, too."  (Of course, you would say all of this in your own words so it won't sound like it came directly out of a textbook.)

After I finished teaching the session to my captive audience, I checked my email.  My friend had decided to call her client.  Not surprisingly, he call-screened her, so she left him a message.  If he gives her another chance and calls her back, I have a feeling he's going to hear her begin the conversation with a much better story- The Third Story.


 
 


 

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