When to Talk?

One of the challenges in negotiation training is to help people see how they talk from the perspective of effects rather than intentions. The two things are rarely the same.  We usually talk because we want something. Thus the idea starts from “me” (my wants) rather than “you” (your wants) let alone, “us”. So the love crazed alligator staring into the eyes of his companion across the cafe table who asks “Do we have the courage to love?” is brilliant. The question pierces through the fog of individual longing to probe a shared, rather dangerous future. But as brilliant as it may be, there is no guarantee that it will start a sensible dialogue.

In the real world it can be quite a shock when we suddenly realize that the listener has filtered our brilliant ideas through his or her own agenda, hearing only what he wanted to hear. From my experience, this happens all the time. So “Pass the salt, please” can be easily translated into “I have always hated your mother”.

How do we get beyond this? As Dan Pink wisely points out, we need first to “attune” ourselves to what the other person sees. That can be hard to do. And as famous negotiator and writer, Bill Ury points out in his engaging video below, the attunement works even better if both parties attune themselves to a “higher authority” or third person in the room.

BTW, if you have difficulty coping with what you think other people expect from you, I highly recommend that you take a peek at Bill’s practical book, “The Power of a Positive No“. In the book, he offers a practical way to say “no” so that it has great effect.

The above suggestions create a “protocol” that orders when to talk, what to say and how to say it. And to use these protocols to gain effect we need to practice. As an aside, the chaos that we find on the internet is caused at least in part because we don’t have good protocols to manage how to exchange content that we want to share. This is the challenge that platform builders try to overcome to make “peer to peer networks” more useful.

So what about machines? As we head toward the “internet of things”, we face a similar problem. When should machines speak to each other and when should they listen? This requires a protocol that is programmed into the network so that robots can talk to each other. So while you are not home, your coffee table can ask the vacuum cleaner to get rid of the dust under the table and the vacuum cleaner can ask the table to move over so that it can get the job done. Stuff like that.

Giga reports today that MIT researchers have put together a programming tool that does this to manage the data flow between multiple independent robots.

Writing a program to control a single autonomous robot navigating an uncertain environment with an erratic communication link is hard enough; write one for multiple robots that may or may not have to work in tandem, depending on the task, is even harder.

Amen to that! Ooops! Got to go! My refrigerator wants to talk with me.


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