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Putting your emotions to good use March 1, 2007

Posted by humairah in Skills Development.

Whether it’s the workplace, school or home, our emotions are constantly in action as we meet people wherever we go. “She treats me like dirt”. “The professor marked me wrong intentionally. He’s racist”. “The president never ever listens to me in the meetings. Why do I bother staying on the exec?” And so on.
Daily decisions where you interact with people are mostly two-way negotiations, even if it is shopping for something you like. Your emotions can break the deal, by diverting attention from substantial matters. Emotions can also be dangerous, as they can be used to exploit you. But at the same time, they can be a great asset. Should you deal directly with your emotions? It’s a complicated task.
Two years ago, I met Daniel Shapiro, Associate Director of the Harvard Negotiation Project. He was the Keynote speaker at the National Business & Technology conference in Toronto. And from him I learnt how to put emotions to good use. He and co-author Roger Fisher wrote an amazing book, Beyond Reason, which is my main reference for this article.
In order to develop a framework for understanding and dealing with your emotions, you have to analyse them. Fisher and Shapiro talk about core concerns that are human wants important to almost everyone in virtually every negotiation. They are often unspoken but are no less real than our tangible interests. These core concerns that can blend and merge with one another are: appreciation, affiliation, autonomy, status and role. These core concerns focus on your relationship with others, and make up the emotional volume of any negotiation.

Express appreciation: Find merit in what others thinking, feel or do- and show it.
Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) advised us: “Shake hands and rancour will disappear. Give gifts to each other and love each other and enmity will disappear”1.
Everyone has a desire to feel understood, valued and heard. If people feel honestly appreciated, they are more likely to work together and less likely to act hostile. You can appreciate by:

  • Understanding a person’s viewpoint.
    Be prepared to listen. Do not ignore ambivalence or resistance. By being aware of a mixed message, you can better appreciate someone’s point of view. For example:
    She hates that colour. [But others don’t]
    She hates that colour. [She’s probably not going to change her mind easily]
    She hates that colour. [She hates that colour more than other colours]
    She hates that colour. [It’s the colour, but she’s okay with the model]
  • Finding merit in what the person thinks, feels, or does.
    Sincerity is crucial. When you strongly disagree with others, try acting as an impartial mediator, especially if it’s on issue that’s personally important. And once you find the merit, you will be able to say, “I know you worked harder than any other person in our group on this assignment.”
  • Communicating your understanding through words or actions.
    There’s no need for flowery language, your intention should be to recognise the person’s thoughts or actions. Be careful that the other person does not become defensive. Saying, “yes, I understand” is not enough. Make sure you listen actively, with concentration. If listening is hard for you, work on it. One idea is to practice reflective listening. You paraphrase either the factual information or the feelings the other person is expressing.

You may not agree with the other person’s viewpoint, that’s fine. But you can understand it and acknowledge whatever merit you can find. We all become emotionally rewarded when are appreciated just for who we are and what we do.

You talked to your father about moving out, and the situation got out of hand. Your father refused to believe that you would be able to manage living independently, and you don’t want to give in either. Put yourself in your father’s shoes, and ask yourself:

  1. In what ways does your father might feel that you do not understand him?
  2. In what ways does your father’s point of view have merit?
  3. Have you communicated that you understand what he’s saying to him?

Your father’s insecurity comes from his role in the family. He wants to make sure that you’re comfortable wherever you are. For question 2, you can tell him: “You are right about my spending habits, but I believe living alone will give me the opportunity to learn to budget”.

Build affiliation: Turn an adversary into a colleague
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) used the message of Islam, and his forbearing attitude to turn many initial idolaters to Islam. One such incident was when before he was a Muslim; Zayd ibn Sa’na came to demand that the Prophet repay a loan to him. He pulled his garment from his shoulder, seized hold of him and behaved coarsely towards him. Umar chased him off and spoke harshly to him while the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, merely smiled. He said, “I expect something other than this from you, Umar. You should command me to repay the man well and command him to ask for his debt correctly.” Then he said, “Three days are left till it is due.” He told Umar to repay him what was owed and to add twenty sa’s because he had alarmed him. This was the cause through which Zayd became Muslim2.

  • From the outset, treat the other as a colleague.
  • Plan joint activities to help you meet the other party in less formal setting.
  • Exclude with care; don’t make others feel left out.
  • Reduce personal distance by connecting in creative ways.

Wise decisions involve both your head and your gut, and protect yourself from being manipulated by affiliation.

Respect autonomy: Expand yours (and don’t impinge upon theirs)
Use the I-C-N bucket system: Inform, Consult, Negotiate.
The 3 buckets can come in handy for labour-management negotiators and others who work together over time and face similar decisions again and again. The process also help those who work together to keep from stepping on each other’s toes without being paralyzed for the need for constant consensus.
Whatever your authority, you can always make a recommendation or suggest inventing options before deciding. Joint brainstorming is a practical process for you to invent options for mutual benefit.

Acknowledge Status: Recognise high standing wherever deserved
Status enhances our self-esteem and influence. Khalid bin Walid, the great commander of the Muslim army was asked to step down, in a letter sent to Abu Ubaidah by the Caliph Umar, at the battle of Yarmuk. The battle was still not over, and a change in leadership at this stage could prove to be an abhorrent decision. Abu Ubaidah acknowledged Khalid’s outstanding position and between them they were able to decide to inform the Muslim soldiers of the change once the battle was over3.
Every person has multiple areas of high status, there’s no need to compete with others over this. Appreciate the high status of others where relevant and deserved and feel proud of your own areas of expertise and achievement. If you truly appreciate your own status, you can acknowledge the status of others without cost. And treating others with appropriate respect often makes them respect you.

Choose a fulfilling role: And select the activities within in
We all have a concern with having a role that is personally fulfilling. We do not want to spend our days and nights playing phoney roles or trying to be someone who we are not. In a negotiation playing an unfulfilling role can lead to be resentment, anger or frustration.
A fulfilling role has 3 qualities: It has a clear purpose, it is personally meaningful, and it is not a pretense. And every role has a job label and a set of fulfilling activities. Raza works very hard to get through school part time by working odd jobs. His dream is to get into theatrical production. When he’s working in retail, he spends a lot of time analysing his customers, imagining roles for them, and thinking up dialogues. His colleague on the other hand, just pouts about little he gets paid because he’s a student. Raza has expanded his role to include meaningful activities.
Also, appreciate the role others want to play. Your project group has a member who works extremely hard, but at the same time tries to take all the credit. An unfulfilling role leaves us feeling trivialised and unengaged. As the hadith goes, “if you hear about your brother something of which you disapprove, seek from one to seventy excuses for him. If you cannot find any, convince yourselves that it is an excuse you do not know4.” You should appreciate how the situation looked to your partner. He’s doing badly in other courses and this is boosting his confidence. Or, he thinks he’ll lose friends if his performance drops, and so on.
As we negotiate, we play a role in response to a role set by another person. If the other person makes demands, so do we. If they call us weak, we show our strength.

Reshaping your role can take effort. But don’t give up. Over time, you can shape your role to your liking.
The ideas in this article require a live human being to understand and put them to practice. You can act in ways that meet the core concerns in others as well as in yourself. Express appreciation. Build a sense of affiliation. Respect each person’s autonomy and status. Help shape roles to be fulfilling.

1 Muwatta 47.4.16
2 Al-Bayhaqi, Ibn Hibban, at-Tabarani and Abu Nu`aym
3 History of the Khulafaa taught by Muhammad AlShareef, Al Maghrib Institute
4 Al-Bayhaqi