We all love a delightful story. And stories are important in negotiating and resolving disputes. This point was eloquently made by Dr. Joshua N. Weiss in Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, “The Sunday Minute” (April 17, 2022):

At their best, stories create a sense of connection, build trust, allow the listener to enter the conversation where they are, and often can contain more than one lesson. Thus, when it comes to using stories in negotiation, consider these four recommendations:  

  1. Stories convey lessons and provide examples that are easily understood and relatable.Sometimes when you are seeking to persuade other negotiators, you use complicated logical arguments to shift their way of thinking. A good story can often be more effective given that it is usually something people can immediately grasp. 
  2. Stories are easier to recall in tense moments than theories or concepts.When a negotiator is in a difficult situation and experiencing anxiety, they can sometimes freeze up.  It is at that moment that stories become increasingly valuable to recall or deploy.  You can fall back on stories, which will provide you the space and time to emotionally settle and get back to your overall negotiation approach.
  3. Stories are very useful as a tactic to disarm the other negotiator. Stories often seem to come from an outsider’s perspective – even when it is a story that we experienced and are sharing. This perception can be persuasive to a skeptical negotiation counterpart. In addition, stories have a way of disarming the other and naturally drawing them in. This gets the other negotiator to listen in a way that other means of persuasion don’t seem to be able to accomplish.  
  4. Use stories to shift the conversation to a more productive realm. One of the biggest challenges in a negotiation is to shift another negotiator from a competitive approach to a more cooperative one. Effective stories have a way of seamlessly helping a negotiator to make this difficult shift often without even realizing it.

Stories are a lot easier to remember than someone else’s supposed logical (rational?) argument and provide examples to which we all can relate.  They also humanize the teller and help to build trust, rapport and a relationship. They can also demonstrate our empathy. By revealing a little bit about ourselves through a story, we show our vulnerability, our humanity. We become something more than “the opposing party;” we become flesh and blood with the same fears, concerns and issues as everyone else. Our own stories reveal that we, too, have been there, done that and so understand and acknowledge (though not necessarily agreeing) what the other has encountered. We are “like” them and are not the enemy.

And so consequently, through our storytelling, we will “connect” with the other party which, hopefully, will make it much easier to resolve the dispute.

… Just something to think about.





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