by Yonason Goldson
My physical therapist likes to chat while she works her magic. I know a bit more than I need to about her husband, her kids, and her sister.
During one particular session, however, she embarked on an unusual line of conversation.
“Can you help me with a problem?” she asked. “I don’t know what to do.”
“What’s the problem?” I replied.
For the past several years, she had been renting a room in another doctor’s office. The doctor and his secretary (also his wife) were good landlords and had become good friends. However, they had been raising her rent year after year, and the price they were asking for the coming year seemed to her unreasonably high.
“I can’t afford to pay what they want,” she said. “But I don’t want to seem ungrateful or damage our relationship by telling them I’m leaving.”
I gave the dilemma a few moments of consideration. Then I offered this suggestion:
“Explain your situation to them. Tell them you want to stay with them, but that you can’t afford a hike in rent. Then give them the choice: Would they like to keep you as a tenant at the current price, or should you move out so they can look for a new tenant who can afford what they’re asking?”
That’s what she did. Her landlords said they needed to raise the rent, so she thanked them and found a more economical space nearby. By giving them the choice, she was able to part ways on amicable terms while reducing her overhead by thirty percent.
The same principle applies in almost every form of negotiation and personal interaction, whether in business dealings, community engagement, marriage, or child-rearing.
Whenever possible, present two options, both of which are acceptable to you. For example:
Would you prefer to work at a satellite office with a longer commute but fewer hours or longer hours at the home office?
Would you like to take the lead on an important project that will require extra time and effort, or should I look for someone else more eager to make that commitment?
Do you want to do your homework before supper or after supper but before dessert?
If both options are acceptable to you, it doesn’t matter which choice they make. By giving up control of the decision, you empower the other party and get more buy-in, increasing the likelihood they will be at peace with the decision and they will fulfill your expectations with greater diligence.
It’s the ultimate win-win.
Human ego often gets in the way of our success. The boss wants to assert her authority, while the employee wants to be trusted and respected. The supervisor wants to make sure that guidelines are being followed, while the representative wants to exercise independence and creativity.
Ethics calls on us to bend a little to accommodate others. However, by giving up a little, we can get back a lot. Reframing instructions as choices allows potential combatants to meet peacefully in the middle. When the person in charge shows a willingness to give up a small measure of authority, that goes a long way toward creating a more harmonious and efficient work environment.
Moreover, when you are invested in one choice over the other, you can use the same technique to demonstrate how one choice is obviously better than the other. For example:
Do you want to persist in asserting your authority, or do you want to relinquish a little bit of control to achieve greater success?
The choice is yours.
Do you have an ethical question or dilemma you’d like to explore in this column? Contact me at email@example.com.
Rabbi Yonason Goldson is a conference keynote speaker and coach. He works with leaders to create a culture of ethics by setting higher standards to limit liability while building loyalty and trust.
Visit him at ethicalimperatives.com.