I didn't learn a lot from my father. Never really got to know him much. But there was one lesson he taught me that has stayed with me every day. I want to share it with everybody.
It happened many years ago. I was in an ugly divorce. My Dad was my attorney. My then-husband was making all kinds of weird threats and demands. No negotiations seemed to get anywhere. He wouldn't budge. I finally called for a sit-down meeting with him and his lawyer so we could figure out what the heck they wanted, and negotiate something that everybody could live with.
When we left that meeting, my Dad said to me in the parking lot, "I've been a lawyer nearly 40 years, and that was the worst meeting I've ever had." I said, "Why?" He said, "The other side was never open to negotiations. They never planned to even listen to us. They're not open to new information. It was a complete waste." Evidently, he had never been to a meeting/negotiation where the other side was prepared to budge 0% on their demands. We had assumed that a man and his lawyer agreeing to a meeting were open to listening, negotiating, and compromising. We were wrong.
And it makes me think.
It makes me think about how much we do things like that in everyday life. How much time we spend trying to convince people of something they're really not even listening to. How we assume that just because someone is in a conversation with us that they are really absorbing what we're saying, and COULD be swayed by our amazing information. Think about how frustrated you get when you are just trying to explain this to this person! And he's just not getting it! So you're going to explain it AGAIN! And maybe with more exclamation points, maybe nastier language... as your day ticks away.
I've watched this recently with a friend who had a mini email battle with some guy he barely knew. Every time the guy emailed him, the guy was condescending and bully-ish. In my opinion, it's a mistake for my friend to even bother writing this guy back anything longer than one sentence. This guy is NOT going to wake up and see that he's condescending, bully-ish, unreasonable, disorganised, etc... Every second you spend writing him back, especially those LONG emails he doesn't care about, and every second you spend thinking about him is a waste.
I'd bet my friend even tried being condescending and bully-ish to the other guy, partially to see if the guy woke up, and partially to fight fire with fire. I'd bet my friend made threats to push the other guy, threats like choosing to not make his usual donation to an organisation they're both a part of. I think my friend will follow through on that threat. And guess what? The other guy didn't change his tone or opinion at all. The other guy acted like nobody needs my friend's money or involvement. So who is winning this?
And sometimes, I see people ramping this up by trying to embarrass the other person. Like he's not getting it, so where can I post this so that other people will see me schooling him in what I'm trying to get across. Another mistake, and just makes you look like a major bad guy for airing it on Twitter, Facebook, a discussion forum, wherever. When does something make sense as a tweet or Facebook post, and when does it make sense to privately email someone? If you're at a business event, when does it make sense to walk up to someone and make a suggestion, or get that suggestion to them privately, compared to tweeting to everybody with the event's hashtag... so everybody sees it?
Ask yourself what you're trying to accomplish. Can you accomplish it without embarrassing others, or looking like the bad guy? Should you bother dealing with that "worst meeting," or should you just not reply to that guy? Think about my lesson, and do unto others. If you wouldn't want someone doing that to you, especially in a public forum, don't do it to anyone else. I believe what goes around comes around, and you may not like when it comes around.
So the lesson is...
You can't "wake someone up." You can't make him or her more aware of his or her own behaviour. I was never going to make my ex-husband more reasonable in negotiations. My friend is never going to get the condescending guy who emails him to be friendly, reasonable, understanding.
And maybe I'm not going to get you to do anything differently! :) But I wish I could save everybody the time and frustration/anger, and give you the ability to see when you're walking into the "worst meeting," where the other party is not open to any information other than what they already think, know, or believe.