Asking basic questions is easier than correcting basic mistakes

Asking basic questions is easier than correcting basic mistakes”.

My father was a lifelong employee of Procter & Gamble and worked in many interesting places across the Americas, the Middle East and Europe.  He held a senior position without making it right to the top.  Whilst based in Geneva, he employed an Armenian manager, let’s call him Omar.  Some years later Omar leap-frogged my father and became a Vice President responsible for a whole continent.  To my mind, he was not particularly impressive as an individual.  Being curious, one day I asked my father what it was that allowed Omar to rise to the top of P&G.  His answer somewhat surprised me.

He told me that Omar was a great negotiator.  I asked why.  Was it because he was exceptionally intelligent or articulate?  Not really.  Was he charming. Not out of the ordinary. Did his presence command the room. No.

But he had one skill that his colleagues were generally too afraid to employ.  In important meetings, Omar was never afraid to ask the most basic questions, however silly they might make him look at the time.  So?  These basic questions often revealed that the parties to the negotiation had never bothered to check on some fundamental assumptions.  By asking questions before formulating opinions, Omar discovered that one party was assuming one thing whilst another was working on quite different assumptions.  Often the misunderstanding was between members of the same team. The unspoken mismatch paved the road to failure.  Entrenched positions could be taken that were without foundation.  Omar’s seemingly silly questions could unlock the barriers to a successfully concluded negotiation.

Simon’s message:

Never, and I mean never, fail to check on people’s assumptions when conducting negotiations. You also need to listen hard, using all your senses.

Posted on 3rd March 2023 by Simon Greenly