The Bhagavad Gita has 18 chapters. No,this is NOT a religious post!😎
The Gita chronicles the dialogue between a mentor and his protegé. Arjuna, the mentee is in a state of despair pitted in a battle against his loved ones and refuses to fight. The mentor, Lord Krishna reasons with him.
In the entire first chapter, you will only hear ‘Arjuna uvacha’ or Arjuna describing his emotions and questioning the need for this hostility. Lord Krishna LISTENS without interruptions, trying to UNDERSTAND his anxiety. In the second chapter, in verse 4, you hear the mentor uttering the words, ‘Bhagavan uvacha’ for the very first time.
I heard this anecdote in a discourse by Sunandaji or Sunanada Parthasarathy daughter of the renowned Gita scholar, Parthasarathi ji.
What Krishna meant to convey with his initial silence was a classic case of ‘I UNDERSTAND. I NEED NOT ACCEPT’, a crucial mantra in influencing skills. Before you try to build agreement, understand the context.
“Most conversations are monologues in the presence of witnesses.”
An incident shared by a participant, Sanjoy in one of my sessions, comes readily to mind. Sanjoy went up to his boss requesting a 20-day leave to attend to the pre-wedding formalities of his only sister. Without batting an eyelid, the boss snapped, “No way. Twenty days for your SISTER’s wedding! Why, I wouldn’t even need so many for MINE!”
Rather than walking back crestfallen, he requested his boss, “before I leave why don’t you at least ask me WHY I need such a long period of absence?” There was something in his tone that made his boss sit up and listen.
Sanjoy went on to explain that he belonged to a remote village in Odisha accessible only by foot from the nearest bus station. His parents had passed away at an early age leaving him to be the sole bread winner in the family. He, therefore had to not only conduct rituals carried out by a parent but also conform to various social obligations towards the smooth conduct of the wedding.
All of a sudden, his boss’s demeanour softened and from a blatant ‘NO’ the conversation moved to open ended questions, instead. “Why do you need twenty days?” “Isn’t there some one, some relative, you could delegate a few tasks to, so that you could be present for just the most critical rituals?” “What if I permit you to travel by air both ways and instead reduce your leave to 15 days so that you can attend the client meeting and still make it to your sister’s wedding, would that help?”
Sanjoy’s precarious situation had confounded his city-bred manager who was used to simply enlisting the services of a wedding planner. He gradually came around to understanding Sanjoy’s context but felt constrained due to a client visit which he needed Sanjoy to attend, as the domain expert. They worked out a compromise by Sanjoy agreeing to travel by air, to and fro and accepting a reduction in the number of days of his leave from 20 to 15. Sanjoy got almost what he wanted while the manger got Sanjoy to attend the crucial client meeting.
Although Sanjay’s request was not met in its entirety the mere fact that his boss was made to ask that vital question ‘Why?’, the situation was amicably diffused and settled.
While trying to influence others, therefore, do not embrace the typical, ‘my way or the highway’ approach. Instead, learn to adopt a wide array of open-ended questions, reflective questions and hypothetical questions. The results, I assure you will be much more conducive and mutually agreeable.
Significantly, this approach is applicable to debates,especially political,in which both the parties argue with fixated minds without even trying to understand the background. And in integrative negotiations where the aim is not to merely strike a deal but aim for a long- term solution,
I hope I UNDERSTAND. I NEED NOT ACCEPT makes sense to you now.