Is there someone in your workplace or law land world that you don’t really get or struggle to work with? Do they make your work difficult or are they always at odds with you?

I think it’s safe to say that it happens to all of us. However, what you do to work with these people depends on you, though.

Remember when we learned the basics of negotiation in our undergraduate years or perhaps in mediation training specifically? Positions vs Interests?

No? Hmm, maybe you review your notes or you can cheat and google it (I won’t tell anyone!)

One of the things we get taught is to take the time to understand the position of the parties and their interests to understand how you may find a resolution that both parties can live with. What they say they want, may not really reconcile with why they want it or what their underlying values or motivations (i.e. their interests) are in taking that position.

I’ve always drawn a likeness to this approach when speaking to people about working with colleagues who might be perceived as difficult or challenging in some way.

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What motivates them? What do they value? Where have they come from? What is their background?

These questions may be easier to uncover for some than others. If you have good intuition, you could work these things out organically.

The way to find these things out is to spend time with them. I appreciate this can be difficult, but hear me out. Maybe if you’re in the tearoom or lecture theatre together, strike up a casual conversation. It doesn’t have to be lengthy or even particularly thought-provoking and it may take multiple attempts. You have to start somewhere. The purpose is to learn about them. It will take multiple interactions to start to unravel their position and their underlying interests.

By learning more about them, you can begin to learn how to effectively communicate with them to achieve the desired outcome; to work effectively with them and foster a better working relationship.

Can you find a common interest or just a common ground? Do you both enjoy the coffee from that cafe down the road and around the corner, whilst others prefer the one down the street?

People fundamentally like talking about themselves. They also like the sound of their name. These two things were pointed out to me when I read How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie and they’re super true. Admittedly, when I read this and then adapted it when speaking with people at a networking event, I could barely believe the result. It was like I learnt how to slice bread!

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Try using their name back to them when you speak to them; “So, Brett, where do you get the best coffee around here anyway?” OK, perhaps a corny example, but you probably get the gist!

We all communicate differently. Some communicate verbally, others may do so more non-verbally (i.e. body language etc).

Importantly, and more broadly speaking, spending time with and observing people can help you learn more about different communication styles and consider how you may evolve your own communication styles to enable you to break down barriers between yourself and others. Maybe even between you and the person you currently struggle with.

While your original motivations to work through this may be associated with this particular person, the benefits to be gained from undertaking this process are enormous. The skills and comfort level you can associate with this practice will help you in everything you do, particularly so in the practice of law and dealing with clients, negotiating deals or just dealing with people in your workplace.

Fundamentally, in all the above, you have to mean it. People can see through disingenuous conversation. Your commitment to this also needs to be long term. This is an ongoing and meaningful commitment to a good working relationship.

Spend the time to get to know the people around you.

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You may be surprised by what you learn.

“The biggest communication problem is that we don’t listen to understand,
 we listen to reply.”
Stephen R Covey

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