Finding a receptive ear

The Art of the Dispute.

I am a commercial litigator. As you would expect, I deal with disputes on a daily basis. However, my profession does not place me in a unique position – far from it. The reality is that each of us has disputes and arguments, of varying degrees of seriousness or triviality, every day.

What my job has given me is an up-close view of the nature of disputes, how and why parties argue and the strategies that they adopt to try and achieve their aims. The purpose of this series of articles is to share with you some observations which are likely to apply as much to your daily interactions outside the workplace as within it.

Enjoy reading the third instalment: Finding a receptive ear

We often act impetuously, driven by the timing of our own agendas. Occasionally this will result in a good outcome – often it will not. When we are in the heat of an argument and we happen upon a good point, a sensible point, a potentially persuasive point, there is a tendency simply to fire this at your opponent with the unrealistic expectation that your work is done and you can now sit back as the dispute is over. Your opponent will, of course, have no option but to concede the righteousness and wisdom of your reasoning and to meet your very reasonable demands in order to put the whole thing behind you both. But then that is not really how things work.

If you and your opponent are in dispute, then there is a chance that they do not, at that moment in time, hold you in particularly high esteem. Their view of the issues is likely to be coloured by emotion as well as their own agenda. If you deliver your good point without an awareness or appreciation of the context in which it is likely to be received, then there is a strong chance that it will miss its mark.

This is particularly important as people are quick to form views but slow to revisit or change them. You may, therefore, have only one opportunity to get your opponent to consider your line of argument in an open and objective way. Miss that opportunity and you may find that any subsequent repetition of the point will fall on deaf ears, your opponent having already categorised and filed away your point as either 'not relevant' or 'not persuasive'.

Daniel Gleek
If you and your opponent are in dispute, then there is a chance that they do not, at that moment in time, hold you  in particularly high esteem.
Daniel Gleek

So, what can you do to mitigate against this risk? The answer is to look for a receptive ear to receive your message. Put at its most simple, this means delivering your message to someone who is prepared to listen to it and who is in the right state of mind to process it.

But it also means ensuring that you deliver your message to the right set of ears. Often, it is fairly easy to identify the 'right set of ears' as it will be your opponent. But that is not true in all cases. You may find that delivering your point to a third party, whose opinion is valued by your opponent, will be much more effective than communicating it directly. Similarly, in larger organisations, the individual with whom you are corresponding may not have the authority, knowledge or commercial nous to recognise and act upon a valid point and so you will need to identify who in that organisation is best placed to address it.

Tips on finding a receptive ear:

There are lots of factors at play when it comes to attuning your opponent's hearing to your wavelength. Do not expect Mr Angry to be receptive to what you have to say. Consider what steps you may need to take to get your opponent to listen. This may mean identifying and removing any obstacles in the way, such as diffusing a heated argument or first addressing other issues. Give careful consideration to whether it is the right time to send your message and act accordingly.

If you have any questions on this article, or you need some legal assistance with a dispute, please contact Daniel Gleek for a conversation on how we can help. 


Validating your opponent's positionopens in new window
You have spent some time considering how you have been wronged. You have given careful thought to your objectives.
What is Winning? The Art of the Disputeopens in new window
It seems a simple enough question, but take a moment to think about it and you begin to realise that there are degrees of winning – and losing.