Be Soft on the People, But Tough on the Issues

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“Be soft on the people, but tough on the issues.”  This is one of my favorite aphorisms, partly because it’s consistent with my values, partly because of its Zen-like simplicity, but mostly because I’ve found that it works.

When you’re dealing with a direct report, do you want them thinking “I’d do anything for my boss” or “If I don’t do what my boss wants, I’ll get fired”?  Do you want commitment, or compliance?  With the latter, you’ll probably get what you want, but not much more.  With the former, you could get substantially more than you ask for.  Do you want your employee to be energized, or anxious?  Peak performance studies (http://www pretty clearly indicate you should want the former.  You can take an interest in your employee’s family, and hold him or her accountable for meeting deliverables.  You can be compassionate and demanding.  They’re not mutually exclusive.

The same principle holds true for negotiations.  You don’t have to be a jerk in order to have a successful negotiation.  You can be friendly and respectful to the other party, and unyielding on the issues that are important to you.  In fact, the former may help you get the latter.  History is replete with examples where leaders’ personal rapport with each other enabled them to achieve negotiation breakthroughs.

Now, obviously there are exceptions and shades of grey.  Some employees respond better to pressure and some respond better to compassion.  And some negotiations are zero-sum, one-time transactions where the relationship is unimportant (for example, selling your car).  But, in general, I think it’s best to be soft on the people, but tough on the issues.

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