THE BLOG

If You Just Smile

09/03/2015 22:52 GMT | Updated 05/05/2015 10:59 BST

My job involves a considerable amount of negotiation, often between warring parties, where at first glance a resolution seems very unlikely.

Tempers flare and point scoring from some parties becomes the norm as the games are played. These games are intended to lessen the resolve of the other party and impose a sense of control for one side or the other.

Although this is business and they say you shouldn't take things personally, my experience is that this is a very hollow and meaningless sentiment. If one human being attacks another with words or gestures it takes a very strong person indeed to really let it all wash over them.

There are some people who give the advice to "take things with a pinch of salt", while this has its merits it seems to support a less compassionate approach than I would recommend. I always find that a better piece of advice is "you catch more flies with honey", utilising a calmer, more open and friendly approach works better for me.

Of course broad shoulders and resilience are part of any good negotiators tool kit. As are a degree of common sense, steadfastness and a thorough command of the facts.

The ability not to rise to the baiting that will inevitably occur, and to know when silence is essential, will also improve your chances of success and of keeping your blood pressure levels low.

However good you are as a negotiator though the most underestimated skill is without a doubt keeping a sense of humour. I take my job and the anticipated outcomes very seriously indeed, often as I am negotiating on some matter that can have a massive effect on someone's livelihood. However when tensions are at their highest and tempers are flaring, with the proper timing a degree of levity can help lighten the mood and bring about a reality check.

At a recent meeting the protagonist accused me of "barking" while at the same time as raising his fists in an attack type mode. After a suitable pause the opportunity arose for me to hand over a document, at which point I said "here you are, delivered with just a little woof this time".

Not sure how to respond immediately the other party took a moment's consideration, smiled and said "I think we understand each other don't we"

There was, needless to say, no more inflammatory name calling in the meeting and a more reasoned approach resumed.

Personal attacks are of course a form of bullying and anyone who has been bullied knows that if you are take a defensive approach or attack back you are likely to lose, at least initially. This alternative approach tends to make the bully look rather small and pathetic and so less likely to come back in the same mode.

However, as with everything in life no approach works well on all occasions.

You have to be savvy enough to understand your audience, to know what cards to play and when and most importantly don't forget the hidden value of a smile and a laugh.