Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

5 Steps to Better Conversations

There is no such thing as a worthless conversation, provided you know what to listen for. And questions are the breath of life for a conversation. James Nathan Miller

In today’s fast paced world, we may have many virtual conversations, but, we are losing the ability to sit across a person or a group of people and have a real conversation. We are pre-occupied with the myriad of things happening in our life, or are constantly being beeped by one of the many gadgets we carry. This does not bode well for our generation, because a breakdown in the ability to communicate in the real world can have disastrous repercussions. We see that today in the increase in divorces, suicides and depression related illnesses. Somewhere along this rapid technological progress, we are losing touch with the fundamental bonds which hold us all together. The art of conversation is one such bond, it has been pivotal in our development. Listed below are five steps, to assist and benchmark conversational and communication skills.

1. Knowledge: When it comes to being a good communicator, knowledge is a defining aspect. Without it, we can talk without actually saying very much. When an individual is knowledgeable, it comes across even when you talk to them about the most trivial of subjects. One must constantly keep learning and growing. With the proliferation of information today, there are so many ways we can keep ourselves abreast on current affairs as also increase our knowledge on subjects we are interested in. To learn specific tips on how to increase your knowledge base, please click here.

2. Confidence: Being confident about oneself is an integral part of being a good communicator. Without this characteristic, knowledge will not help you to communicate in an effective manner. To assess our confidence, we have to identify instances where we lack the confidence to take a stand or share an opinion. Watch the best communicators in the world and visualize yourself communicating in similar manners. We have to get rid of negative thoughts which give rise to self doubt. At the same time, we have to keep a fine balance between being confident and over confident. To learn specific tips on how to increase your level of confidence, please click here.

3. Clarity: Without clarity, the message we want to communicate can get lost somewhere in translation. This will result in both the speaker and audience getting frustrated and tune out. There needs to be substantial and adequate thought put into the organization of our ideas. At the same time, we need to make sure that the language we use is not too convoluted that it confuses rather than impresses the audience. Lastly and most importantly, pronunciation is of critical importance. These factors put together, form the basic foundation of clarity of speech. To learn about each component in greater detail, please click here.

4. Enthusiasm: No one really wants to talk to someone who is sick of life and has lost the passion for living. Individuals who attract us are those whose body language, tone and words express their zest for life. They have a certain type of energy around them which makes just about anything they say a lot more enjoyable. Since 93% of all conversation is based on non verbal cues which include your body language and tone, it is essential that we pay more attention to them to ensure that our conversations are an accurate reflection of our persona and the message we want to convey. To learn more about these three factors, which determine the enthusiasm level in your conversations, please click here.

5. Listening: The art of listening is a dying art in our world today. Conversations are constantly and rudely interrupted, or the audience distracted, either due to information overload in their minds, or one of the many gadgets on them, which keep beeping or ringing. In order to become better listeners there are three areas we should focus our attention towards. Firstly, are we actively listening to the conversations we are part of? Secondly, do we have internal filters which are impeding our listening to the entire message. Lastly, are we paying attention to the subtle clues in each conversation conveyed through tone, body language and choice of words? To learn more about each of these three areas, please click here.

As an entrepreneur we have to work towards making great first impressions to colleagues, investors and customers. Our conversational skills are a large component of the overall impression we project. We have to ensure that we are conveying the impression we wish to. The steps provided above should assist in evaluating your present conversational skills and subsequently used to benchmark how we measure up on each one . Better conversational skills and abilities will not only increase the quality of your professional relationships, it will do wonders for your personal relationships too. I wish you the best of luck in all your future endeveours.

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Are you listening?

“We were given two ears but only one mouth, because listening is twice as hard as talking.” Anonymous

The art of listening is a dying art in our world today. Conversations are constantly and rudely interrupted, or the audience distracted, either due to information overload in their minds, or one of the many gadgets on them, which keep beeping or ringing. Somehow no one seems to be listening anymore, yet, everyone seems to be talking a lot more. The fact of the matter is, listening is not the easiest of exercises. It requires large amounts of patience, a willingness to learn from the other person and most importantly, to have respect for the other person’s point of view. However, in the fast paced world we live in today, everyone seems to want to get their two bits in, and has frankly stopped caring about what the other person is saying or feeling. Conversations structured like this are the worst sort of one-way monologues one is part of. Developing skills to be a better listener takes years to master, listed below are some steps to assess one’s current level, and then work on them further.

1. Active Listening: Have you ever spoken to someone and the other person appeared to be distracted or not really there? This creates a level of frustration in the speaker, and eventually they lose interest in sharing their opinion because they are not being heard. When an individual is listening actively they are constantly either reaffirming the thoughts of the speaker with nods or the occasional “uh-huh”, when unclear they are paraphrasing what is being said and getting clarification. Taking an active interest in what is being said, helps the speaker to communicate their thoughts more actively. How active a listener are you?

2. Filters: All of us have interests and hobbies that we like to talk about and get other opinions on. We also know which subjects are not of interest to us, and chances are we will tune out when someone starts speaking about them. When put into the context of listening, this is extremely selfish behaviour, and we end up only talking and listening to people who interest us. In the real world this is difficult as we do have to listen to people who talk about their interests. We have to closely monitor these filters and do our best to eradicate as many of them as possible. Remain committed to keeping an open mind and avoid making judgments based on personal filters. Are you filtering too many conversations?

3. Clues: As mentioned in the last post, non verbal communication constitutes a large part of overall conversation. We have to train ourselves, not only to listen to the words the speaker is using, but also take note of the tone of voice and body language. We have to know when to empathize and when to give constructive feedback. Chances are, if we have not really been listening to the conversation as a whole, we would have missed these cues, which result in miscommunication. There will be times when  speakers get frustrated that the individual is not listening to what they are saying, and the listener is clueless about why the person is so angry (Happens a lot between men and women). Are you paying attention to all the clues?

I have a mentor who does a great job at listening. I can sit in front of him for hours, and somehow thoughts come easier and communication is a lot more fluid. Even though there is minimal input on his part I ‘know’ he is listening. Imagine if you could have such conversations with your colleagues, investors and customers. As an entrepreneur, we have to keep our ears peeled all the time to ensure that we are staying on top of the game. If you are listening, the probability of success is a lot higher.

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How Enthusiastic are you?

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

We have all had that one professor or lecturer in school or college, who put everyone to sleep. His/her monotonous delivery, made it impossible to pay attention to the material being taught. There are also many individuals who have a strained manner of speaking. They have either lost interest in life, or have sunk into a routine which impacts their passion for life negatively. When we come into contact with such individuals, they tend to drain our energy too.  Were an entrepreneur to ever get stuck in such a rut, the impact for his/her business could be disastrous. I mention passion repeatedly in most of my series, as being critical for success in any aspect for life. We have to avoid getting bogged down when difficult situations arise, to keep our chin up is essential. Keeping a positive outlook is vital to keep enthusiasm levels high. Some factors by which we can measure levels of enthusiasm in a conversation are:

1. Body Language: If you pay attention to great communicators such as Steve Jobs,  notice their gestures and overall body language when they are communicating. It is a known fact, that using gestures when speaking helps the brain connect thoughts faster. Our overall body posture is an integral part of the total message we want to deliver. For example, if one were to stand with drooping shoulders and speak in a non expressive manner when pitching to a VC,  we will send a  wrong subliminal message. Pay attention to your body language when speaking, it is a major component of your overall communication delivery.

2. Tonality: I did a NLP (Neuro Linguisitic Programming) course a couple of years ago where a large chunk was dedicated to the importance of tonality. A variety of tones can be used to communicate the same message, in many different ways. If you have ever heard or watched Anthony Robbins, notice how he uses tonality to communicate with the audience at different levels. Sometimes, his pitch is fast and highly charged to get the audience fired up to his level,  other times, he drops the level of his voice to communicate at a different level when he wants to appeal to your subconscious. Pay attention to your tone when you next communicate with someone. Are you mixing it up enough?

3. Words: Extraordinary, Amazing, Revolutionary these are just some of the words that Steve Jobs uses in his keynote addresses when he introduces new products. With the correct choice of words, one is able to flavor communication in a manner that helps the audience relate to what you are saying. Imagine John F. Kennedy saying “Do good things for your country,” instead of “Ask not what your
country can do for you, but what you can do for your country!” The choice of words and how they are put together in a sentence, impact greatly on the intensity and meaning of what you are saying.

When I was with toastmasters we were taught the 55% 38% 7% rule. The rule simply says that 55% of communication is through body language, 38% through our tone and 7% through the words we use. Unfortunately we pay too much attention to the 7% and forget about the importance of the 93%. To become a great communicator, we have ensure that we pay attention to the entire 100% and deliver it with enthusiasm and passion.

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What did you say?

mad“Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people. Jim Rohn

Ever been in a conversation where you have no idea what the other person is saying? I am sure many of us have been part of such conversations. These are the conversation where the speaker goes on and on about a particular topic, without any purpose or direction whatsoever, or when the speaker loses the audience on account of the banal tonality and language. In business, when such a person addresses a customer, investor or even his/her own team, chances are he creates a negative impression about his/her capabilities. Such an individual will find it difficult to be taken seriously, or be in a position of leadership. Unfortunately, not too many individuals focus on improving the level of clarity in their communication abilities. Listed below are three areas I believe a conscious effort should be made to monitor.

1. Thought Organization: I had a business partner who was very knowledgeable and confident. Yet, whenever he would start talking the entire group would just tune out. He would essentially start rambling, and regularly drifted away from the topic being discussed. This became a huge distraction for the team and it was also incredibly frustrating. During evaluations the point was brought up, and he made a conscious effort to pay greater attention to organizing his thoughts. It is important that one has a clear purpose when they share an opinion. It doesn’t need to be perfect, however it should highlight ones point of view clearly and concisely.

2. Language: Fancy terms and words should be used sparingly in one’s conversation. These are often used to display the breadth of ones vocabulary, and often instead of impressing the audience it confuses them. When using technical or industry specific terms, make sure that they are presented to an audience which understands them. A conscious effort must be made not only to keep the language simple, but to also remember to keep your sentences short. This makes the overall delivery of your communication clearer as well as much easier to understand.

3. Diction: The tone of your voice when communicating is very important. An individual could be speaking about something very interesting, however if it is delivered in too high or too low a pitch which is too high or too low it will lose its impact and the audience. Sometimes we get very excited or habitually start speaking faster and lose the clarity in our delivery. These instances need to be identified and worked upon to improve our overall communication abilities. As practice evaluate yourself on three factors, volume, pitch variation and pace.

Clarity in communication is critical. Without it, getting or holding the attention of an audience is very difficult. A concentrated effort must be made to make sure that when communicating, our thoughts are thought out and delivered in the same manner. This will not only help get your message across much faster it could be the difference between closing and losing a customer.

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5 Steps to deal with difficult people

“Logic: The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and in-capabilities of human misunderstandings.” Ambrose Bierce

One of the habits that Stephen Covey advocates in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. If there is one piece of advice I would give anyone to deal effectively with difficult people, it would be this. It is an extremely simple concept on the surface. When we look deeper and ask ourselves whether we practice it, most of us would have to respond in the negative. We are more often than not, quick to use our frames of reference and perceive the situation solely from our own angles. Before we go about labeling individuals as difficult, it is important to first understand where they are coming from and what the main drivers behind their behaviors are? Only then, can we deal with the situation effectively.

Listed below are five steps to use as a mental checklist when dealing with a difficult person:

1. Understanding Personality Types: Identify the type of person you are dealing with, only then can you determine the best way to work with this person. It is important not to get frustrated during the exploratory  stage of the personality type. This is not the easiest of processes, keeping your cool and emotional quotient under control will help you reach the most effective way of dealing with them in the shortest period of time. To learn more about the different personality types please click here.

2. Understanding the Situation: Before jumping into an argument, take time out to listen to the other person. Understanding their perspective and position on a particular situation is important. Instead of pushing our judgements onto them, we need to give them adequate room to share their point of view with us. We also need to evaluate our attitude towards the type of person and situation. How do we react usually? Are we using any negative frames of reference which make matters worse? Lastly, we need to take into account any external factors which may have triggered the situation. To learn more about understanding the situation correctly please click here.

3. Mental Game Plan: Prior to initiating a conversation, we need to ensure a clear head. Next, develop a couple of critical points to focus on during the course of the discussion, to help reach a mutually agreeable decision. Keep a laser like focus on the type of end result you are looking for. Visualize it before hand if possible, this specific exercise has helped me greatly. To learn more about devising a mental game plan please click here.

4. Language & Tone: When dealing with a difficult person, we need to keep our language and tone in check. What usually happens is, when certain buttons are pushed we tend to go on autopilot, and respond in a manner which may not be optimal. Keeping a strict control on the choice of words, sarcasm and the tone in which to conduct a conversation is critical. To learn more about the proper use of language and tone in a such discussions please click here.

5. Emotional Control: This step is by far the most critical aspect of having an effective discussion with a difficult person. During the course of a heated discussion, our emotional thresholds are often breached. When such an event takes place it has the potential to trigger an adverse reaction. Hence, we need to be aware of our personal thresholds, and develop adequate responses when they are breached. To learn more about how to control one’s emotions please click here.

This mental checklist has helped me deal with difficult people most effectively. In business we will often have to work with challenging individuals. The important thing is to keep one’s focus, practice patience and work towards a mutually beneficial end goal. I would be very interested to hear about your experiences with difficult people and your comments on how you dealt with them. What were specific challenges? How did you overcome them? I look forward to hearing from you.

 

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Emotional Control

“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion and knowledge.” Plato

I have talked about the importance of emotional control in prior posts in this series. I think it deserves its own section as well because dealing with difficult people is an extremely challenging exercise without control. A lot has been written about the importance of emotional control in life. It is a key component and defines successful people who have an inherent ability or have cultivated one to shrug of nasty comments or asides without taking it personally. Not all of us possess the patience to react with poise and calm in difficult times. It is important to learn through mistakes we make when our threshold levels are tested. 

A couple of important factors to understand in how to effectively control one’s emotions are:

1. Self Awareness: Whenever an event takes place in our life we interpret it cognitively, process it emotionally and take a particular action. Much of the time specific events trigger automatic emotional responses which may be a result of specific past experiences. Self awareness of automatic responses is vital to control our actions to the best of our abilities. This is a first step in taking greater control of our emotions.

2. Emotions & Value Systems: Stephen Covey has suggested in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” that one must analyze our emotions through the lens of our value system, what we believe in, who we are and who we want to be. For example, if we believe in looking at the best in people and we encounter an individual who only looks for flaws, such an encounter may trigger a negative action. We need to constantly remind ourself of our beliefs and tailor our emotional responses accordingly.

3. Identify Thresholds: All of us have personal and emotional  threshold levels. When that threshold hold is reached, we can either stay in the conversation and tune out, leave the conversation and come back later or leave altogether. Depending on the situation and tolerance of threshold level, we can choose one of these three responses. It is important to make this decision in order to act in a manner keeping with our beliefs.

4. Personal Comments: During heated conversations with difficult people, be prepared to take some low blows. This is how the person is attempting to instigate a response to bring you to his/her level. All of us have points, which when pushed, can set us off. We need to learn control even when they are pushed, it is a small price to pay to reach an early agreement. If however the level of personal comments reach an unacceptable threshold level, we then need to take appropriate action.

Controlling emotions and behavior to the best of one’s ability is a responsibility for each and everyone of us. It is much easier to be the person who flares up and goes on a raving rant, than to be the one who has the patience and emotional control to weather such flare ups. My journey as an entrepreneur presents  many such situations often on a daily basis, these require and help me to think through things with an emotionally balanced perception. The moment we let our emotions slip, we make decisions that could potentially be disastrous for future business.

 

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Language and Tone

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart.” Nelson Mandela

One of the most important factors to keep in check during any verbal interaction is, language and tone of voice. This becomes all the more important when dealing with a difficult person, who may not be controlling his/her language and tone. Undoubtedly, this is a very difficult situation, and tests a person’s patience and emotional threshold. However, one must remember, that if we fight fire with fire in such a situation it only goes from bad to worse. We need to remain committed to our mental game plan and make sure that we do not let our emotions get in the way. There will be times when you feel the verbal abuse and tone of voice is reaching unacceptable levels, this is where patience thresholds are severely tested. 

There are a couple of key factors one needs to pay attention to regarding language & tone:

1. Word Selection: During a conversation it is important to keep a strict check on the type of words used to get our point across. Words such as “never”, “always”, “fault”, “accusation” , and any sort of verbal abuse must be avoided at all costs. These words act as instigators and tend to escalate the situation rather than resolve it. Remain specific, and keep sentences as short as possible.

2. Sarcasm: As we all know, the last thing you need to be doing in the course of such a conversation or situation is to bring sarcasm into it. This conveys we have little or no respect for the other person’s point of view and our facetious remarks may intensify the situation. 

3. Tone: Choosing a derogatory manner of speaking will obviously have nasty repercussions in difficult situations. However, we tend to switch to this manner of speaking subconsciously when we feel we are superior to the other person. By taking such a stance we will not make any progress. Even if one is the boss, such a style will not only have a negative effect on this particular person but other staff members may begin to feel uncomfortable as well. It is important to approach such situations with kindness, this has an uncanny ability to diffuse tense situations.

In conclusion, the importance of remaining in control of ones language and tone, cannot be stressed enough. If not kept in check this tends to go on autopilot and has the potential to make things a lot worse. There will be times when it seems almost unbearable to deal with such situations while keeping ones cool. It is at times like these that our character is tested based on how we react under pressure. 

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5 Steps to Manage Conflict

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.” Thomas Paine

There is no doubt, managing conflicts is a challenging task. On my journey as an entrepreneur I have had my share of conflicts. I think working in close proximity and under much pressure, tends to raise conflicts more frequently in entrepreneurial ventures. It is hence important to know how to handle them more effectively. Losing a team mate, a client or a supplier can spell the end for a young startup. Listed below are five steps to help manage conflicts in a systematic and structured manner, and thus reach a fair and faster consensus.

1. Facts: Before anything is discussed or negotiated, it is important that all relevant details are documented. This includes finding core reasons behind the conflict, the stage the conflict is at, and the affected parties. It is important to be objective when documenting these factors, and ensure that each one of the affected individuals is part of the process. To read more about the fact finding process please click here

2. Ground Rules: Developing a set of rules and structure can greatly facilitate conflict resolution. It is important to let all the participants know what is expected of them. It also helps to formalize the actual negotiation process with a set agenda, and a mediator if possible. Setting up such a structure helps the negotiation process run smoothly, with each participant well aware, before hand, about the discussion agenda. To read more about setting appropriate ground rules please click here.

3. Negotiations: The actual negotiation stage brings all the concerned parties together, to discuss their points of view in a structured manner. It is important to insist that each participant keep their mind open to different options, even if they do not agree with them. Keeping a close mind and remaining stubborn makes the process more challenging to manage. During this stage, notes need to be taken down regarding options discussed and differences and concerns that were voiced. To read more about the negotiation stage please click here.

4. Evaluation: After the negotiation stage, all the participants are called back at a later date to discuss the options discussed during the negotiation stage. At this time, it is important to establish a set of objective criterions, to ensure the options discussed are feasible, fair and take into account the larger picture. There are several strategies which can be used at this stage to rank or combine options, and to come up with a mutually agreeable option. To read more about the evaluation stage please click here.

5. Closure: The final stage of a conflict management process involves bringing closure to the argument. This is done by  formalizing whatever was discussed and decided into a written document, which clearly outlines everyone’s responsibilities and roles. It is important that a commitment is made to follow through on what was decided. Periodic meetings can be established to ensure that everything is moving as planned, with suggestions and feedback provided along the way. To read more about closure please click here.

I have followed this system in conflicts I have been involved in. However, given the variances in every conflict, one needs to improvise along the way. Managing conflicts is a challenging task, especially when they have been brewing under the surface for long periods of time. Reaching a formal agreement acceptable to all the concerned individuals is a major feat. It requires patience, an open mind and the willingness to be flexible. It is much easier to be stubborn and refuse to change a position, rather than be adaptable and sacrifice for a more congenial and brighter future. 

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Closure

“The most intense conflicts, if overcome, leave behind a sense of security and calm that is not easily disturbed. It is just these intense conflicts and their configurations which are needed to produce valuable and lasting results.” Carl Gustav Jung

Closure is one of the most critical components of successful conflict resolution. Without it, there is always something unfinshed hanging in the air and this makes people uncomfortable. I am sure many of us have been involved in conflicts which have ended without the required closure. It is not a pleasant situation, and if you then have to continue working with the persons concerned, it can be most awkward. To avoid such situations and reach closure, there are a few things I work on ensuring. 

1. Written Plan: Ensure that everything that has been discussed and decided upon, is written down in a formal document. This document should outline levels of future responsibility, possible compensation agreements, changed working arrangements or any other directives that are to be carried out. Putting it all down on paper makes it tangible, and easy to take ownership of.

2. Commitment: It is important that once a mutually agreeable option has been accepted, tasks and roles allocated, everyone commits to whatever they were assigned. A personal commitment is as important as having faith in the abilities of others to carry out their parts. This is not a time to doubt the follow through abilities of others. At this time more than ever, it is necessary to begin and rebuild the trust which may have been lost in the process.

3. Periodic Checks: A system to routinely check the progress of what was decided and agreed upon is vital, to ensure everyone is keeping their end of the deal. Such checks help monitor team progress and provide valuable insight into the team or individuals working dynamics. Such meetings can be a sounding board for suggestions, complaints or feedback. 

Closure after a long drawn out conflict is a liberating and empowering feeling, and helps us face challenges with ease and confidence. It reminds us, that survival in this world, requires us to learn to be flexible and move forward. Being stubborn and refusing to see different sides of a conflict, renders us incapable of moving forward. 

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Evaluating Options

“There are three ways of dealing with difference: domination, compromise, and integration. By domination only one side gets what it wants; by compromise neither side gets what it wants; by integration we find a way by which both sides may get what they wish.” Mary Parker Follet

Once the negotiation stage has been cleared, all options presented and discussed need to be evaluated. During this stage, respective parties need to set their differences aside, and work towards reaching a consensus where both parties are satisfied with the outcome. This is by far one of the most challenging stages in the conflict management process. Much of the time such situations conclude in deadlocks, because one party may not be open to entertaining any option other than one which benefits them. Conflict resolution needs a certain level of sacrifice from each party to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. 

Some steps which can help reach a mutually beneficial agreement are:

1. Developing Criterions: Prior to starting this phase it is important to establish some base criterions. These include ensuring that all options discussed are feasible and fair. It is also equally important to identify a set of objective criterions which help each of the participants look at the larger picture. This helps set a tone which in turn helps the flow of the discussion and reaching a mutually beneficial agreement, faster. 

2. Ranking: To begin the process, rank the options discussed in the negotiation stage. This will help the participants decide jointly which options address the needs of the group and their own needs. This is a tricky exercise, as each participant would like to rank the options which benefit them the most, on top. To resolve this issue, each option should be graded against a set of objective criterions which are mutually agreed upon. This helps bring objectivity and fairness into the process.

3. Combining of Options: I have found that it is often possible to combine certain options, thereby creating a mutually acceptable option to both parties. Through this method we can bridge differences in opinions, which may limit parties to reach a mutually agreeable agreement. This takes some creativity,  at the same time, helps to think out of the box when resolving conflict. 

There needs to be much give and take at this stage. Sacrifices need to be made, at the same time it is important to remain objective and work towards a mutually beneficial agreement. During this stage one needs to be creative and think out of the box. A deadlock must be avoided at all costs, if a party becomes stubborn and refuses to change positions, we need to factor this dynamic in, and find alternatives which may be acceptable to them. 

 

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