Pleasantries exchanged, we got down to business.
Rather new to each other, we moved deliberately. The context of the meeting was potentially explosive. It had all the makings of “your word against mine” scenario.
But it started out well. Facts, or perspectives of the facts, were exchanged, and these facts turned out to be decently aligned. We were both professional but cordial. Probing; questioning.
If there was one thing I know about disagreements, having been on the wrong end far more times than I’d like to admit, when two people looking for the same ends disagree, more often than not one or both are missing the complete picture.
By putting aside early on what seem to be differences, and sharing information and perspectives, this can just as often be overcome.
Then his tone changed. Suddenly.
“Do you know what this means for us? Do you not know the implications?”
Jobs, he explained, were on the line.
As much as I had expected something like this before I had got on the call. But I did not expect it then. Not after the dispassionate exchanges since the start of the call.
And I felt offended at his statements – was he implying I wasn’t taking what we were doing seriously? Because it was anything but.
I knew how this work affected others I had gone through extra lengths to make sure it was as good as it could reasonably be. For someone to say otherwise was an insult.
It was at this point that I engaged my own rhetoric. I matched him in content; in tone of voice; in decibels. Two could play this game.
But then I let up.
Maybe he was frustrated (he probably was). Maybe he was having a bad day (he probably was). Maybe he wanted to get this right, like me (he definitely was).
So I gave him an opening. He took it.
No, we didn’t manage to settle everything then and there. There were many questions still left unanswered.
But we did manage to do was to return to civility, and an agreement on what we needed to do next.
What transpired above reminded me of the tit-for-tat strategy in game theory, which I first read about in a book on strategic decision making.
It was a rather old book and it didn’t mention the act of generously “being nice” again, which is actually now considered an important improvement to the strategy.