Bethenny’s therapist does a lot more than treat New York neurotics. Xavier Amador, the clinical psychologist on the new Bravo reality show “Bethenny Getting Married?” not only counsels individuals, but has also built a career as an author, an executive coach, and a consultant with a slew of corporate and government clients.
Amador, 50, uses many of the same methods with both individuals and corporate clients. His book “I’m Right. You’re Wrong. Now What?” lays out a strategy he calls LEAP, which stands for “listen, empathize, agree, partner.” It applies to salary negotiations, to disagreements with partners or colleagues or underlings, and even to challenging sales assignments.
An acronym enthusiast (“acronyms help me to remember”), Amador says the first step is “L,” for “listen.” That may sound simple, but often it’s very hard. In sales, for instance: Before he became a psychologist, Amador worked for an Arizona company that sold solar heating. Rather than simply trying to push his product, he found he got further if he patiently listened to his potential clients’ objections.
“What am I going to do with solar heat and hot water when I’m trying to cool our house and swimming pool four months of the year?” people would say. “I see your point,” Amador would respond. “I wouldn’t want solar heat during the summer and fall. It’s too hot!” By acknowledging and accepting the protest with what he calls “reflective listening,” he broke down defenses and made people curious about his product.
Another time, one of Amador’s corporate clients claimed he hadn’t sent her an updated version of two reports. Amador knew he had. It was a classic “I’m right, you’re wrong” situation. When he insisted she was wrong, the client got upset and defensive. Then he changed the tone by listening reflectively. “You’ve checked, and it’s clear I didn’t send you the revised reports?” he asked her. “Is that the bottom line?” Without conceding the point, he made it clear he had heard her argument. The client instantly calmed down.
Amador says it’s important to focus on what you need rather than what you want. In this situation, he needed to bring down the temperature of the clash and resolve the standoff. So he simply reflected his client’s (wrongheaded) view back to her, and he resent the reports.
After reflective listening, the next step is empathizing (the “E” in LEAP). That means trying to understand and accept what your adversary is feeling, even if you think what he or she is saying is completely wrong.
A useful tactic: Put off your final response, so your adversary can feel she’s in control of the situation. Keep listening and empathizing. Say things like “I want to make sure I understand what you’re saying.” Amador gives the example of a chief executive he calls Brad, whose board requested an external audit. The chief financial officer, Elaine, objected to the idea of the audit and quickly became defensive. First Brad listened to Elaine’s objections, carefully reflecting back his understanding of her opinions without reacting or contradicting her. Then she insisted he tell her what he thought. So he delayed, saying, “I’ll answer that, but I’m getting a much better picture of your arguments, and I would like to hear more.”
After getting Elaine to talk further, Brad finally said, “Do you still want to know what I think?” The question helped her feel ready for his thoughts. He apologized for disappointing her, and even admitted he could be wrong, but he stuck to his guns about the audit. She went along without objection.
Agree and Partner
Amador explains that it’s effective to find common ground and agree on some aspect of a disagreement (the “A” in LEAP). When it came to his client who needed the updated reports, they both agreed that she needed the reports. This can help adversaries get to the “P” in LEAP, becoming partners.
Amador describes two colleagues at a law firm who disagreed about the firm’s pro bono budget. Thomas wanted to increase that budget, and Charles, who was more senior, said the firm couldn’t afford it. First the two had a heated argument, with Charles calling Thomas’s idea “nuts” and Thomas responding, “Are you kidding? We can afford this and much more.”
After the two reached an impasse, Thomas approached Charles again and said, “My proposal sounds a bit inane. It’s poor judgment on my part, right?” By reflecting back what Charles had said about Thomas’s idea being crazy, Thomas moved them forward. The two wound up agreeing that the pro bono work was a moral obligation for the firm, and Charles even helped Thomas write the final memo about the budget increase.