Recently an emergency room doctor, Dr. Lorna M. Breen, working continuous 12 hour shifts in NYC committed suicide. This was very sad and points out the tremendous cost this is having on our medical and first responders. The Greater Good Science Center at the U of California at Berkeley responded with a neuroscience article on How Can Doctors Stop Burnout in a Pandemic? In the commentary that follows I take that article and apply the lessons learned here to communication in a hard negotiation. We can all learn from this tragedy. In the end taking time to build connections, listen actively, and educate judiciously are needed in business valuation too.
COVID-19 lessons learned
From all accounts Dr. Breen was outstanding and truly dedicated to her patients and her job. No question she had the skills and was one terrific doctor. On the other hand, one person can only take so much. So, what did the article from the Greater Good Science Center have to say about how to stop burnout in a pandemic? The doctor who wrote this article, Dr. Lief Haas, states, “The problem is that I’m losing that deep feeling of connection with patients, which is such an important part of this work.” The skills are not only technical they are emotional. This doctor realizes this and knows unless he can make the effort to emotionally bond with patients, even patients that he knows are dying that he has just met, he will lose touch with himself.
Being able to really connect matters in stressful situations
Historically he and the patient were able to touch, have physical proximity, hear the words, understand the tone, see each other’s facial expressions, see the body language and communicate tone with empathy resulting in a positive bed side manner with patients. Now the doctor rushing between patients has had to make an effort to touch the patient with gloves, make eye contact without facial expression due to protective clothing, have limited body language with protective gear, and make more use of language and tone when communicating with patients. In his article he states how he became numb and lost his bed side manner with a patient. He felt guilty and ashamed. He realized this was the case. He didn’t like it. This is how responded to another patient after that.
Specific insights from Dr. Lief’s article
“We reviewed how she felt since admission. I performed a hasty exam and stepped back across the room. She coughed again and said, “I feel so weak, and the world feels so crazy.” She looked into my eyes: “Tell it to me straight. Am I going to make it, doc?”
I took my cue from her. I walked back to the bedside, placed one gloved hand on her shoulder and the other on her hand. I bent forward just a little. Making eye contact and attempting a comforting tone of voice, I said, “Everyone is a little scared, including me. We need each other more than ever these days. We will do our best for you. That means thoughtful medical care and a whole lot of love! And, truly, I don’t think you are dying. This is just one of your COPD flares.”
“God bless you!” she said, squeezing my hand as a tear rolled down her cheek.
“Bless you, too,” I replied. “We all need blessing with this madness going on.” Despite the mask, I am sure she saw the smile in my eyes. “Thanks for being the beautiful person you are and opening up to me. That’s the way we will make it through this. I will see you tomorrow.” Backing away, hands together in prayer, I gave a little bow and left the room.”
Tie into business valuation negotiations with the IRS and other parties
As a business valuer, you may think the skills you need are a strong technical background in your field. You are correct. You do. Just as the doctor needed strong technical skills to treat COVID-19 patients in an ever-changing technical environment, business appraisers need to adapt technically to an ever-changing economic environment due to COVID-19. Many articles are being written and a host of webinars from various technical sources from our professional societies such as the AICPA, ASA and NACVA are supplying us with information on how to address this technically. I will leave you to your own research on these topics. Next week CTI-NACVA is having a full week of training topics for business valuers as an example.
Every bit as important as the technical skills for the COVID-19 doctor or for you as a business valuer is not only your technical skills but those soft skills or what are referred to as the critical skills related to emotional intelligence and conversational intelligence. These tie directly into The Collaboration Effect®. The Collaboration Effect® based on neuroscience is all about connecting relationships, listening actively, and educating judiciously to build bridges in order to negotiate closure.
All to often you as business valuer think that you are right and in the case of litigation the other person is wrong. We are hard wired to think this way. This is our natural tendency. However, as a mediator and business valuer I have learned that given many assumptions and judgments that go into a valuation, that a sensitivity analysis of the process identifies the most significant variables impacting the valuation. By exploring yours and those of the other side, often this can save the client significant time and money. It can also enhance your reputation in the valuing community and with your clients. You can be thought of one that is also a true broker to help the client find closure. In the end. That is what the client wants. Closure!
Building trust from the beginning
If for example you are in the private sector working for a client with an issue before the IRS here are some ideas. Before ever meeting with an IRS representative be that the agent on the case and/or a business valuer at the IRS, be sure and research the individual(s) on social media, explore information from your network of associates and other sources to learn all you can about the person or people involved. You want to find ways to connect with that person as a person, not as an IRS agent or business valuer. You have to care and want to understand. When you meet with that person ask to learn more to build trust since we need to work together. Share information to build trust.
When you meet with the IRS truly listen. Ask questions not to refute or argue but to really understand where they are coming from and why. Keep in mind the IRS person has been lied to by the best of them. As such you really need to listen and be aware you may be working with someone that is more difficult to work with given their history with some taxpayers. Come with questions on your part that are open ended to allow you to understand where the IRS is coming from.
From the commentary above you need to empathize with the IRS representatives. Pay attention to their and your words, your tone, body language and facial expressions. Paraphrase, summarize, ask open ended questions and empathize with the IRS representatives.
No one is going to die as a result of your discussions with the IRS. This is not medicine. This is valuation. Don’t take yourself too seriously. The IRS employees are human too. Be yourself. Be authentic. Smile. However, learn from the COVID-19 doctor. Don’t simply go through the motions technically. Instead understand that we are all emotional human beings. Relate to the other side. Develop a relationship and truly listen to understand. This may really pay off during the course of an audit and this may lead you to a way to resolve the issue as two professionals.
About the author
Mike is a former IRS executive that oversaw business valuation nationally and who brought mediation to the IRS Field Specialists Program. He is a professional speaker, mediator/negotiator that helps clients resolve issues and be more productive as a conflict resolution expert. Is conflict blocking your results? You may contact Mike directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 11 books including, The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]