The never fail way to get yourself out of any disagreement

low-high-chunk-strategyEver heard of chunking? Nothing to do with food, instead it is a way you can get yourself out of any disagreement – done right, it will never fail.

I often have clients asking me how they can think faster or ask why people seem to process information faster. It has a lot to do with the principle of ‘chunking’. Before we get into it let me give you the psychological definition.

Chunking, in psychology, is a process by which individual pieces of information are bound together into a meaningful whole.

Generally people operate at some point on a  scale of how much data (chunks) they process at any one time.

Low chunk – means they tend to be in the detail.

High chunk – big picture/conceptual thinking.

Think of it like this, if data was a collection of matchsticks and the world is an infinite supply, people who are in the lowest chunk size are checking every single match stick before they progress whereas high chunk people are just grabbing fistfuls of matches and ploughing ahead.

There are pros and cons to both but you can see very quickly the problem here when it comes to negotiation, low chunk people are often slow to move forward and focusing on things the rest of us don’t see as important and high chunk people tend to be ten steps ahead but are missing an awful lot of detail. The key then, as always, is to be flexible.

It’s very easy for me if I was the CEO of a company (who’s role is to operate at a higher chunk level) to meet with another CEO and agree to be ‘strategic partners’ for the next 10 years, leaving everyone else to work out the details. Of course, while working out the details we find ourselves in some very challenging conversations that don’t feel like we are in a partnership. That’s because all disagreement takes place in the lower levels of detail.

So what’s the secret? Simple – chunk up.

It helps if you have already aligned a higher vision or purpose (high chunk) that you can always fall back on. What are we working towards? What’s the two, three or five-year plan, do we want the same things long term? It all comes down to the why? In the middle of an argument or tense negotiation to align specifics, often people lose sight of this, they become so focused on a specific detail that defending that detail is more important than anything else. We have to drag them out of the detail in order to remind them what’s at stake and what the long-term benefits are.

Imagine you get home from work Friday night and announce to your partner that you want to go out for dinner. Your partner, having had a stressful week, falls straight into the detail focusing on what restaurant, the weather outside, a TV show they might miss or what to wear and before you know it you’re in an argument.  Pause and chunk up, what’s the higher purpose? Perhaps it’s been a long week, you don’t feel like cooking and you just want to spend some quality time with the person you care most about, is that OK? Well, when you put it like that, it’s hard to disagree. That’s the thing with chucking up, if you can go high enough, you can’t disagree – that’s why it never fails.

So, next time you find yourself in a disagreement or an argument, give it a try. Stop and consider what the higher purpose is. Remind them of ‘the why’ and gain agreement at this level before moving back into the detail. If it doesn’t work, go higher until it does.

Lloyd Barrett is the head of retail – ANZ, The Gap Partnership, a global negotiation consultancy working with over 500 of the world’s largest and most influential companies.


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