The truth of the following story may well be in doubt, but the lesson is clear.
In 1995 it is alleged that this conversation took place, just off the coast of Newfoundland, between a large US naval ship and a Canadian maritime officer.
What the tale teaches us is the fact that it’s very easy to make assumptions and only see our own side of an argument or situation before and/or during a negotiation.
Recognising the real prospect of a collision between two ships, a member of the crew on Board the USS Lincoln Aircraft Carrier got on the radio:
American: Please change course 18 degrees north to avoid a collision.
Canadian: Suggest you divert your course 18 degrees south
Americans: This is a US navy ship; I repeat divert your course.
Canadians: No. I repeat, you divert.
Americans: This is your last and final warning! We are the Aircraft Carrier USS Lincoln, the second largest ship in the US fleet. I demand you change your course 18 degrees north or we will be left with no choice but to take necessary action.
Canadians: We are a lighthouse.
What can be learnt?
When seeking to resolve an issue or complete a negotiation, do your research and first seek to gather information from the ‘other side’. Resist the temptation of simply stating your views and then digging your heels in.
As seen from the example, negotiation progress if difficult if not impossible when people refuse to appreciate the full context of a situation and prioritise their own viewpoint. You can also end up looking very foolish.