INsight/ Six Into Two

António Guterres, the new UN Secretary General. Photo by Denis Balibouse/REUTERS

António Guterres, the new UN Secretary General. Photo by Denis Balibouse/REUTERS

Manila, 8 February 2017 — In a conversation between two people, how many people do we need? Discover the story that helped António Guterres win the election for UN Secretary General, and learn how the People in the Conversation Model can help you lead change where you are.

It happened 20 days before the public vote on Brexit. 

Guterres and two rivals were participating in a debate for the job of UN Secretary General. Never before in the 72-year history of UN had we seen public debates for that position. The previous eight UN leaders were all selected behind closed doors. 

The debate I watched offered a rare chance to see Guterres and two rivals up close, and to listen to their answers.

A Personal Story

Almost halfway the discussion, Guterres asked to share a personal story about what he had learned from his first wife. 

This marked what I thought was a turning point in the debate. When he was done, he was awarded with applause from the audience.

What was his story about? Guterres explained that his first wife was a psychoanalyst, and that what she taught him had been extremely useful for all his political activities in his life.

"When two people are together,” he started, "there are not two but six.” He went on to explain that the six are “what each one is, what each one thinks he or she is, and what each one thinks the other is.” 

Bringing this insight into the challenge for leaders, he added “what is true for people is also true for countries and organizations.” His answer to the question what would set him apart from his rivals, was about the ability to build trust.  

“We want to make sure that we bring these six into two,” Guterres explained. He then emphatically underlined the importance of building trust, to ensure that people's misunderstandings disappear, false perceptions disappear, and that they overcome their differences to see a common interest.

The rest is history. In their voting later on, the most influential leaders of the UN member states decided to give Guterres their trust, and he started his new job as Secretary General last month.

How do you apply Guterres’ lesson?

So how can you apply this insight in your leadership, in your business and your world?

As Guterres hinted, to answer the question how to bring six into two, you need some help from psychology, and specifically the psychology of leadership. The People in the Conversation Model supports you to do that.

Getting the high results you want from a conversation and a relationship is not going to happen by accident. There are three steps to work on to get the 4 ‘extras’ to leave the room and bring six into two.

First, you need to realize—to become aware—that you can have misunderstandings and false perceptions about yourself and the person you’re having the conversation with. We are human, after all, and far from perfect. 

That realization can be a challenge, especially when your head is full of what you want to achieve in the conversation and you permit yourself no space for awareness of who you are, how you are showing up, and who the other person really is behind how she or he is showing up. What you see is not the truth! 

You need to learn to see past your blind spots, to make space for awareness and observation, and to recognize that there really are 4 extras in the room. And that while they are there, you are not going to be successful in getting the high results you want.

Second, you need to make choices. Do you want the extras to leave the room? Then you need to work on that. Making choices helps. 

Are you curious about the other’s views and interests, yes or no? Can you see the context of why working together with the other person matters, yes or no? Are you invested to go the extra mile(s) with the other person to find innovative solutions and create results that matter, yes or no?

For each yes that you chose to answer with, you can now go on to explain that to the other person, in your own words, in a conversational style, just like Guterres shared his point as a personal story. Then at least half of the extras can already leave the room. 

And if you also choose to listen carefully to the other person, you are already setting yourself up for three times the results compared from where you started.

Third, now that you’re at least halfway done to bring six into two, it’s time to suspend your positional talk and switch to ask questions that explore what you can do together. 

By asking powerful questions, you show your interest, sincerity, and willingness to create results together beyond the limits of what each of you can achieve individually without the other. Without this, there is still a trust deficit, and no meaningful mutual interest and commitment can be found and agreed.

What you need to create space for, is to discover mutual interest in three areas: ideas, values, and action. That combination will build trust. An effective way to get there is to use “we” more often than “I” as you ask your questions in this stage.

When done successfully and together, you’ve almost certainly brought six into two, opening the door to achieving ten times the results compared to where you started from with the 4 extras in the room.

Awareness, choices and questions

Now you can go ahead and start practicing this in your business and world. Use the People in the Conversation Model to boost your self-awareness, make your choices, and ask your powerful questions when you are having your next important conversation. And afterwards, email Coach Wouter about your experience, what you learned, and what you like further training on to master this skill.

When two people are together, there are not two but six ... this is true for people and also for countries and organizations ... we want to make sure we bring these six into two.
— António Guterres