Last week, I was speaking with a client who is in the midst of reshaping the image of his company. As we talked through the potentially difficult questions he might be asked, I noticed that his first tendency (as all of ours is) was to repudiate the validity of the question being asked. This sounded a lot like,
Q: “Isn’t it true that X occurred in the past—and doesn’t that impact Y?”
A: “No. The situation was Y and then Z happened.”
The trouble with this is that the person listening was likely to stop listening after being told, “No.”
None of us enjoys being told, “No.”
So what did I advise him (and what do I advise you) to do?
When someone is seeking information in a way that is making your life a misery, you will get further, faster if you acknowledge that there is some element of their question that is valid. What would this sound like?
Q: “Isn’t it true that X occurred in past—and doesn’t that impact Y?”
A: “Given the surface similarities of the situation, I understand how some people might arrive at that conclusion. When you look more closely, however, you will see that, in fact, there are far more differences than first meet the eye. Let me walk you through those differences.”
Why does this answer work? For starters, it doesn’t begin with “No.” After that, it refers to ‘some people’ who might draw that conclusion: the inference being that the questioner is far too bright to do something so foolish. After that, it switches to ‘you’, as in “You will see there are far more differences than first meet the eye.” This is critical, as it allows the listener to become part of the solution.Finally, it ends with “Let me walk you through those differences,” not, “May I walk you through those differences?”
I guarantee you’ll bring far more people around to your way of thinking if you collaborate rather than repudiate.
Frances Cole Jones