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Getting Help When You Need It Most

Getting help when you need it most can be the difference between success and failure, between being productive or unproductive. Over time it may make the difference between a good raise and a poor one, between being promoted or overlooked.

Let’s say it’s Monday the 4th and you need to get a report to your boss by next Monday, the 11th. Your philosophy is “If it’s got to be it’s up to me,” but in this case you need some info from a coworker in another department to get the job done. This is important because your report, after being reviewed by your boss, will be incorporated into the CEO’s quarterly board report. How are you going to get help when you need it most? How you make your request to your coworker might make all the difference.

With more than 30 years in the business world my bet is most people would fire off an email that’s straight to the point, “John, I need the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Friday.” Unfortunately, that approach is doomed to fail quite often. How can you start recreating your communication to ensure success?

Let’s start with this; instead of telling, try asking. The principle of consistency tells us people are far more likely to do something that’s in line with something they’ve previously said or done, so a key to success is to get the other person to commit to what you need. To do this simply ask for help rather than telling. Your message would change to, “John, would you be able to get me the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Friday?”

Your request has gone from a statement to a question. If John says yes, your odds of success just went up significantly. After all, people feel good about themselves when their words and deeds match so John will probably try a little harder to make sure he lives up to what he committed to.

But what if John is a busy guy and despite being very nice he feels he’s too swamped to help you? His knee jerk response might be, “I’d love to help but I’m just too busy right now.” — and your heart sinks. Good news; there might be a way around this potential problem! You’d be better off asking, “John, would you be able to get me the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Wednesday?”

Why is asking with a small buffer a better tactic? The rule of reciprocity alerts us to the reality that people feel obligated to give back to those who give first. If John says no to Wednesday then you’d want to come back immediately with something like this, “I understand completely, it’s never been busier around here. Could you possibly get the numbers by Friday?” Studies show when you make a second request, offering a concession immediately after someone says no, the other person is very likely to concede a little in response. This means you might get a yes to your second request.

There’s one more strategy you can employ; using the word “because.” You’ll recall from previous blog posts, when you use the word “because” and give a reason it’s almost like an automatic trigger for people to comply. Here’s how a master at persuasion would approach this situation:

“John, would you be able to get me the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Wednesday because I need them for the board report?”

Using “because” gives you the best chance of getting the help you need and mentioning the board report adds weight to your request. This request is in a question format which engages consistency, upping the odds that John will follow through when he does agree to help. But, should he say no, you have an opportunity to engage reciprocity by making a concession when you fall back to Friday.

Could John still say no to Friday? Sure. But think about the person who regularly asks for help as I’ve laid out vs. someone else who just tells people what to do with no strategic thought about timing or reason. Who do you think will be successful more often? The savvy communicator and that savvy translates into getting more work accomplished on time and very likely under budget. Someone who uses this approach is probably in line for a raise or promotion because work is about achieving results. Now you can be that person because you know the keys to getting help when you need it most.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLEand Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 135,000 times! Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

 

Systems Plus Persuasion Equal Success

Something I’ve noticed over time is how much systems contribute to success. It’s not to say that being carefree and creative don’t have value – they do. However, my observation has been with most things – learning, fitness, health, sales, coaching, leadership, etc. – having good systems in place are much more beneficial than winging it. Even with creative endeavors like improv comedy, there’s a system or approach that’s used. It may appear as though those doing the comedy are just going with the flow but there’s a structure underneath their creativity.

Two athletic examples come right to mind when I think about systematic approaches: weightlifting and running.

As a teenager I learned a system for weightlifting that made a world of difference. Before my junior season of high school football, I worked out consistently for a year and only gained 5 lbs. Pretty disappointing! During the offseason before my senior year I learned a system for working out and put on 30 lbs. before the season started. At my peak in college I was 90 lbs. heavier than when I first started lifting.

When I took up running my first marathon was a disaster. I covered the 26.2 miles in four hours and fourteen minutes and “hit the wall” about 20 miles into the race. Then I learned a system for running and eventually cut an hour off of that first marathon time and qualified for the Boston Marathon in the process.

In business I’ve seen this play out time and time again. People and organizations with systematic approaches win consistently. Let’s take leadership, sales and coaching as examples.

I’ve spent a lot of time learning and applying leadership concepts from Focus 3. At a high level their system focuses on three things: leaders, culture and behavior.

In the Focus 3 approach leaders create the culture that drives the behaviors that lead to results. If you want better results you need better behaviors which means creating the right culture to support the right behaviors. That’s why culture is the #1 responsibility of leaders.

When it comes to behavior Focus 3 uses the following formula: E+R=O. In plain English this means Event plus Response equals Outcome. Life happens (events) and we usually have no control over those events in the moment. We can influence outcomes in the direction we want by choosing disciplined responses. These disciplined responses are our behaviors.

When it comes to sales the system is pretty simple. Selling is about building rapport with the prospective customer, overcoming objections they may pose then closing the sale.

Coaching has a system very similar to sales. Coaching also starts with building rapport, gaining trust, then motivating the person being coached to new behaviors. Without relationship and trust it’s not likely someone will follow the advice of a coach.

Where does influence come into these business systems? Every step of the way! According to Aristotle, persuasion is about getting people to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask. Whether you’re leading, selling or coaching, the principles of influence can be used to support the system because they can be used to change behaviors. For example, the principles we call liking and reciprocity are excellent ways to build rapport. To gain someone’s trust or overcome objections the principles of authority and consensus come into play. And finally, to close a sale or motivate behavior change try the principles of consistency or scarcity. Do you have a system in place that will lead you to success? If so, then consider how you’ll execute your system. If your system involves other people at any point then you’ll want to decide which principles of persuasion you can tap into to get a better result.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLEand Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 130,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

We Know What to Do but Often Fail to Do It

Something I’ve consistently observed in people is this; quite often we know what to do but too often we fail to do it. Here are a few examples that come right to mind:

  • We know exercise is good for us and yet very few people do even minimal exercise.
  • We know how to eat healthy but still make lots of poor choices because of momentary temptation.
  • We know we should save for retirement but let immediate desires take precedence over our long-term financial goals.

When it comes to persuasion this is often the case too – people intuitively know what to do but don’t act on that knowledge. This important because it hurts your chances for professional success and personal happiness. When I speak to audiences they intuitively know the answers to many of the questions I pose when it comes to human behavior. However, my observation is that very few people act on what they know to be true in their gut. Let me give you examples for each of the principles of influence.

When it comes to reciprocity people know it’s good to be a giver. They know it makes them feel good, makes the other person feel good, and can lead to good outcomes like return favors. But when it comes to trying to change other’s behavior most people reflexively go back to a reward system that isn’t always so effective.

We all know it’s easier for people to say yes to us when they like us. That’s liking in action. However, too often people forego relationship building so they can “get down to business.” They let the busyness of the day get in the way of doing simple things that could help them get more accomplished and enjoy those they work with in the process.

We know there’s power in the crowd (consensus). After all, as the old saying goes, “Everyone can’t be wrong.” Well, the crowd can be wrong but usually going along with the crowd works to people’s advantage. If it didn’t we’d have stopped following the crowd long ago. Even though folks know this they don’t like to “pressure” someone by invoking the principle of consensus despite the fact that what they’re trying to get the other person to do would be in their best interest.

We know experts are believed more than the average person. Despite knowing this I’ve come across very few people who would think of sharing their bio with someone to get a third-party introduction. Even fewer are comfortable personally sharing their background for fear of coming across as a braggart. This is a big lost opportunity.

The principle of consistency can be easily invoked by asking someone to do something rather than telling them what to do. Although people know that they fall back on telling out of habit or a stubbornness. The stubbornness is revealed when a person says something like this, “As a parent (or boss) I shouldn’t have to ask!” Maybe you shouldn’t…unless you want be more effective at changing behavior.

Scarcity it perhaps missed the most. Intuitively crowds I speak to know people are more motivated by what they might lose as opposed to what they might gain. Although they know this they shy away from using legitimate scarcity because they don’t want to come across as negative or some kind of fear monger. If the studies are correct then they could be 2.0-2.5 time more effective if they would legitimately incorporate scarcity into their request.

Each instance where someone fails to act on what the psychology of persuasion has to say (something they quite often know in their gut) they hurt their chances for professional success and personal happiness. Don’t let that happen to you! Learn what the science has to teach you about how to effectively influence people then make the choice to act on it.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLEand Learning Director at State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 130,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Leadership, Authority and Influence are All Intertwined

I’ve spent a lot of time the past six months immersing myself in leadership material from Focus 3 because it’s really good stuff. They’re called Focus 3 because they focus on three things: leadership, culture and behavior. Their overarching view is this: leaders create the culture within an organization which drives the behaviors that lead to results.

Tim Kight, the founder of Focus 3, did a presentation on How Leaders Achieve Great Results and during that talk he said something that resonated with me. He told the audience, “Leadership is not authority based on a position you’ve been given. It is influence based on trust you’ve earned.”

Are you a leader? Leaders have followers. You may have the title and corner office but that’s no guarantee that people will follow you. Even if they follow, are they doing so enthusiastically or begrudgingly? If they’re only following because they have to then they’re not much better than those who don’t follow.

Getting people to follow you is where influence comes in handy. Influence, when used correctly and ethically, can help build relationships and trust as well as motivate people to action.

How do you build relationships?

Engage the principles of liking and reciprocity and you’ll find it a bit easier because when people like you they’ll be more inclined to do what you ask. But the key isn’t to try to get them to like you. Rather, you should make every effort to come to like them. Pay attention to others and look to connect on what you have in common.

Your other opportunity is to have the mindset that you want to catch them doing what’s right. When you do so and pay the person a genuine compliment it also works on your mindset. After all, don’t you generally think more highly of people you compliment?

As a leader, do you actively look to help your people grow and develop?

The second way to build relationship is by engaging the principle of reciprocity. When you coach them, provide resources and help them achieve their goals they’ll appreciate you and naturally look to repay the favor. When your team knows you have their best interest at heart it builds relationships.

Are you an expert and do you use it to help others?

It’s one thing to be good at what you do but it’s quite another to use your competency to help others get better too. The other half of the equation is trust. It does little good to be some kind of expert if people don’t trust you. Much of your trust comes from your character. Do you do what you say you’ll do? That’s why Aristotle said, “Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.”

Finally, a leader needs to get people to take action.

The most effective way is by using the principle of consistency. Instead of telling people what to do (this doesn’t engage the principle) try asking. The big reason this is so effective is because once someone has agreed to do something they feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to follow through on their commitment. This is why I always encourage audiences to stop telling, start asking.

Becoming an effective leader isn’t rocket science but there is a science to it. When ethically looking for opportunities to engage the science of influence you’ll build relationships, gain trust and move people to take the actions necessary to ensure success.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 100,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it to learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Why Don’t We Just Listen for a Change

I was inspired to write this week’s post after watching an enlightening Ted Talk from Theo E.J. Wilson called A Black Man Goes Undercover in the Alt-Right. Don’t worry, this post is not to advocate for any particular position on the political and social spectrum. Rather it’s about the lost art of listening and communicating to understand one another. Theo rightly points out things that prevent us from understanding each other and I have added some of the principles of influence that make it easy to happen:

Online Algorithms

These algorithms begin to filter information to us that we already view and believe, an application of the principle of consistency. It’s no different than the Amazon recommendations that pop up based on prior purchase decisions and sites you’ve viewed. Isn’t it someone freaky how you can start to type in a Google search and the choices that appear almost always contain the exact search you need? It’s as if Google read your mind! This curating of information is constantly going on behind the scenes and may be limiting your worldview.

Media Outlets

We make active choices that narrow our worldview such as only watching Fox News or CNN to the exclusion of all other media outlets. We do so because other large groups of people like us – the principle of consensus – hold the same views. I try to watch MSNBC and Fox in equal amounts because it’s like viewing the world from the North Pole and South Pole. Doing so gives me a better view of the entire planet. Make no mistake, news outlets are run by human beings and have their own bias points of view so be wary.

Our Associations

We tend to hang out with like-minded people. This is a natural phenomenon – the liking principle – because we like people who are similar to us and it’s less taxing mentally to have conversations with people who think like we do.

Social Media

Online “conversations” aren’t really conversations at all. They’ve become forums to espouse views then vehemently defend them. This is one way the principle of consistency can lead us astray. For more on this I will refer you to a post I wrote years ago called Why Facebook Doesn’t Change Anyone’s Opinion.

I’m sure you can think of more things that limit our ability to understand each other. Here are some ideas to perhaps change this. By change I don’t necessarily mean your views have to change but, if you come to understand another person, their point of view, and can maintain respect for them, then isn’t that a good thing?

When was the last time you had a conversation with someone who was different than you, not to convince them of your point of view, but to simply get to know them and their point of view better? I find it’s best to do this in person, over coffee, a drink, or a meal, where there can be dialog instead of monologue.

Have you ever asked someone what it’s like to be them? Two conversations I’ll never forget happened with a couple of African-Americans; a coworker and my best friend. With my coworker, I asked her on a flight from Nashville to Columbus what it was like to be an African-American working at my company. She talked non-stop the entire flight and I had a new, enlightened point of view.

The other conversation was with my best friend after Barack Obama won the presidential election in 2008. You cannot imagine the pride he expressed at something he never thought he would see in his lifetime. I don’t believe in either case the conversations would have happened if I had not opened the door with questions. Give a safe place for people to express themselves and you’ll be surprised at what you hear.

What was refreshing in the Ted Talk was hearing Theo acknowledge that many people who held views completely opposite from his were still people just like him. He saw pictures of kids and families. He saw people who enjoyed activities and liked to have fun. They were humans who viewed the world differently. When we lose sight of other people’s humanity we’re in big trouble because we treat them as things to be opposed. We need not look any further than Nazi Germany and the Holocaust to see what people can do to those they consider less than human.

It was also refreshing to hear Theo acknowledge flaws in the thinking of people he more closely aligned himself with. Every side has flaws because they’re made up of human beings, all of whom are flawed.

Someone asked me recently if I thought our country was more divided than ever. My response was no because there was a time we were so divided we plummeted into civil war. We have an opportunity to turn much of our negativity and opposition into something better. In order to do that I believe we need to stop opposing each other, stop shouting each other down and start having real, person to person conversations. Steven Covey encouraged us to “seek first to understand, then be understood.” That would be a great starting place.  I encourage you this week, reach out to someone who is different than you and start a dialogue.

Fan Psychology and Your Favorite Sport Team

This past weekend college football officially kicked off its season and Thursday night the NFL will do the same. There were some big games (#1 Alabama vs. #3 Florida State) and amazing comebacks (UCLA down 44-10 late in the game came back to beat Texas A&M 45-44). There are few things in life that people are more passionate about than their favorite sports teams. Football is king in the United States but in the rest of the world soccer dominates the landscape.

With passion comes some interesting psychology. For example, people will like others who cheer for their team with virtually nothing else to go on. That’s the principle of liking in action. When we find one thing we have in common with someone else, especially when it’s something we’re very passionate about, it’s easy to like them because we view them as being like us.

The principle of consistency comes into play when people make public statements about their team then feel pressure to back up those statements no matter what the facts may be. For example, I have a relative who is a big Michigan Wolverine fan. I happen to be a huge Ohio State Buckeye fan. The two teams have one of the longest, most heated rivalries in all of sports which culminates in “The Game” every November.

When the Maize and Blue dominated the Buckeyes throughout the late 80s and all of the 90s my relative insisted it was because Michigan was a better team and program. The tables have turned since those days and over the past 15 years OSU had owned Michigan, winning 13 times. My relative can’t bring himself to admit Ohio State simply has a better program at this juncture. Instead he chalks up the OSU wins to cheating, poor officiating, rule breaking, luck and just about anything else he can think of. To be sure, there can be bad calls and an element of luck, but it’s hard to argue your team is better when they’ve been so thoroughly dominated for so long.

My relative isn’t alone when it comes to defending his team at all costs. As I noted earlier, to remain consistent it’s normal for people to vehemently defend their team and position at all costs.

One other bit of psychology you’ll see on full display, especially on game day, is confirmation bias. This psychological concept tells us people will search for evidence to confirm their position while denying evidence that contradicts their position. We’re all susceptible to confirmation bias when it come to our teams. Consider how often opposing fans will dispute calls despite clear evidence on instant replay.

Consider the following study cited in The Person and the Situation by Lee Ross, Richard E. Nisbett, and Malcolm Gladwel. The authors wrote, “In this study, Dartmouth and Princeton football fans both viewed the same film of a particularly rough gridiron struggle between their respective teams. Despite the constancy of the objective stimulus, the opposing partisans’ assessments of what they had viewed suggested that they ‘saw’ two different games. The Princeton fans saw a continuing saga of Dartmouth atrocities and occasional Princeton retaliations. The Dartmouth fans saw brutal Princeton provocations and occasional measured Dartmouth responses. Each side, in short, saw a struggle in which their side were the ‘good guys’ and the other side were the ‘bad guys.’ And each side thought this ‘truth. ought to be apparent to any objective observers of the same events.”

Later the authors wrote, “This polarization effect, it seemed, occurred because the subjects in both partisan groups tended to accept evidence supportive of their own position uncritically, while at the same time critically scrutinizing and ‘explaining away’ evidence that was equally probative but that ran counter to their position.”

So, what’s the point here? Sports brings out passion in people. You’ll be accepted by those who cheer for your team and reviled by those who don’t…at least on game day. When it comes to “convincing” someone about the superiority of your team save your breath because it’s like trying to teach a pig to sing – you won’t succeed, you’ll upset the pig, and you’ll get frustrated in the process.

A Top Down or Bottom Up Approach to Selling

There’s old saying that applies to persuasion and selling, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” I don’t actually know anyone who’s ever skinned a cat so I have no idea how many ways you can do it but I’ll trust there are multiple ways. When it comes to persuasion there are many approaches you can use to hear “yes” more often.

What I’ll share this week is directed towards salespeople but the application goes beyond just sales. When it comes to landing a sale, there are a couple of ways you can approach it: top down or bottom up.

Top Down. Sometimes you want to go for it, pull out all the stops and be bold. After all, you have no chance of hearing “yes” if you don’t ask for the sale. Too many salespeople censure themselves with a belief that the prospective client will never go for their top of the line proposal. What they end up doing is reducing their offer…and their chances of making the sale.

I’ll give you an example from my industry – insurance. I can tell you from more than 30 years of experience that far too many people are underinsured when it comes to their homes, cars, businesses, and lives. Here are just a few reasons this happens:

  1. People feel “forced” to buy insurance. The state says they have to insure their car and the bank that holds their mortgage requires them to insure their home.
  2. Laws require business owners to carry certain coverages like workers’ compensation.
  3. Nobody wants to contemplate the end of life so the decision for life insurance is put off again and again.

Because people don’t like to buy insurance they can be quick to dismiss coverages and suggestions from their insurance agent. It’s always in the best interest of the customer that the agent recommends the policy and coverages he or she believes will afford the proper protection. During my time in the insurance industry I’ve never heard someone say after a loss, “Darn! My agent sold me the right coverages and I’m fully protected!” However, many people have said, “Damn! My agent didn’t sell me the right coverage (or amount) and now I’m paying out of my own pocket!”

By offering the right policy and coverages up front the agent risks being rejected and that’s okay. First, never underestimate that some people will buy what’s presented because they recognize it’s in their best interests to do so. If the individual rejects what’s presented the agent has the opportunity to engage what’s known as “reject and retreat.”

If someone rejects your initial offer and you step in with a more moderate offer, one that still affords the essential protection they need, the likelihood that the prospect will say “yes” to the second proposal is higher than if you’d have started with it outright. Why? Because of the principle of reciprocity. This principle of influence tells us people feel obligated to give back to those who first give to them. In the case of rejection, when you make a concession, take a step to the middle, quite often people will make a concession too and meet you part way.

My advice to salespeople is always this – don’t censure yourself! Put the proposal on the table that you believe is right for the customer. When you do so, anticipate they might reject it and be ready with reduced offers you can use in case you hear “no.” Anticipating “no” is not pessimistic, it’s strategic because it allows you to strategically engage reciprocity.

Bottom Up. Sometimes it’s best to tackle the situation from the opposite direction. There might be reasons you can’t go for the whole enchilada because it will surely result in hearing “no” without any fallback options. This might happen because:

  1. You don’t have enough experience with the type of account you’re trying to write.
  2. You don’t have a strong enough relationship with the business owner to warrant going after all the policies associated with his or her business.
  3. The main part of the account comes up for renewal at a different time.

Your best opportunity under these circumstances would be to try writing something smaller like the prospect’s home and auto or part of their business account (auto, worker’s compensation, etc.). The reason you want to approach the sale in this manner is to get your “foot in the door.” If you write any business for the prospective customer you become their agent. Assuming you do a good job for them that little step forward will make it easier for them to give you an opportunity on the bigger parts of their insurance package.

The psychology behind this approach is the principle of consistency. This principle of influence alerts us to the reality that people feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do. Once you’ve become someone’s agent it’s a consistent next step to see if you can help him or her with their other insurance needs. Now the whole enchilada is within sight!

Persuading a person isn’t always as simple as some would lead you to believe. Due to situational factors and individual differences you can never predict what a single individual might do any more than a doctor can predict which person will live a long life. However, just as a doctor can confidently predict more people will live longer if they live healthy lifestyles, we can confidently say more people will say “yes” when you correctly tap into social psychology. We can make this claim because there’s more than seven decades of research you can rely on to significantly increase the odds that you’ll hear “yes” when you make a request of another person.

So, next time you go into a sale consider whether or not top down or bottom up is the right approach. A little strategic planning could make the sale much easier.

Ask Yourself a Better Question

I like to write about whatever is top of mind. Sometimes it’s sales, leadership, coaching, social issues, and at other times it’s parenting. Quite often I write when I’ve learned something I want to pass along and that’s what this post is about – asking yourself better questions.

Over the years I’ve read a lot about self-improvement. That leads me to books on how our brains work, how fitness helps our bodies and minds, ideas for success, and so on. I believe one of the most important things we can do in life is to reflect on our own thinking so we can improve our response to the situations life throws at us.

On the recommendation of two people I highly regard I picked up a copy of Change Your Questions Change Your Life by Marilee Adams, Ph.D. I learned something unexpected so I want to share it with you today.

One principle of influence that is most impacted by the use of good questions is the principle of consistency. This principle tells us people feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do. Bottom line; we usually feel better about ourselves when our words and deeds align.

Most people fail to engage this principle because they tell people what to do rather than asking. When you tell someone what to do you’re not gaining a commitment. Consequently, when it comes to questions I often share this with audiences: Stop Telling, Start Asking.

When I started to read Change Your Questions Change Your Life I expected to build on the use of consistency. However, what stood out to me was not the questions I ask others but the questions I ask myself.

Let me illustrate. Let’s say you have an employee named Pat. He’s been with your company and part of your department for a year and a half. You brought him in with high hopes and initially were very pleased. But over the last four months his performance has dropped noticeably. Work quality has slipped and he’s missed some deadlines. Because of many factors you’ve not been able to spend as much time with him as you did early on so you’re not sure what’s going on with Pat. Recently he missed another deadline by two days which meant you had to work over the weekend to make sure everything was ready by Monday morning for presentation to your boss. Needless to say, you’re not happy about feeling rushed and working over the weekend.

What’s the first thought that goes through your mind? Consider these possibilities:

  1. What the hell is up with Pat?
  2. Did I make a mistake when I hired Pat?
  3. Pat has so much potential. I wonder what’s going on with him?
  4. I wonder if Pat’s performance drop is because I haven’t been able to spend as much time with him in recent months?

As is the case with so many of us it’s easy to quickly go negative because Pat’s declining performance hurts your team and is a negative reflection on you as his manager. If you go into the next conversation with Pat focused on questions like 1 and 2 how productive do you think that conversation will be? Will Pat feel like freely sharing if he senses negativity and/or a hostile tone?

Now consider questions 3 and 4. Do you think you’ll have a more productive conversation with these questions driving your thought process? I’m sure you can see Pat will be more open to sharing if he believes you still see potential in him and are concerned with his career.

The first two questions, or any negative and judgmental questions you may stew over, will send you down a rabbit trail looking for answers to confirm those questions. It almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because it’s easy to find mistakes if you look hard enough.

What the hell is up with Pat? This is an exasperating question that will probably leak anger and frustration. While those emotions might be legitimate would you rather turn around his performance or get rid of him and start all over again with a new employee?

Did I make a mistake when I hired Pat? Our memories are short and our attention spans are even shorter. It will be much easier to focus on Pat’s recent performance and build a case in your mind that it was a mistake to hire him as opposed to reviewing the body of his work. Again, I ask, would you rather to turn around his performance or get rid of him and start all over again with a new employee?

Pat has so much potential. I wonder what’s going on with him? This acknowledges Pat has performed well in the past and seeks to find out what might have caused the recent change in performance.

I wonder if Pat’s performance drop is because I haven’t been able to spend as much time with him in recent months? While his drop may not have to do with your one-on-one time this is a less threatening opening than laying all the blame on him.

I hope you see the difference. The questions you ask yourself about people and situations impact your emotions, thinking and ultimately your behavior. This week I encourage you to pay attention to the questions you ask yourself. When you do, see if you can understand how they’re driving your behavior. Is it the behavior you want? Is it the most productive behavior?

Seldom can you change other people but you can change yourself. It begins with how you view and think about people and situations. Will you give it a try? What do you have to lose? What might you lose by not trying?

Persuasive Coaching: Listening STARS

Last week we explored the necessity of asking good questions if you want to be a persuasive coach. You’ll recall the right questions can be effective because they tap into the principle of consistency. It won’t do much good to ask lots of questions if you don’t spend focused effort listening. This week we’ll explore five tips to help you grow in this area.

There are several levels of listening and the two you should shoot for as a coach are attentive and empathic.

Empathetic listening is where you seek to put yourself in the place of the other person. You not only understand where they’re coming from, you have a strong sense of how they feel. Empathy is different than sympathy.

Imagine someone tells you they lost their job. You might feel sympathy for them because you know intellectually it must be difficult and scary. The person who empathizes wouldn’t just acknowledge those feelings, to the best of their ability they’d allow themselves to feel the anger, hurt, and scariness that come with losing a job.

Empathetic listening is something most of us shy away from because it often entails feeling emotions we’d prefer to avoid. After all, who want to feel bad if they can avoid it?

Attentive listening allows you to understand where the other person is coming from but not necessarily feeling all the feelings. If you can’t empathize then attentive listening is the next best thing because at least the other person has been heard and you’re still in a better position to coach them.

How can we listen attentively and perhaps empathetically? Most people never consider how they could be a better listener and very few have view listening as a skill that can be improved. When I teach classes on communication I often share a method to help people become Listening STARS.

STARS is an acronym that stands for: Stop, Tone, Ask, Restate, Scribble. We’ll take a brief look at these five simple steps which, if put into practice, will make you much a more effective listener and better coach.

Stop. First, you need to stop whatever you’re doing when someone is talking to you. Doing so conveys respect and makes the other person feel important. Additionally, you will catch more of what he or she is saying because multi-tasking is a myth. You cannot listen when you’re texting, typing an email, or doing any other activity that taxes your cognitive abilities. Many studies show the best you can do is switching quickly from one task to another which means there are times you’re not listening.

Tone. Paying attention to tone is important because it often conveys feelings. When I ask my wife Jane how she’s doing and I hear, “Fine,” in a short, terse tone I know she’s not fine and wants me to ask how she’s really doing. Much like body language, tone can indicate how someone is really feeling.

Ask. This reminds us to ask clarifying questions. Normally I don’t advise people to interrupt someone when they’re talking but the exception is to get clarification on something that was shared to prevent miscommunication. Another advantage of asking clarifying questions is doing so shows you’re actively listening.

Restate. It’s one thing to think you understand another person but it’s altogether different to actually understand them. Never assume. Instead, take a moment to restate in your own words what you think he or she is trying to convey. If you realize you don’t either ask more questions or have them to tell you their story again.

Scribble. If you can take notes do so. When you do this don’t try to write the next great American novel because you’ll miss too much if you’re too focused on writing. Try to bullet point key concepts that will trigger more detailed thoughts when you reread your notes.

Each of these five steps is simply a choice but don’t fool yourself – listening is hard work. To improve it will take time, energy, and patience. Like most skills you need to succeed in business and life, listening needs to be worked on continually. It’s not easy but the personal and professional benefits are huge.

Persuasive Coaching: Ask the Right Questions

A good coach is a lot like a good salesperson. A good salesperson never makes you feel pressured or sold. Using a combination of questions and a conversational tone a good salesperson helps the prospective customer uncover their needs. Next, the salesperson engages the prospective customer so he or she sees the right service or product to meet their needs.

In a similar way, a good coach will have a conversation where lots of questions are asked so the person being coached – the coachee –  feels like they came up with the solution to their challenges.

People who self-generate their own ideas will always be more committed to them than ideas that come from being told what to do. Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, clearly understood this when he encouraged readers to, “Let the other person feel the idea is theirs.”

Why is this approach so effect? Because of Robert Cialdini’s principle of consistency. The psychological principle tells us people feel internal psychological pressure as well as external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do.

As little pleasure seekers and pain avoiders humans work hard to make sure their words and deeds line up. When we do what we say we’ll do we feel better about ourselves. We also look better to others when we consistently keep our word. Both are strong motivators of behavior.

Being more committed to whatever solution the person being coached comes up with isn’t the only benefit of asking good questions. Asking questions and engaging in dialog also helps shape the coachee’s thinking. The more they learn to critically think and solve their own problems the more self-sufficient they become. That independence usually means they can make more decisions and do so faster.

If you’ve raised kids you know how important it is to help them develop their thinking because mom and dad won’t always be around to answer questions. The same can be said of a coach.

I’ll close with a quote from Tom Hopkins, author of How to Master the Art of Selling. Tom tells audiences, “When you say it they doubt it but when they say it they believe it.” Ask the right questions and the person you’re coaching will believe in the answers they come up with, be more committed to their ideas, and will have learned how to solve their own problems.