Last month I talked about persuasion – how to get someone to agree with you. Now I want to introduce an alternative that is its opposite and its equal.
The problem with persuasion is often not connected to a deficit in the energy or will to keep going but to a surplus of determination to not give up.
I fervently believe that listening empathically (proving to someone that we have understood by them reflecting back their feelings and thoughts, in short, timely snippets) is vital to the process of winning people over to a point of action. However I am also suggesting that making a bee-line for agreement may waste a huge amount of time, anxiety and false hope.
Picture the scene… you and I are in a meeting together. Also arranged around the table are an assortment of our peers and one or two really ‘big wigs’. You are trying to persuade me to adopt solution B whilst I am proposing solution A. At some point one of us may decide to concede. Why?
Well, it may be because I have managed to persuade you or because I have finally seen the light - the good in your plan. But it could also be that I have decided to capitulate because I don’t want to look combative in front of our bosses or you could give in because you want to look like the peace-maker. Or we could both pretend to agree just to get out of the room so that we can solve the situation ‘off-line’.
The outcome looks good on the surface… two grown-ups have reached an accommodation that looks like agreement. The problem is that only one of us, at best, will do anything about it. Why? Because without both people being committed, nothing will change; not only will the vanquished party fail to act but the persuader, knowing that was likely, may not take action either believing that it simply isn’t worth the effort to achieve only half an outcome.
The key problem with agreement is that it requires not only a change of intention but a change of belief as well. And because people tend to change their beliefs slowly, and by definition, of their own free will, trying to squeeze a piece of mind-changing into the restricted timeline of a business meeting, is mostly unrealistic.
We operate in hierarchies, often having to achieve tasks within set timelines, through other people. The golden possibility, then, is commitment because it is quicker, more accepting of differences and can be eventually followed by agreement.
I’d very much like to persuade you that this is the right thing to do but I think we’re stuck. Instead I’d like us to do something together on the basis that I can’t do my plan without your hands-on action – so I’m asking for your commitment to act, not your agreement that it would be your first choice.
Asking for commitment is sometimes quicker that waiting for agreement but having both is best of all, even when people are already in hearty agreement. You will no doubt know that agreement doesn’t always mean I’m actually going to do it. But well, commitment, that’s a different thing… I’ve given you my word.