HOW THE SUPER PERSUADER OPENS CLOSED MINDS
A man arrives home from works at the usual hour of five P.M. He discovered that it had not been one of his wife’s better days. The result was a short fuse and an unpleasant attitude. Nothing he said or did was right. By seven P.M., things had not changed, so he suggested that he go outside, pretend that he had just gotten home, and start all over again. His wife agreed. He went outside, came back in, and announced, “Honey, I’m home!” “And just where have you been?” she replied sharply. “It’s seven o’clock!”
One foggy night at sea, the captain of a ship saw what looked like the lights of another ship heading toward him. He had his signalman contact the other ship by light. The message was: “Change your course ten degrees to the south.”
The reply came back: “Change your course ten degrees to the north.”
Then the captain answered, “I am a captain, so change your course ten degrees to the south.”
Reply: “I am a seaman first-class – change your course ten degrees to the north.”
This last exchange really infuriated the captain, so he signaled back: “I am a battleship –change your course ten degrees to the south.”
Reply: “And I am a lighthouse. Change your course ten degrees to the
north, or else!”
WHY DO PEOPLE RESIST CHANGE?
In this chapter we will discuss the nature of negativity, resistance to change, and basic techniques you can use to cope with difficult personalities. Have you ever wondered why people resist change, even when it’s to their benefit? A great deal of our resistance to change is based on a programmed need to be “right.” One of the big fears we face in life is the fear of being “wrong.” Being “right” means we’re okay. We equate it with survival. Being “wrong” means we’re not okay and is equated with the fear that we won’t survive. So we’re programmed to believe that the more “right” we are, the greater our chance of survival. I’ll refer to this as the Right-Wrong Syndrome.
SETTING UP PSYCHOLOGICAL POSITIONS
This encourages us to develop psychological positions. Psychological positions are highly conditioned verbal opinions that reside in our mind, often without our being aware of their existence. They are absolute prejudicial statements. Sometimes psychological positions may be simple racial or ethnic prejudices, but more often they are far more subtle and complex. They are highly organized propositions that influence what we see, what we hear, what we think, and what we do.
Not knowing about your positions or how to spot their existence in others reduces the probability of effective communication. Ignorance of these mechanisms makes constructive change almost impossible.
A major reason that psychological positions are difficult to dismiss is that people have a strong ingrained tendency to collect supporting evidence to prove that their position is “right.” If a person believes that women are emotional rather then intellectual, any error in thinking made by a woman will be used as proof or evidence to support the position. If someone believes men are uncaring, any bit of insensitive male behavior will be collected as evidence to support that position.
Collecting evidence about people can affect your judgment. The difference between evidence and information is that information is not tainted by preconception. Information is scientifically or rationally gathered data that supports what is, not what we feel or believe.
There’s another reason why people hold on to their positions. And that is that almost all positions have partial validity. For example, it is true that you sometimes make mistakes. No one is perfect. But making a mistake does not mean that you are an irresponsible, incompetent idiot. When you make a mistake, you may unknowingly, activate someone’s
perfectionist position. In his mind you become an irresponsible, incompetent idiot. When you make a mistake, you may unknowingly activate someone’s perfectionist position. In his mind you become an irresponsible, incompetent idiot because he believes mistakes equal imperfection, incompetence, and stupidity. No matter how unfair this conclusion may be, he will hold on to his opinion regardless of any argument to the contrary.
HOW PSYCHOLOGICAL POSITIONS MAKE IT DIFFICULT TO PERSUADE OTHERS
You have probably guessed that it is a waste of time to try to change the position of a person such as the perfectionist mentioned above. If you reply that you are not irresponsible or incompetent, he will remind you that you made a mistake. Since he cannot see the fallacy of his perfectionist position, he will assume that you’re just trying to avoid personal responsibility. And then he is likely to see you as being even more irresponsible, incompetent and idiotic.
Positions influence people’s perceptions, defenses, and actions. Here are some of the standard psychological positions I have observed in working with business people: people can’t be trusted; change is dangerous; compromise is weak; one must be hardened to survive; it is dangerous to lose control; give an inch and they’ll take a mile. All of these positions are aggressive in the sense of being hostile. People who ascribe to these statements tend to be authoritarian and unwilling to negotiate.
Positions that reflect a passive business orientation say things like this: showing feeling is weak; don’t notice and it will go away; confrontation is dangerous; it’s not my job; it doesn’t matter; and the grass is always
greener. These people are as closed to change as the authoritarian, and equally difficult to work with.
A person with a passive, or neutral, attitude perceives others as ineffectual. Others have little, if any impact on the neutral person. Their inner message is: “Don’t get involved.” The neutral person lacks strong feelings toward others and rarely feels any emotional response when relating to other people. His position is: “People are unimportant and feelings don’t count.” His evidence is that no one allowed him to feel important when he was a child, and his feelings had no impact on the people around him. Since no one today can break through his wall of impassivity, he collects this as evidence that people have no impact.
The most difficult, and yet the most rewarding thing that you can do is to become aware of your own psychological positions. Here are some hints to help you.
USING PSYCHOLOGICAL POSITIONS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
Pay attention to your reactions in any interpersonal situation.
If you feel threatened in the absence of any real external danger, examine the cause of your anxiety; it could be a psychological position. For example, if you feel like you want to run away when the boss walks into your office, this may represent a position about yourself that says, “You’re always doing something wrong” or “The boss is always out to get you.”
Research has shown that your psychological positions are reinforced by thoughts or feelings that threaten you with dire consequences whenever you attempt to thwart those positions. If you challenge one of your
positions, you may experience panic, fear, rage, depression, melancholy, or other negative feelings. For example, if you are friendly to strangers, contradicting an inner position you held that “strangers are dangerous,” you may feel a deep sense of fear along with your friendliness.
To help you identify the positions of others, here are some things you can do.
Practice listening for the hidden meaning in a conversation. Notice any meaning that does not seem to fit the verbal context or the situation. For example, a jealous colleague may congratulate you on your raise, saying, “I knew you could get it if you tried hard enough.” When he really means, “We all know you manipulated someone to get this raise. You don’t really deserve it.” His position is that it’s a dog-eat-dog world. When you learn to recognize these hidden meanings, they often reflect a psychological position.
Look behind people’s statements for possible positions. Analyze the content, word for word, and listen for innuendo and for incongruous usage of words. Listen for that flat tone of voice that implies a secret. Examine the body messages for incongruity. Does the person’s posture conform to the meaning of the words? Does the tone of voice match the gestures?
Resistance reflects someone’s position. Resistance can reflect a bid for more time to think, a legitimate assessment process, or it can be a flat- out rejection of the premise before the argument is even heard. When you encounter resistance, try to ascertain whether it’s caused by the fact that your statement threatens a position held by your opponent. Arguments that make little or no sense almost always indicate that a psychological position is at stake.
Strong value judgments may reflect a person’s position. Someone may say, “My experience tells me that corporate executives are vicious.” Is that based on corporate psychiatric testing, a resentful attitude toward successful people, or the influence of something the person has heard or read? Ask for the source of the person’s value judgment. If the judgment is not based on rational data, it may express only a personal position.
Ask for definitions. A position is almost always indefensible and has a premise that is irrational or only partly valid. Asking for the definitions of each word might begin to clarify the issue.
When you are asked questions, be aware that the person may be looking for evidence to support one of his positions. It’s not just the question per se, but also tone of voice, facial expression, and general body message.
Concealing or restricting all nonverbal messages often expresses a psychological position. This is especially the case when a definite response is required by the situation. An extreme example of withholding is when a dissident member of a group is ostracized. The position here is: “You disobeyed the rules and deserve to be ignored. You do not exist.”
When someone switches the topic of conversation abruptly, he is often defending a position. For example, a wife may say, “I think that we’d be better off in a new house. Let’s sell this one.” And the husband answers, “By the way, what ever happened to the garden hose?”
Like abrupt interruptions, disruptive behavior is usually a symptom of a personal position. The behavior may be talking loudly, throwing a
temper tantrum, making noise, suddenly changing plans, or acting irrationally.
The psychological position is usually based on scanty or prejudicial data. Therefore, uncovering the position and exposing it to the light of day defeats its purpose and make it useless. Here are some various methods for handling the positions of others.
Ignoring the position cancels its power. This can be effective, since the efficacy of a position is founded on power manipulation. Be aware, though, that ignoring the position may escalate the attempt to collect evidence to support the position. This happens because the position- leader feels that the position is necessary for survival. When other people ignore the position, the validity of the position is challenged and there is a frantic effort to gather more evidence.
You can confront the individual by asking what data supports his position. Confrontation brings the situation to the surface the examination. Most positions don’t hold up under close scrutiny.
When subjected to an attack from a psychological position, one can deflect its effect. For example, a manager says, “You are just like all the rest of those women.” A good communicator might answer. “You must be frustrated with women. I’m sorry your experience has been so negative.”
When addressing an adversary, you can ask them to tell you the consequences they anticipate if they were to give up this position. Ask: “What are your fears, and what can I do about them?” “What does your anger mean, and what can I do about your anger?” “How will you be rejected, and how can I prevent that from happening?”
FEAR IS THE MAJOR CAUSE OF A CLOSED MIND
The advocates of winning through the use of intimidation rarely mention the role of fear or anger. Fear is, however, a major cause of most conflict. Fear is what a person feels when confronted by a real or assumed danger. It is a highly complex emotion and often leads to attacks and consequences that people do not understand.
People typically react to danger and the fear it produces by fighting, or fleeing, in order to survive. A fight-or-flight reaction might have been essential to survival in prehistoric or primitive stages of human development, but today, such a response, will, unfortunately, cause more problems than it will solve. A frightened person may flee from the benefits you want to share with him. Or he may attack your judgment out of the fear that you are being deceptive. You must be ready to address and dispel this fear. Obviously you cannot react to the stress this attack produced on you as primitive man might have, by screaming and running out, or giving the person a thump on the head.
Fear, of either a physical or a psychological nature, will be the major reason why people refuse to cooperate with you, even when it is in their best interests to do so. They may fear losing the rewards you promise or they may fear financial loss or looking like a fool to themselves or others.
Dealing openly with the concepts that frighten the individual can reduce much resistance. There’s no better way than to: (1) accept and support his right to feel fear; (2) formulate and confirm a question about it; and
(3) answer the question to his satisfaction. Let’s look more closely at each step.
HELPING OTHERS TO REUDCE THEIR FEAR
Accept a person’s emotions by admitting that his feelings are reasonable and not unusual under the circumstances. By doing this you will cause him to think more clearly about he reward you are offering him, and you will show that you understand his conflicts. It will also help steer away from an either/or choice for which he is not ready. If you refuse to accept a person’s fears as important, he will think that you question his intelligence or emotional stability. And you will have destroyed any rapport that you may have established.
The next step is to turn the resistance into a request for additional information. Most of the time an objection is actually such a request, though you have to make the other person aware of it. While accepting his feelings, help him realize he needs more information by saying, “I think I understand your question better now.” And then rephrase this objection as a question. Naturally you should answer the question you have brought into focus for him. (It’s also important that you are perceptive to his nonverbal signs as well as what he has to say. Even if he rejects your attempt to focus his interest by stating that you have missed the mark, you will not have reduced his trust if your attempts have not been threatening or dismissive. You can openly ask what is really bothering him and thus give him permission to be honest with you.
To reassure another about the reward you have to offer, a short story about someone who benefited in a similar manner can be used. Use the words, feel, felt, and found. “Quite a few people feel the way you do. Joe Smith felt much the same way. But after he decided to try, he found….”
Another good way to avoid conflict is through a compromising technique called the Law of Reciprocity. This lets you come away with the half a load and that is your key to consistent winning. It enables both people to remain in their comfort zones and to avoid the stress that leads to immature behavior. The technique is based on the fact that all of our feelings are legitimate and necessary for survival.
Thus, when no great issues, or struggles for survival, are at stake, you can gain acceptance and support by compromising through reciprocity rather than raising resistance and resentment with the law of the jungle.
HOW TO DEAL WITH AN ANGRY PERSON
The more demanding or intense a relationship, the more likely the chance that conflicts will arise. Actually, any good manger wants his subordinates competing for his job when he’s promoted. A teacher wants students to strive for knowledge and skill. Parents want their children to mature to self-control and achievement. These are examples, however, of appropriate competition. However, few raw conflicts are productive. Most of them cause an emotional distress that lowers commitment and dedication. But many conflicts can be solved before the participants have been forced too far from their comfort zone, if the following control technique is used.
The steps of the conflict control technique are:
- Accept the speaker’s complaints without rejection. Be an active listener who really hears what the words convey.
- Share the speaker’s concern by agreeing or empathizing. Say, “I see what you mean” or “I’d feel the same way if I were in your shoes.”
- Reflect the speaker’s feelings to demonstrate understanding. You can paraphrase his statements after saying something like, “Let’s see if I understand what you are saying.”
- Advocate new information to help him change his mind. He needs a logical reason to agree with you, so offer one that will keep him form seeming indecisive.
- Confirm his agreement by asking for acceptance. Get him to commit himself verbally, to close the issue on a positive note.
Acceptance, sharing, and reflections are the most effective tools when dealing with an angry person’s emotions. These first three steps allow him to gain relief, to return to his comfort zone. Once this happens he can more effectively deal with the facts in the final two steps – advocating and confirmation. The method most people use reverses the order and deals with the facts first and emotions later, if at all. By using the five-step method, understanding and acceptance can be maintained, even when it is not possible to find a compromise or grant partial fulfillment.
When solutions are not negotiable and you have to require cooperation or compliance, it can still be done in a way to assure that good relations continue. As in many cases, it’s not what you do, but how you do it. This is so because most people prefer a mutually supportive relationship to winning all the time. Offering support when an occasional payoff must be withheld can be accomplished effectively by using the supportive
refusal technique. Here are the steps to using the supportive refusal technique.
First of all, accept the person’s request in supportive terms. Acceptance, as it always does, lets another person gain emotional relief without receiving rebuttal, which would devalue him. Next, express understanding by paraphrasing the request.
Put his feelings into your own words to show that you really know how he feels. Then, state the legitimate denial in authentic terms. This gives him something to reason about once you have accepted and supported his emotions. Next, help the person be authentic about his feelings. Helping the disappointed person express his feeling clears the air and offers more symbolic relief. Finally, restate the denial firmly but supportively. Restating the denial in a firm but non-critical manner helps gain acceptance and close the issue permanently.
The supportive refusal forms a clear, logical answer to a disappointed or angry person with whom you cannot negotiate the outcome, except to give him acceptance and support. It takes a little more time than a blunt “no”, but it shows your genuine concern for the person’s feelings. It also avoids the weaknesses of a long, unstructured discussion because it addresses the critical emotional issues.
Most of the refusals that complicate your attempts to include people in mutual payoffs occur because people are afraid of getting hurt. Fear not only makes people flee from you, it also makes the fight. Even situations seemingly stemming from blatant selfishness are usually the result of someone’s fear – fear of not getting what he deserves for his time, money, or self – or from his need to be right.
FIVE ACTION STEPS TO HELP OPEN CLOSED MINDS
- Never fight back in response to a criticism. Rather, you can compliment the critic if he has made an important observation. Often just a little praise and recognition disarms critics and changes their attitude toward you. Remember that they are responding this way because in some way you have hit the “hot button” of a psychological position they hold.
- Neutralize objections by restating them as a question and a request for more information. Then answer the question or draw out the real objection.
- On a piece of paper list the advantage of your idea or proposal on one side and the disadvantages on the other. If the points that you have presented have merit, the choice is self-evident.
- Timing is of the essence. Address emotional needs with support and understanding first, or your logical facts will never be heard.
- Your message will never be communicated if you attempt to make the other person “wrong” in order to make you look “right.” Explain that you are both trying to come up with the best solution for the situation, and allow him to change his mind gracefully and almost unnoticeably.
Following these suggestions doesn’t mean that you will handle very difficult opponent. But it will, more importantly, make you feel better about the way you handle yourself. You will find as you do these things,
that persuading others will become a peaceful, and largely conflict-free, experience.