I recently read Dr. Mark Goulston's book Just Listen after hearing him speak at the Growth Summit in Las Vegas. The cornerstone of Dr. Mark's work is about using empathy to gain buy-in and get through to people. As a psychiatrist, his methods are based on scientific research, but Dr. Mark has also tested these interventions on everyone from hostage-takers to hugely successful and famous CEOs and heads of companies. So, how do you get your reluctant team to buy in to your great ideas for growing your business? How you do get your resistant spouse to agree on your favorite vacation destination? How do you get your defiant teenager to talk to you instead of acting impulsively?
According to Dr. Mark, the key to getting through in these difficult situations is empathy… making the resistant person "feel felt" moves them from resisting to listening to considering what you're saying. First, you have to master your own emotional response so that you aren't responding in a defensive way that triggers even more resistance. Once you pause and get your own head on straight, you can use some of these tips from Dr. Mark to get through to people who aren't buying in to your ideas or agendas:
Tip 1: Minimize Dissonance.
Sometimes, it is hard to get through to people because they perceive us differently than we perceive ourselves. If we think we are being confident, but our potential clients see us as arrogant, chances are we won't close the deal. If we think we are being quiet and listening but our spouse perceives us as aloof and disinterested, this can create a rift in the relationship based on a misunderstanding. You can minimize dissonance by soliciting feedback from trusted friends and coworkers about how you come across to people and what some of your worst traits are; of course, you have to be in a place emotionally to receive this feedback with gratitude and not defensiveness. You will never be able to eliminate all misunderstandings, so when they occur, always be quick to apologize. In some cases where you feel that you are likely to be misunderstood, it can help to call out the potential dissonance and apologize in advance to neutralize the negative impact.
Tip 2: Make the Other Person Feel Valuable.
We all know that we should make the people who are most important to us feel valued and appreciated. But, Dr. Mark says that we should also go out of our way to make people who annoy us or are difficult for us to deal with feel important, too. Why? Because the person is probably acting out because of an unmet need-the need to feel like their contributions matter and they are important. So, the next time that irritating complainer comes into your office, consider listening for a minute and saying something like, "Your concerns are very important to me, and I want to schedule time when we can talk about them when I can give you my full attention. Please begin working on some potential solutions, and schedule a time with my assistant to spend 15 minutes presenting them to me tomorrow." You've made them feel like their concerns are important, and you've assigned them responsibility for thinking of solutions, not just wallowing in the complaint. This should go a long way toward making them feel felt-and if they know that you are going to expect solutions from them, next time, the person might think twice before venting to you!
Tip 3: Get Though to People by Being More Interested than Interesting.
While it seems counter-intuitive, you are actually more interesting to people if you can ask a question that lets them show you how interesting they are. If you can move from a transactional conversation to a relational conversation by asking a transformational question-one that lets the person share who they are and what's important to them-you make a huge impression. And, you create a reciprocal desire in that person to show you the same level of interest and respect that you've shown to them. So, the next time you want your kids to be interested in something you have to share, try starting by being genuinely interested in what they think or how they feel. The same goes for a business leader you want to impress-the best tactic is to ask them a question that lets them share how interesting they are with you.
Tip 4: Use Fill in the Blanks and Hmmm… to Get the Other Person Talking.
As Patrick Thean pointed out in a previous blog, a huge reason that employees don't buy in to mandates that are handed down from above is that they don't feel like their ideas are being heard or valued. If you can get people talking about what their ideas are without shutting them down or putting them on the defensive, you are one step closer to getting them to say "Yes" to your idea or plan. So, when you are in a meeting with your team, start by soliciting their ideas first. You can say something open-ended like, "The most important thing for us to accomplish next quarter is…" and see what comes out. When you hear their ideas, resist the temptation to jump in and say why they won't work or why you think your idea is better. Instead, say, "Really," or "Hmmm…" and just pause. Chances are, the person will keep talking and will feel like you really understand their idea! The best part is that you haven't committed to anything-you're not tied down to their plan. But, you've built up the goodwill with your team so that when you do finally share your thoughts for what you should accomplish next quarter, they are eager to listen to you and respond with the same level of respect and interest that you gave to them.
Next time you are feeling frustrated with a resistant person in your life, try out some of Dr. Mark's tips and see if they help. I'd love to hear about your experiences!