If someone has obviously already arrived at a decision or conclusion, you can ask how he got there. Listen for the thought process involved—you may be able to trigger that same process to help the person arrive at a different decision. Knowing how he thinks can help you cater your approach and reach that click.
Consider Janelle, a VP of an insurance company, and Lillian, the head of marketing and client services, and their discussion about the best way to respond to the recent loss of their largest client in a shrinking business climate.
Lillian thinks that the best response to a changing business environment is proactive rather than reactive—improve existing products and services for current clients and develop new products and services to attract new clients.
When she tells Janelle her idea, Janelle declares that she’s thought it through already and made up her mind about what to do. She says it’s time to lay off some of Lillian’s creative staff.
This was not exactly what Lillian had in mind. In fact, Lillian thinks this is a terrible idea. After a brief back and forth, Lillian realizes that they are at an impasse. She knows arguing can’t change Janelle’s mind and may even harden her resolve, so Lillian decides to try a different approach:
“I get it. You’ve made up your mind. But please help me understand, since it affects my staff. How did you make up your mind?”
Janelle replies, “I looked at the numbers, talked to my advisors, and reached this painful decision.”
Lillian backtracks what she’s heard and then asks, “I’m curious, which numbers did you look at?” And when she has the answer, she asks, “Which advisors did you talk with?” And lastly, she asks, “How did you come to this decision based on those numbers and advisors?”
Each question has the potential to yield valuable information, while giving Janelle more information about her own thought process. Janelle just might discover something she’s failed to take into account.
And knowing Janelle’s thought process for arriving at the decision, Lillian gains a new option for presenting her own idea. She can suggest that Janelle consider other numbers, like the amount the company has invested in developing the staff and the cost of losing any more dissatisfied clients. Finally, she can suggest that Janelle talk to other advisors who may have a different opinion. Then she can ask Janelle to revisit her decision.
Lillian’s questions won’t necessarily solve anything, but they may change everything.
I’d love to hear your comments and feedback.
Rick is a best selling author and the founder of the Art of Change Skills for Life. His book titles include, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst, Life by Design and Influence and the Art of Persuasion. These days he is spending quality time away from the spotlight enjoying the company of his wife and practicing his electric guitar.