How Do Persuasive People Respond To Opposition?
In this supplement to a previous post about dealing with opposition, here are a few more choices you may find helpful to make when presenting an idea to a group and someone attacks you for it.
Get Curious Sometimes opposition represents a position deserving of your curiosity and even respect. Just because a person has little in the way of persuasion skills does not disqualify them from having a valid position. Since all behavior has a purpose, ask yourself, “What does this person really want?” Or, ask them. “When you say (backtrack what they’ve just said,) “What are you really trying to say? What is it that you want right now?” With this information, you either bring them around, or work around them.
Sow Seeds of Doubt If the person you seek to persuade has a strong position, you might find it easier to respond if you first sow a few seeds of doubt using the information gate questions, like “How do you know?” and “According to whom?” and “What would happen if you did?” Remember though, with strong positions, you only want to question a part of it while protecting the rest of it.
Play the polarity You can prescribe a contrarian’s position, and force him to abandon it. I call this playing the Polarity Response. The Polarity Response is a built in mechanism inside all of us that hates being told what to think and what to do. Another way to think of the polarity response is that it is the teenage part of you that has yet to grow up. Playing off this response requires you to agree with the person opposing you, and then take a position more extreme than theirs.
She says, “It won’t work.” And you agree. “You’re right. It won’t work. Not even you could find a way to make it work.” If the person opposing you is a contrarian, then the only way she can remain opposed to you is to flip to your position! “Oh yeah? It will work, and here’s how!” You tell him, “Ok, you’re right. I don’t know what I’m talking about. There’s no way someone like you could ever, ever get anything of any value from a program like this. Not a chance.” He can protest. “I could if I wanted to.” Now you disagree with him. “No, I don’t think so. Not even you could learn something in this seminar.” He’s trapped on the horns of a dilemma. He can be quiet. He can leave. I n any case, you met him where he was, and he had to deal with you. But don’t be surprised if he flips. “Go ahead, let’s see what you’ve got.” To which you can reply, “Thank you. Moving on.”
Command respect Another option with opponents is to earn their respect. This is absolutely essential when dealing with people who are hostile and aggressive. You do this by conducting yourself in such a way that they can’t help but admire your self-possession and self-control in dealing with them. Take charge over your breathing first. Slow it down and drop it into your diaphragm area. Then plant your feet firmly on the ground and grow some roots. Think before you talk. Be direct and to the point.
Make the covert overt Some opposition might be driven by the desire to punish you or get even with you. You know the saying, ‘When might won’t make right, revenge is a dish best served cold.’ When someone is out to get you, they may attack you openly or covertly, to your face or behind your back. If the attack is covert instead of overt, based in sarcasm rather than information, odds are that you are dealing with someone who feels out of control, and who believes their best chance at having some control is to undermine your self-control.
To bring hidden agendas and grudges to the surface directly, repeat back a sarcastic remark and then ask for its relevance to your proposal. “I’m talking about (this). What does (that) have to do with (this?)”? Or you can repeat it back and then ask for the intention behind it. “When you say that, what are you really trying to say?” If he denies any intent at all, let it go. Keep up this pattern and the covert opponent learns that you’re going to call him on his bad behavior every time he engages in it.
If, instead, he eventually decides to tell you what’s really going on, listen, and help him to express his grievance, frustration or problem with you fully. When he’s done, thank him for his honesty, and let him know that in the future he can deal with you in a more direct and professional manner.
Don’t be a wimp Opposition, schmopposition. Right now, take a stand with your proposition and scan the horizon. Are there any who dare oppose you? If so, how can you use the material in this chapter to increase your persuasive power? Confidence comes from preparation. If opposition is predictable, then go ahead and predict it and plan for it. As always, I’d love to hear your comments. All in favor say Aye. Aye. Opposed. The motion carries.
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.