Thursday, October 27, 2005

A Verbal Stepping Stone

In discussing how to be obtain and exercise influence it is important to realize the importance of perspective. Perspective and context have everything to do with being able to move someone from where they are towards where you'd like them to be. Simply put, you can't give someone directions until you know where they are coming from.

This point was been well understood. For example, when coming before a court in Ancient Greece, the participants were required to state the opposition's case to the oppositions satisfaction before stating their own case. This ensured that both parties fully listened to their counterpart prior to seeking judgement.

So what about cases, where you start off opposed? Or situations in which you don't have access to the context the other party is working under? In this post I'll discuss a common technique for influencing that works around these issues.

The technique is called Pacing and Leading. It is similar to the Mirroring which we discussed previously. It primarily consists of providing statements that allow the listener to establish a pattern of agreement with "true" statements. Establishing this positive pattern is known as Pacing. Once you have established a positive pattern of agreement you can then deviate from the pattern using "speculative" statements. The established pattern of agreement with the true statements influences the listener to continue in agreement with the speculative statements. That deviation is called Leading. Let me give an example to clarify.

As a consultant, I am often called into situations where the state of the client is relatively unknown. Will they be hostile? Are they accepting of outside help? Do they realize the issues I've been called in to address? These are typical concerns. When kicking off one of these projects I usually give a little introduction similar to:
So this is Client X, we've all made it onsite successfully, it's Monday morning, and I've brought donuts and coffe for everyone. You probably are wondering when we are going to get requirements, after all we all know how important it is to get solid requirements quickly. You are each going to have a chance to review them and I'm sure you'll have great feedback...
While it seems innocuous, let's break it down into the kinds of statements I've made. There are "true" statements which are the Pacing statements.
  • We've all made it
  • It's Monday morning
  • There are donuts and coffee
  • Getting solid requirements quickly is important
  • You will have a chance to review them
And there are "speculative" statements which are the Leading statements.
  • You are probably wondering...
  • I'm sure you'll have great feedback...
As I deliver the pacing statements I'm setting up a pattern of "I Agree" or "That is True" with the listeners. This is because as humans we crave the familiar. We fall easily into habit and routine because our brains seek out patterns and repetition. This is such a motivating force that once you've said "yes" a certain number of times, it can take actual effort to say "no" the next time. So in this case, as I slip from things that are accepted as true to things that are only possibly true, the listeners don't pick up the transition.

I've provided an arguably simple example but I wanted the point to be complete. However if you think back to some conversations you've had, how often do you hear people saying "uh-huh", or "mm-hmm", or just nodding along. I'm sure you can think of situations when you are commiserating with a buddy and they are just agreeing right along with you even about things or situations they may not know anything about.

In Practice
Hopefully you can see how this technique is great for moving people to consent quickly, but what about more difficult situations? This technique can be invaluable in situations where you are being opposed directly or met with skepticism. In those cases, you can apply this technique in combination with other techniques to achieve great results. There are many techniques to diffuse a situation, and this is an excellent way to get yourself out of a minefield and get people heading in the right direction.

Like all techniques, the key is to practice. Find a low-risk environment such as with a friend and practice pacing them. Start with the simple true statements using known commonalities. For example with my Joss Whedon friends I might say how Serenity was such a great flick, then mention how I liked a particular scene, then bring up how the DVD is coming out in December, and then suggest that Wonder Woman might be a stretch for him. True, true, true, speculation.

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