• Guest Author

Are You An Effective Communicator?

Mention the name “Donald Trump” and it sure to elicit a reaction. Every day in the news, on social media and in our normal interactions with people, our new President seems to be top of mind. People are not afraid to express their opinions about him – strongly and in no uncertain terms.

Most of these interactions, particularly on social media, typically go something like this:

Person 1 expresses their opinion

Person 2 calls Person 1 an idiot

Person 1 calls Person 2 an idiot

Repeat ad infinitum

Our goal here is to not wade into the waters of political discourse. It’s to illustrate how easy it is for us to talk past each other, and how pointless it is when we do so.

The topic of President Trump is an emotional one for many people. When emotion is involved effective communications is difficult. People want to make their points, often harshly, and then return to their corners.

Our clients can be emotional as well. If we fail to meet their expectations or we have to deliver the news of a negative surprise, they may not react well. How do you respond? How do you tell a client they are wrong (if they are)?

Similar situations can arise with staff, especially during the busiest times of the year when they are working exceptionally hard and putting in long hours. Making sacrifices in their private/social lives to ensure deadlines are met and clients are happy. Then an issue arises that causes an internal confrontation. You then need to deal with an emotional, overworked, stressed out employee. How do you respond?

You most likely already know the answer to both situations – you need to drain the emotion from situation. You also know saying “calm down” is not the way to go about it.

So how do you turn this interaction into a productive conversation?

The answer lies with 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal who develop a theory and approach for getting someone to change their mind:

“When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.

People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.”

Pascal believed that before disagreeing with someone, first point out the ways in which they’re right. And to effectively persuade someone to change their mind, lead them to discover a counter-point on their own.

Essentially what you are doing is helping them lower their defenses and creating an environment where they can change their mind. If the starting point of your conversation with your client or employee is telling them they are wrong, don’t be surprised if they dig their heels in on their starting position. You’ve given them no reason to consider an alternative view. Why should they cooperate?

Your goal, and starting point, should be finding common ground. Give them a reason to cooperate with you as you continue the dialogue. It will help drain the emotion from the conversation, and it will help you find common ground.