First published nationally in the Business Journal Newspapers
I sat staring at my phone. I didn’t want to call one of my directors, Joe. He and I had been going back and forth about a new program for our company and we could not agree on scheduling. My nature is to jump into things right away, so I wanted to get things on the calendar tout de suite. Joe is more on the cautious side, so he was advocating for later in the year. During our last conversation, we reached an impasse, so we did the smart thing—table the issue. One of the best things your can do for your brain is provide what psychologists call an incubation period. The brain can become overwhelmed when trying to sort out all kinds of facts and information. Time away from the issue allows it to sift through the data and re-join the conversation more productively. Because the brain does most of its reorganizing while you sleep, the most optimal incubation period is overnight. The phrase, let’s sleep on it, didn’t come from nowhere. Joe and I got the incubation part right, but what Joe did next surprised me.
As I geared up to make the phone call, I did what a lot of people do when faced with opposition, I lined up my facts like little soldiers going into battle. I also engaged in what is called defensive pessimism. That is when you think of everything that could possibly go wrong, so you can be ready to defend yourself. Defensive pessimism is not all bad. It is good for your brain to minimize nasty surprises. Joe engaged in defensive pessimism himself, but for an entirely different reason, which is why he was more successful during the follow-up conversation.
When the phone call got underway, I was ready to defend my ideas, but Joe was also ready…to defend my ideas. He said, “I thought a lot about what you said before, and I really wanted to make sure we kept in mind your need to get this started before the holiday season. I looked into it during our break, and did some research about pre-holiday buying trends, so I could fully understand your point of view. While we don’t want to jump on this plan too quickly, we need to make sure your concerns are accounted for, so here is what I propose.” As Joe laid out his plan, all I could think was, “He didn’t research all the reasons why he was right, he worked to support my point of view.
By showing that he was not simply caving into my demands, but truly concerned about the basis for my thinking, Joe gained a degree of trust not often found in contentious debates. Because of the trust that Joe established, I found myself agreeing with many other points he brought into the conversation. As such, the call was much shorter than I had anticipated, and I couldn’t wait for our next meeting.
When people want to win a debate or have an argument go our way, we usually spend all our time and energy building up our defenses. We rely on the old saying that the best defense is a good offense. That adage might work on the battlefield or in sports, but it should never be applied when you want solid relationships. It is a big ask to suggest that people add another task to their already full schedules, but taking additional time to research someone else’s point of view so you are fully educated about their position will save more time than it requires to perform.
We must also go beyond simply researching someone else’s point of view. We must know the sources of their information, without immediately dismissing those sources. If someone you disagree with claims their source to be a news program that you despise, you must remember that it is a source that someone else trusts, and you must find a way to work with their trusted source of information. It is vital to remind ourselves to ask why an intelligent and rational person would hold certain points of view.
I was embarrassed that Joe did a better job at influencing than I did. Now I am off to research his viewpoints.
An expert on influence and an international keynote speaker and trainer, Stevie Ray helps business leaders influence situations toward positive outcomes. He can be reached at www.stevierayspeaks.com