Ever had to give a presentation, looked out, and saw frowns or arms crossed across chests? Oops. Those are clear signals you’re facing a tough audience.
Or this: You’re in a staff meeting, you propose something, and you’re immediately hit with reasons why your idea won’t work. Do you have a chance?
It’s always good if you have an inkling ahead of time that you’ll encounter skepticism or resistance. That gives you a chance to plan your responses to the expected negativity. A recent publication from the Stanford School of Business called that “framing.”
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Authors Matt Forrest Abrahams and Burt Alper offered the phrase “challenges are opportunities in disguise” as a classic example of using positive language to frame a topic and influence people to see things in a certain way. Another example: “certified previously owned” instead of “used” when talking about a car.
But, they acknowledge, carefully orchestrated language won’t be enough. You’ll probably need to counter two kinds of objections. One kind will be based on emotional reaction; the other kind will be based on facts.
If a listener responds with “I just don’t like it,” or something else based on feelings, it’s wise to acknowledge his or her feelings and then respond by “finding a higher order concept.”
Here’s what Abrahams and Alper meant by that: Someone complains about your “ridiculous pricing.” You respond by saying, “So you’d like to know about our product’s value.” Then you describe the value, return on investment or other ways to explain the pricing instead of arguing about price.
If a listener responds with “We don’t have the time” or “We don’t have the resources,” you should be prepared with facts. What other projects are competing against the deadline? What is the budget? It’s hard to argue facts, but you need to be sure about your facts.
What I think is particularly helpful — whether you’re trying to sell yourself in a job interview, or sell an idea in a meeting or win over an auditorium — is the encouragement to use metaphors, analogies and cliches to make your point. People will more easily buy in when you summon “common wisdom on your side.”
Need an example? The authors said that if someone says your plan is too slow, you could respond, “We purposely aren’t trying to boil the ocean,” or “We are simply trying to be penny wise and not pound foolish.”
There’s no magic bullet, of course, to convince others. Any time you can warm up your listeners ahead of time or make them feel more invested in your remarks, you may encounter fewer arms crossed across chests.
Of particular note for meetings: It helps to distribute a summary that reinforces your ideas but uses “we” and “us” instead of “I” whenever possible. This framing potentially reinterprets your message to make it seem more like group thinking. At the very least, it gives you a chance to repeat your key ideas.