It is often that I hear the high octave pitch of a dispute bouncing from a neighboring desk off of our domed ceiling, through the company communal air space and right into my office. It is at these moments that I reflect. I reflect upon my own mistakes at handling conflict. I reflect upon my futile attempts to best my opponents. I look back on my exercises in throwing my wit like a boxer throws a jab, my situational knowledge a pummeling right hook, and my ability to one-up the contender a gut-wrenching body blow. None of these measures ever accomplished true success. And more often than not, they resulted in creating additional conflict and furthering the campaign of those who had sought out to overcome, outsmart, and oust me from my title belt. Nobody actually wins an argument. Nobody.
The challenge of facing would-be foes is not with the foe but within ourselves. Our agenda is more common to win rather than win them over. We are pre-genetically disposed to either fight or flee. There is nothing in our DNA that equips us to ease back and see what we are truly dealing with. Yes, there are parts of the brain capable of assessment but those functions are set on rapid response to prevent the potential scenario: Oh look, there's a saber tooth tiger. He has large teeth. I wonder if those teeth are meant to ... and so much for the evolution of the thinking caveman. My point is, it is natural to want to defend yourself or to evade conflict, or to straight up stab a saber toothed tiger right in the face. But just because it is natural doesn't mean it is effective. You are not a caveman. And your adversary is not a prehistoric predator. Your adversary is most likely a competitor, a coworker, or (even worse) a client. And if you stab a client in the face I doubt you'll even get to the close. So here they are, the ten steps I recommend using in taking an angry call and turning it around. Here are the ten tactics on handling that aggressive email that makes you want to scissor kick your keyboard into your home screen. Here are the ten secret ninja techniques on turning that angry aggressor into a sleepy kitty as opposed to an angry saber tooth.
1. Say Hello.
Say it Nice. Say it Loud. Don't jump right into it. Don't frump out a "What?" or a crass "How can I help you?" Have some fun with it. Force a little chipper. Be playful. Make eye contact when possible. Smile even if they can't see you. Nothing sets them off-guard more than you being nice. And nothing ramps them up for a fight more than you being curt. A gentle smile, and cheerful hello, and a genuine "How are you doing?" will pave the way to a perfect close.
2. Shut Up.
Seriously, shut up. Don't mutter a sound. Stop thinking about what you are going to say next. Stop grunting. Stop interjecting. Stop your unaware bout with momentary Touretts Syndrome. Put an end to the "Okays," the "I knows," and the "Ah-has." Seriously, shut the hell up. Practice complete restraint and Zen-like silence. Let them talk. And when they're done, wait. Theyll go one. Let them. Do not utter a single word. You may think you know what they are going to say and maybe you'll act as if they already said it, and if you do you're a caveman.
3. Take Notes.
When the confrontation is live you should always take notes. Use an actual pen and piece of paper whether you are in front of them or on the phone. An actual pen and piece of paper is the key here. The sound of you typing will make them feel as if you are not paying attention. And looking at your smartphone or tablet in the middle of a conversation is rude even if you are taking notes. Give yourself a list of bullet points. Do not write down what you're going to say. Write down what they are communicating to you. We'll get back to this.
4. Ask Questions.
Ask real questions that require them to further explain their position. Do not ask leading questions that only further your position. Use this as a way to get them to show their hand. They'll tell you all you need to know if you ask the right questions. Do not use this as an opportunity to Trojan horse your agenda like a sneaky caveman. Ask them why they feel the way they do and what exactly brought them to this point. Be genuine. Be concerned. Then repeat steps two and three.
5. Now You Go.
Wait for it ... wait for it. I really need you to wait for it. Master the art of the pregnant pause. It will be uncomfortable. It will feel like that dangling piece of skin on the roof of your mouth just after you rushed into a slice of pizza. Both you and your partner (notice I wrote "partner" not "opponent") will struggle with the uncomfortable silence. What you are doing is allowing them to actually need you to speak. They will desire that you speak just to break the uncomfortable silence. And your words will be welcomed. Now you are ready to spit your venom, aren't you? Of course you are. So take your big Neanderthal head and slam it into step six.
6. Refer to Your Notes.
Do not reference your thoughts. Do not express your opinion. Don't even explain your side of the story. Just reiterate to them what you heard them say. Say it back to them. Make sure you have it right. And have them confirm. Attempt to get your partner to say "Yes" at least five times. If they get in the habit of agreeing with you, even though it is just to their own points, they will find it very hard to turn it back into a disagreement when you get to step eight.
7. Give That Listening Thing One More Try.
After your accomplishment of earning the five affirmations, ask them if you missed anything. They will inevitably feed you with more information. It is often repeated information but it is the key information. At this point they will have exhausted their vitriol and expunged all of their emotional baggage. All that will remain will be their core concern. They will hand over to you their need and the crux to your resolution. They will put a big fat "X" on a treasure map. This is a magic moment. The onion has been pealed. This is the opening moment in your verbal rope-a-dope. This is when nothing else exists except their open jaw and their desire for YOU to solve their problem. Step eight is going to be fun.
8. Let 'Em Have It.
Don't hit them with a wild hay maker. Be eloquent, be gentile, be slick. Deliver your agenda in a box made out of your solutions wrapped in their concerns. Explain to them the only ways you could possibly help them solve their scenario. Provide options to fix their problem while leaning towards the ones you know will best fit your needs. Turn your argument into a resolution. Reference their issues with your points as a form of delivery from their frustration. Show them the way (your way) to achieve their needs. This is when your skills go from ninja to Jedi. They will literally make your position their own. Sometimes they'll even say it to you. They will take ownership of your ideas. Let them. Who cares who said it? All that matters is that the resolution is in both of your favor with a slight lean towards yours.
9. Go For The Close.
Ask for it. It doesn't matter if you are selling an actual product or an idea. The most common fail in any encounter is not walking away with the prize. How many meetings have you labored through only to later realize you drew no hard conclusion? How many times have you walked away not quite sure what the next step is supposed to be? How many times were you left scratching your head like a confused caveman? It is because you didn't go for the close. Sum that baby up. And then say what both parties are going to do. "I'm going to send you a contract, and you're going to sign it and send me a deposit." "We're going to fix this dilemma with the following measures." These are assertive calls to action. And as long as you punctuate them with a simple detail on the proposed end result, "everybody will be happy."
10. Walk Away
I don't know why I have to tell people this. If you close the deal, get off the phone. I will actually tell salesmen to stop selling me when I've committed to a purchase. It is just too painful to watch someone who has no idea they have already won the race while running with the finish line tape firmly stuck in front of their eyes and headed straight for a cliff. Don't linger. Do not repeat the agenda. Do not recap your points. Never give them a chance to figure out what just happened. You are only increasing your odds of repeating the argument. And you could ultimately lose it the second time around. Just slowly back away from that purring saber tooth and enjoy your personal evolution in peace. You just won them over with virtually no effort at all.
Douglas Hall is the President of TalentPlus Entertainment, a St. Louis-based entertainment brokerage specializing in entertainment buying for corporations, casinos, event producers, DMCs, festivals, and military installations. Prior to joining TalentPlus in 2007, Hall earned his stripes with a ten year career as a promoter, venue manager, and event consultant. Hall has been featured in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Campus Activities Magazine, Nightclub and Bar Magazine, Town&Style, American Entertainment, Mixer Magazine, and Thomas Crone’s “Portraits Along the River: Working in the City of St. Louis” (William and Joseph Press). Hall is currently the Executive Chair of the Association of Entertainment Professionals Worldwide (AEP). To learn more about TalentPlus Entertainment, go to www.talent-plus.com. To contact Douglas Hall, email email@example.com.
Extraordinary Events is a multi-award-winning international meeting and event planning firm based in Los Angeles. To learn more about EE, visit www.extraordinaryevents.net.