Many people - and benefits professionals are no different - tend to skirt around issues rather than tell people directly and in no uncertain terms, "Here's what I want!"
Yet when it comes to being successful in business, clearly asking people to give you what you want is what wins the day. After spending several years studying human interactions, the secret to getting exactly what you are after is earth-shatteringly simple: The most successful people ask for what they want, then they give the three best reasons to explain why saying yes makes perfect sense.
So, rather than going into a meeting with your boss or CFO to discuss implementing an employee wellness program, a new retirement plan option and changing your company's leave policy all at once, identify the most important request and brainstorm the three best reasons (s)he should back your position. For example:
"I'd like to talk to you about implementing a new employee wellness program. We don't currently have one, and we should, because:
1. It will keep us competitive. Statistics show the majority of employers have a wellness program, so offering one will keep us on par with other organizations in our region/industry.
2. It will make our employees healthier. Based on our claims data, we are spending outrageous amounts on claims related to obesity, diabetes and smoking. A wellness program will help us engage employees in taking charge of their health and their families' health, as well.
3. It will save our company money. Fewer health claims equals more resources that can be spent developing other areas of the business."
This way, conversations are clearer, there is less misunderstanding and you earn points for being thoughtful.
'Just give me the wiener!'
Along with three reasons for your argument, you need to follow three key rules:
1. Only offer information that is meaningful. The rest is trivial.
2. Ask clearly for what you want.
3. Be quick about it.
The biggest problem with not asking direct questions is that you never get a direct answer. It's pointless. It wastes time and effort. It allows for procrastination.
After all, if you are busy probing the needs of the prospect you don't have to risk actually doing the work.
Can you image a vendor at a ballpark consultatively selling you a hot dog:
"On a one-to-10 scale, rate your level of hunger. Can you tell me your main objective for purchasing the hot dog, when you had a hot dog before and how satisfied were you with the mustard and ketchup ratio?"
Isn't he more effective when he just yells, "Hot dogs, hot dogs, come and get your hot dogs!"
Either way, the response is the same: "Just give me the wiener!" The second approach just gets you there faster, and leaves both sides more satisfied.
John Baker is the author of "The Asking Formula-Ask for What You Want and Get It," and previously has held top leadership positions in sales, client service and operations in Fortune 25 companies for more than 25 years.
8 ways to get what you want
Be a mimic.
When you're aware of it, it's one of the most infuriating behaviors imaginable. Yet mimic someone's mannerisms subtly - their head and hand movements or posture and so forth - and it can be one of the most powerful forms of persuasion. William Maddux at the INSEAD business school in Fontainebleau, France, explored the effect of mimicry on students in two role-play experiments, one involving negotiation between job candidates and recruiters, the second between buyers and sellers. In both cases, the outcome of negotiations was better for the would-be persuaders when they employed subtle mimicry. For example, in the buyer-seller experiment, 67% of sellers who mimicked their target secured a sale, as opposed to 12.5% of those who did not.
"Look at it this way ...
"Try "framing," a tactic of "leading people to think about an issue or opinion in a way that is advantageous to you," explains researcher George Bizer. "For example, opponents of inheritance taxes prefer to frame them as 'death taxes.'" A broad body of research suggests that negative information frequently has a more powerful influence than positive messages. So, if you want to sway someone when they choose between two options, a good tactic is to be negative about the option you don't want them to pick.
Remember, less is more.
According to Stanford University professor Zakary Tormala, "If you want to persuade people by getting them to think positively about your message, idea, product or whatever, ask them to generate just a few positive thoughts - three at most - because that's easy and they'll feel confident about their positive thoughts."
Grind them down.
If you're trying to be persuasive, strike when your target is running low on mental energy to increase your chances of success, research concludes.
Pay attention to the medium.
Studies have shown electronic communication disrupts the exchange of social cues women use to establish a communal bond and is therefore less conducive to persuasion. On the other hand, men typically try to establish their competence and independence, which can lead to competitive encounters. So, if you're a woman and want to persuade other women, you'd be better off meeting face-to-face, while men are less confrontational if contacted by email. The researchers are now studying these effects in mixed couples.
Put style over substance.
Persuasion may have as much to do with how you say something as what you're saying. Don't stumble, pause or use language that shows hesitation.
Get them angry.
While the best known and most studied emotion in terms of persuasion is fear, anger is an underrated tool, researchers say. First, convince people that the issue is relevant to them; then, hammer home what's wrong with the world as it is. Finally, offer them your way to remedy the situation.
Believe resistance isn't futile.
A growing body of evidence suggests that breaking down people's resistance to persuasion can be even more important. The reason for this is that people are naturally suspicious of attempts to persuade them. This is especially true if they think they are being duped.
In laboratory studies, merely reminding people that they are vulnerable to manipulation - for example, showing them magazine adverts with celebrities or models endorsing products they clearly know nothing about - makes them generally more difficult to persuade.
"If you want to change people's attitudes, it's good to have strong arguments," says Zakary Tormala of Stanford University. "But if they manage to resist your message, they might become more certain of the very attitudes you want to change.
"How to overcome this deadlock? Professor Richard Petty of Ohio State University says: "Present positions closer to your target's views, then move them towards your goal a little at a time." You could also try charming them by boosting their self-esteem. "When people feel good about themselves, they are more open to challenging messages," he says.
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