|Home - CEO Spotlight - Jan 04 Issue
If I'm In Charge, Why Don’t People Do What I Tell Them To?
By Steve Martin, Author,
The customer had said all the right things. They were very interested in your software. They acknowledged its superior functionality and validated its business benefits. Yet, you didn’t win the deal. Back at the office, you left your executive staff meeting with the gnawing feeling that the agreed upon action items wouldn’t get done. Later, you check your voice mail only to hear the job candidate you had wined and dined for months inform you of his or her decision to join another software company. To make matters worse, you already told the board the new vice president had accepted your offer. As the day closes, you wonder why the venture capitalist didn’t return call again today. He seemed so interested last week. You ask yourself, “What’s going on here? If I’m in charge, why don’t people do what I tell them to?”
You communicate thousands of different messages on any given day. For example, during the average business phone call you deliver hundreds of unique thoughts. These thoughts are manufactured on the internal assembly line of your mind that starts with a purpose and ends with words being enunciated in the optimum manner. The receiver of your message has to disassemble your package of words to interpret them.
Whatever your age and experience in life, you have already mastered how to use language. As a child, you learned the complex process of conveying your thoughts, how to tell the truth, and how to lie. Since then, you have become an expert on the nuances of how to say something with maximum impact, and understand, that sometimes what’s important isn’t necessarily what you say as much as how it is said. You already know how to create a message with a clear and a compelling sense of urgency.
Now you find yourself in a leadership position. You have the authority to tell people what to do and what needs to get done. Yet even with your executive power and all the practical communication experience you have gained over your lifetime, you find people still won’t do exactly what you want or are hesitant to believe in what you say. How can this be? How can you be important but not influential?
Influential speakers are able to amplify their use of language by adding an additional dimension of meaning and structure within normal conversation. By doing so, they instill their suggestions into the listener’s thought process with what seems like telepathy. The common term for this is “persuasion.” Persuasion is not solely a recital of logical arguments or factual information to a non-believer. Instead, it is process of projecting your entire “beliefs and convictions” on another human being. And, at the foundation of persuasion are three underlying principles.
Principle #1 - Speak With Conviction and Congruence
Most people in the software industry associate persuasion solely with the logical aspect of decision-making. This shouldn’t be a surprise to us since our formal education backgrounds are in the sciences such as computer science, engineering, mathematics, and finance. We have been trained to speak rationally. Over time, we have adopted the attributes of objective reason for all of our communications. Unfortunately, logic alone will not win the argument nor will it convince the non-believer to believe. It requires the “human element” of persuasion to truly change someone’s mind. Whether you are courting a potential customer or negotiating with a venture capitalist, the most important message you send your conviction and congruence.
During recent times, we have had several presidents that were accomplished orators but only one was known as “The Great Communicator.” President Ronald Reagan was a prolific speaker with unique talents. He was a master of projecting “congruence.” Whatever the topic and regardless of the situation, he was able to align his entire body and being to deliver the message. Consequently, you believed that he believed in what he said.
President Reagan had a natural ability to create rapport with a wide spectrum of people. He was able to attain support from both political parties and from people from all walks of life. Although his political enemies may have heartily disagreed with his agenda, they found it hard, if not impossible, to hate him personally. As a result, he was able to accomplish more of his agenda.
Recently, a book of Ronald Reagan’s personal writings was published. Reagan In His Own Hand, offers some unique insights into the president and provides examples of persuasive prowess. In the book’s foreword, Secretary of State George Schultz recounts the following story about the Geneva Summit in 1985.
“Mikhail Gorbachev suddenly began to harangue us about our Strategic Defense Initiative, our plans for missile defense. President Reagan exploded. The two leaders went back and forth, interrupting each other and expressing their views with vehemence.
Then Ronald Reagan got the floor. He spoke passionately about how much better the world would be if we were able to defend ourselves from nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles. He was intense as he expressed his abhorrence at having to rely on the ability to “wipe each other out” as the only means of keeping peace.
The depth of President Reagan’s belief was vividly apparent. Ronald Reagan was talking from the inside out. Translation was simultaneous. Gorbachev could connect what Reagan was saying with his facial expressions and body language.
When the President finished, there was total silence. After what seemed an interminable time, Gorbachev said, “Mr. President, I don’t agree with you, but I can see that you really mean what you say.”
The congruence and conviction with which President Reagan spoke made an immense impression on Mr. Gorbachev. These two men would go on to develop a very personal relationship and the rapport they built literally changed the world.
George Schultz credited this conversation as tipping point from which many future successful negotiations resulted. It was clear to Mr. Gorbachev that President Reagan meant what he said and said what he meant.
Whether you are courting a potential customer or negotiating with a venture capitalist, the most important message you send your conviction and congruence.”
Principle #2 - Guide the Skeptic’s Internal Dialogue
I have worked with executives from many enterprise software companies and they have all shared one thing in common-- they were very eager to tell me about their technology! Since they honestly think they have built a new and innovative software “mousetrap,” they believe that once they explain product features and functionality I will become equally enthralled. In other words, what I was thinking to myself about the product wasn’t as important was what they were saying to me. Unfortunately, facts, features, and functions by themselves won’t change anyone’s mind. It is the ability to understand what is on the non-believer’s mind and address what they are saying to themselves that’s important.
Your internal dialogue is the never ending, honest, unedited conversation within your mind that represents your deepest feelings. Basically, you are always talking to yourself. This discussion is the real you and the summation of your personality. However, we don’t usually expose this dialogue to the outside world until we pass it through our own editing process. The editing process interprets and validates the information we receive and approves the messages we send. In essence, we use the editing process to protect ourselves.
However, it is possible to lead or manage another person’s editing process. First, you have to speak with the conviction and congruence knowing that you are working with that person’s best interest in mind. In other words, what you are asking the skeptic to do or believe in is truly for his or her own benefit. Then you have to be able to guide the person’s internal dialogue. To help understand this concept, let’s once again examine President Reagan’s use of language.
President Reagan was an impressive politician. He utilized his communication abilities to win over his customers -- the American people, Congress, and foreign leaders. He possessed an extremely balanced communication style that he used effectively to create complete rapport. He spoke with conviction and a natural command of language that amplified his sincerity. He was also a master at guiding his listener’s internal dialogue.
During his Presidency, he wrote over six hundred different radio addresses by himself, in his own handwriting. They were not the work of a team of speechwriters. The structure and content of these addresses are well worth examining and understanding. “Looking Out the Window” was delivered on January 27, 1978, the text that follows is exactly as he wrote it, with his punctuation and spelling. For the sake of brevity, some cuts have been made. If you can, try to imagine yourself listening to his voice over the radio as you read it.