COMMUNICATION & Words to turn a conversation around (and those to avoid)

by Rosie Ifould, The UK Guardian Newspaper, 12/4/17.

Elizabeth Stokoe, professor of social interaction at Loughborough University. Stokoe and her colleagues have analysed thousands of hours of recorded conversations… They discovered that certain words or phrases have the power to change the course of a conversation…

Do use: willing

…Stokoe found that people who had already responded negatively when asked if they would like to attend mediation seemed to change their minds when the mediator used the phrase, “Would you be willing to come for a meeting?” “As soon as the word ‘willing’ was uttered, people would say: ‘Oh, yes, definitely’…

What to say Deploy it when you’ve already been met with some resistance: “I know it’s not your first choice, but would you be willing to meet on Friday?”

Don’t use: just

In 2015, Ellen Leanse, a former Google executive, wrote a LinkedIn blog about the way men and women use the word “just”’. In the blog, which went viral, she claimed that women use it far more often than men. “

She claimed the difference in how confident people felt was noticeable after a few weeks. Her evidence wasn’t scientific, but, even so, “just” is one of those words that has a habit of creeping into our emails and spoken conversations…

What to say Try your own experiment over the next week. Read your emails back before you send them and count the number of times that “I just wanted to” or “Could I just” appear. Edit them out and see the difference in tone.

Do use: speak (instead of talk)

The word “talk” seems to make a lot of people resistant to conversation. “We observed this when looking at interactions between police negotiators and suicidal persons in crisis,” Stokoe says. Negotiators who used phrases such as, “I’m here to talk” met with more resistance. “Persons in crisis would often respond with something like: ‘I don’t want to talk, what’s the point in talking?’”

When the verb was “speak”, however, persons in crisis were more likely to open up the conversation or offer new information…

There was a similar difference in the effectiveness of the word “sort”, as opposed to “help”. “Let’s sort it” feels much more direct and active. “There’s no point in trying to fake a softly-softly relationship with someone in crisis. Better to be practical and direct.”

What to say If you really want someone to engage with you, use, “Can I speak to you about this?..”

Don’t use: How are you?

It’s not so much that the “How are you?” is rude, but rather that it’s false. In real life, no one asks “How are you today?” in that cold-call way, if they know the person and genuinely want an answer to the question. We would rather they got to the point.

What to say The next time you have to speak to someone you don’t know, don’t be overly friendly. Stick to being polite.

Do use: some (instead of any)

“Anything else I can do for you?” Sounds like a perfectly reasonable question, doesn’t it? But John Heritage and Jeffrey Robinson, conversation analysts at the University of California, Los Angeles, looked at how doctors use the words “any” and “some” in their final interactions with patients. They found that “Is there something else I can do for you today?” elicited a better response than “Is there anything else?”

“Any” tends to meet with negative responses. Think about meetings you’ve been in – what’s the usual response to “Any questions?” A barrage of engaging ideas or awkward silence? It’s too open-ended; too many possibilities abound. Of course, if you don’t want people to ask you anything, then stick to “Any questions?”

What to say Try not to use “any” if you genuinely want feedback or to open up debate. “What do you think about X?” might be a more specific way of encouraging someone to talk.

Don’t use: Yes, but

“…We all know the phrase ‘Yes, but’ really means ‘No, and here’s why you’re wrong’,” says Rob Kendall, author of Workstorming. A conversation expert, Kendall sits in on other people’s meetings as an observer. The phrase “Yes, but” is one of the classic warning signs that you’re in an unwinnable conversation, he says. “If you hear it three or more times in one discussion, it’s a sign that you’re going nowhere.”

What to say Kendall advises shifting the conversation by asking the other person “What’s needed here?” or, even better, “What do you need?” “It takes you from what I call ‘blamestorming’ to a solution-focused outcome.”

Do use: It seems like

…As former FBI negotiator Chris Voss writes in Never Split The Difference, his manual of persuasive techniques, there are five stages in what’s known as the “behavioural change stairway model” that take anyone from “listening to influencing behaviour”. The first stage is active listening…

Rather than focusing on what you want to say, listen to what the other person is telling you, then try to repeat it back to them. Start with, “It seems like what you’re saying is” or “Can I just check, it sounds like what you’re saying is”. If that feels too contrived, it often works simply to repeat the last sentence or thought someone has expressed (known in counselling practice as “reflecting”).

What to say Try,“It seems like you’re feeling frustrated with this situation – is that right?” Always give the other person the opportunity to comment on or correct your assessment.

Do use: Hello

“‘Hello’ is a really important word that can change the course of a conversation,” Stokoe says. “It’s about how you respond to people who are what we call ‘first movers’ – people who say something really critical, apropos of nothing.” It might be the work colleague who steams up to your desk with a complaint or the neighbour who launches into a rant about parking as you’re putting out the bins. “What do you do with that person? Rather than respond in the same manner, saying something nice, such as a very bright ‘Hello!’, derails and socialises that other person a little bit.”

What to say …Stokoe says, “but just one friendly word in a bright tone can delete the challenge of the conversation.”

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INFLUENCE & A Review of “Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change”

Reviewed by Rev. Jeff Lawson, Aurora, IN, candidate for Missional Coach, 2016.  Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, Second Edition, Joseph Grenny – McGraw-Hill – 2013

The authors use at least a dozen different ‘Influencers” to make their point. They readily argue that just about anything (aside from gravity) can be changed if handled correctly. In fact, they state early on that, “Success relies on the capacity to systematically create rapid, profound, and sustainable changes in a handful of key behaviors.” The book is divided into the philosophy that there are six sources, or key behaviors of influence: Personal Motivation, Personal Ability, Social Motivation, Social Ability, Structural Motivation, and Structural Ability.

The goal for Personal Motivation is to help people to love what they hate. There are four tactics that should be utilized in order to do that. 1) Allow for choice 2) Create direct experiences 3) Tell meaningful stories and 4) Make it a game. I was moved by the idea that “almost any activity can be made engaging if it involves reasonably challenging goals and clear, frequent feedback.” The truth is that no one enjoys cleaning bathrooms, but when there is a story behind the cleanliness and how it might have saved a customer or made a client feel more comfortable, it changes the dynamics of the necessary chore.

As the discussion moved to Personal Ability the goal is now to help people to do what they can’t. The authors state, “When leaders and training designers combine too much motivation with too few opportunities to improve ability, they rarely produce change.” It is important that those people that we lead have the opportunity to put their skills to work. If not, how will they ever improve. Also, if we fail to give them the opportunities, there is a decent chance that someone else will and we could lose valuable people. The author states that, “Influencers carefully invest in strategies to help to increase ability.” Influencers know that people are their greatest commodity.

The idea behind Social Motivation is to provide encouragement. The authors say, “To harness the immense power of social support, sometimes all you need to do is to find the one respected individual who flies in the face of what everyone else has done and model the new and healthier vital behaviors.” People are copycats, plain and simple. This happens in just about every area of life. When do we start putting up Christmas Lights? The day after the neighbor does. When do the farmers start planting seed in the ground? The day after the neighbor first rev’s up his John Deere tractor. We are motivated by what we see and we are greatly influenced by what we see works well.

When it comes to Social Ability, the goal is to provide assistance. The driving force here is to come alongside each other and spur one another on. The authors say, “groups made up of people at all intellectual levels often perform better than any one individual.” Most folks would agree with this statement, yet there are millions of ‘lone rangers’ out there that insist on going the road on their own and never soliciting advice from others. Through multiple sources we see in this chapter that other people can motivate us in profound and countless ways.

The chapter that covers Structural Motivation challenges the reader to change their economy. This chapter truly pushed me and my earlier convictions on the subject. They write, “Your goal with structural motivation and using incentives should not be to overwhelm people to change. Rather, it should be primarily to remove disincentives.” They would advocate that rewards should not be the first and only tool in your work belt. Not that you never reward with incentives, but they should be used a lot more sparingly than they typically are. On page 219 they used a tremendous illustration about rewards in a daycare system with rewards and the outcome was shocking. Youngsters gave up playing with their favorite toys when they did not see the reward in it. Extremely interesting!

The last of the key behaviors was Structural Ability and we learned that the key was to change their space. “Information affects behavior. People make choices based on cognitive maps that explain which behavior leads to which outcomes.” We tend to react more to what we see and most folks do not dig to find more details. The mainstream media truly guides our thoughts and beliefs and many never challenge that. An Influencer will use that fact to alter the edge in their favor.

Again, there was a lot of helpful information in this book. I would admit though that it was not a ‘fun’ read. There was just a lot of data and stories work through. Also, throughout the book were small stories inserted called, “Act Like An Influencer” with a short story. They were all very interesting, but misplaced in my opinion. The reader was forced to choose between stopping his train of thought in the chapter to read the story or to come back at the end of the chapter and read them individually, which is what I ended up doing.

I think it is a worthwhile read for most people in leadership. Again, my opinion would be to read it without trying to read a second or third book at the same time. It deserves and demands your full attention.

POWER PLAYS & A Leadership Exercise to Uncover When Influence is Abused (& what to do)

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 10/6/15.

An important exercise for leaders is to reflect and address abuse of influence by others … and by ourselves.  Here is the leadership exercise I use with my students and which is suited to be utilized with leadership teams:

1)  To delve into the difficult even sometimes shadowy, but always critical area of the “abuse of influence” the leadership exercise begins with rereading  two pages from Wayne Schmidt’s Power Plays: Overcome the Need for Control and Learn to Live with Strength and Integrity (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2006, pp. 155-156).

2) Then take 10 minutes of quiet reflection in prayer.  Spend this time communing with God, asking Him to show you how this lesson from your textbook relates to you and your ministry.

3)  Then write down in one paragraph your thoughts.

4)  Finally, share with your team (or classmates) what you can.  Don’t divulge anything that might be too personal.  But, share what God has taught you about your own abuse of influence.  Write a paragraph or two.

I’ll start.

I have to admit that abuse of influence is a difficult area to address, for in my early years of ministry I succumbed to it without realizing it.  I often saw naysayers as a hindrance that must be confronted and if not compliant, be encouraged to go elsewhere.  I did not see them as God-given mediators, that might help broaden my vision.  Rather, it was the people who caught my vision who I wanted to join me, and it seemed a waste of time (as Schmidt says on p. 156) to “move people who are negative about the church to a position of neutrality and people who are neutral about the church to a place of positive contribution.”  It just seemed too much effort and too slow, and besides I was leading a young church plant and we had plenty of new attendees always joining our church.  A loss of a few was no great loss.  At that same time I began to be asked to conduct church growth consulting for churches due to my doctoral work at Fuller Seminary.  As I consulted for churches, I suddenly was exposed to the other side of the issue.  I consulted for many aging churches, and here I met dear senior saints who the world, and often their pastor, had left behind in the name of progress.  I conducted focus groups with all people at the church, and I heard story after story of how their long-years of sacrifice and commitment were now called into question because they were of a different generation (i.e. culture).  I began to realize that I had not worked with the people God had sent me in the past, but often dismissed them because they did not resonate culturally with my strategies.  Rather, I began to see in my consulting practice that my lack of compromise on methodology (still I never compromised on theology) was an abuse of influence.  To right this wrong has been my mission since.  My books have focused upon the research that shows that churches grow best (Dyke and Starke, 1999, pp. 800-803), not when they have what Schmidt calls “body counts” (2000, p. 156), but when the Body of Christ grows together in unity (Acts 2:44).

So, how about you?  What did God show you during your quiet time?

Yet, if this is too personal of a question, here is an out.  As an alternative question answer the following from Power Plays (p. 156):  Is “a high body count … a sign of healthy change or a symptom of the abuse of power?”

COMMUNICATION & How to Win An Argument #IncMagazine

Adapted from an Inc. Magazine article by Sims Wyeth, 12/3/14.

  1. Don’t convert. Forget about trying to convert your adversaries. The chances of seeing them get down on their knees and apologize for being wrong are remote. Your job is to raise doubts about the wisdom of their view.
  2. Listen. Be a good listener. Make sure you hear and understand your opponent’s reasoning. Learn how to shift gears between listening well and thinking about how to respond.
  3. Clarify. If you are not sure about what your opponent has said, ask for clarification. In the heat of battle, we often counterattack reflexively without making sure we’ve heard the other party. It wastes time and makes you look bad.
  4. Stay calm and carry on. Be mindful of your emotions. When anger and fear overtake you, your cause will be weakened. Be passionate. Be expressive. But stay calm and carry on. Anger makes you less appealing.
  5. Take control. Pay a lot of attention to the agenda of the debate and the issue that you’re fighting over. She who defines the issues and establishes the priorities is on the way to winning.
  6. Get believers on board. Preach to the converted in the room. Preaching to the choir is vital. Preachers do it on a weekly basis. It strengthens the commitment, intellectual confidence, and morale of your allies, making them more effective advocates for your idea.
  7. Play to the undecided. Do not forget the uncommitted. They are, inevitably, the majority. Your job is to pull them in your direction by making vivid the advantages of your idea and the downside of your opponent’s. You will also earn trust with the undecided if you acknowledge that your idea is not perfect, but is nevertheless far superior to the alternative.
  8. Be humble. If you choose to make a broad appeal to everyone, offer to compromise and be modest and restrained in your presentation. You may also choose to make a sharply focused pitch to a particular audience, even at the risk of alienating others. Your choice.
  9. Hit your headlines. When you have a good point to make, make it often.
  10. Make a concession. Knowing what you can concede without damaging your stance is one of the great arts of winning an argument. As a debater, Abraham Lincoln conceded that states had rights, but not the right to enslave or export slavery to other states.
  11. Paint a picture. Analogy is a powerful and persuasive way to bring a point home, especially when the analogy links the subject at issue to the personal experience of the audience. For instance, I’ve heard it said that, during the financial crisis, what the banks did by selling toxic assets to their clients was the same as car dealers selling used cars with bad breaks to teenagers. But be careful with analogies. Use them sparingly. Be well armed to develop and defend the validity of the ones you use.
  12. Offer counterintuitive points. Think outside the box. For example, when quoting some well-known figure, quote one who isn’t normally identified with your case. My favorite example of this is Senator Barry Goldwater, an Arizona conservative, who seems to have endorsed a liberal view of gays in the military when he said, “You don’t have to be straight to shoot straight.”
  13. Expose flaws and fallicies. Don’t condemn your opponent for her motives. Stick to poking holes in what she says.
  14. Be an iceberg. Learn more about your topic than you can conceivably use or show. But demonstrate a mastery of the facts and you will increase your authority and intimidate your opponent.
  15. Know your enemy. Understand the position of your adversary–not in a caricatured or superficial form, but at it’s strongest. Knowing your own position is only half the battle.
  16. Be plain. Be simple. Be earnest. Don’t try to impress. Check your emotional appeals at the door. Seek to persuade with a thorough, well-reasoned approach.

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