From the boardroom to the car showroom or simply rescheduling a flight, we negotiate every day. Really, any time we want something from someone, whether it’s money, an act of kindness, respect, or anything else, we are negotiating. And some of the people we negotiate with seem to have “make my day” written all over them.
But, while you really would like to make their day; you also want to persuade them to make your day. And to achieve that kind of win-win outcome requires something a little more subtle than the .44 magnum Dirty Harry relied on in Sudden Impact.
Here are three types of phrases you can add to your arsenal to help people become more receptive to your suggestions:
1. Leading phrases that defuse
Your typical difficult person isn’t just being difficult with you. It’s their default modus operandi. So while leading with phrases such as, “It seems to me …”, “This is just my opinion …”, “I may be wrong about this …” may seem counter-intuitive, even “weak,” it really accomplishes two things.
First it surprises them, because that isn’t how most people handle them, and it soothes their ego. As you know, a person’s ego will often stand in the way of their being receptive to another’s idea. These phrases act as softeners to their ego.
You’re not saying, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” That’s what they’re used to. Instead, you are allowing for the definite possibility that you might not be correct. Quite opposite from causing the other person to doubt the truth of your statement, it will actually cause them to drop their guard and become a lot more open to it. Counter-intuitive? Yes. Effective? Absolutely.
Second, it will open your mind. You’ll not only be asking if you are right, or in the right, these phrases program your subconscious to be open to other solutions and resolutions. So you might end up with a better situation (think two cupcakes instead of one) than you were even negotiating for.
“Communication is the fuel that keeps the fire of your relationship burning. Without it, your relationship goes cold.” – William Paisley
2. Seek first to understand
I don’t think anyone phrased it any better than Dr. Stephen R. Covey in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People when he wrote, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Difficult people are often behaving the way they do because they need to be heard, they’re trying to cut you off at the pass, so to speak, by being insistent on their position right from the beginning.
Try another type of softening phrase like “for my own clarification …” and “I’m just curious about …” which suggest that you are sincerely interested in their point of view (even though you may not agree with it.)
Of course, if it leads to your difficult person being less defensive and explaining their point of view in more rational terms it also gives you a better chance of speaking to their real objections and working toward a resolution that is a win for everyone involved.
3. Offer to do your part
You might not expect a phrase suggesting that the other person tell you what to do would put you in the power seat, but it does.
In non-manipulative, or what we call “positive persuasion,” a phrase like, “What can I do to help?” or “Is there anything I can do to make it easier for you?” both defuses their firepower and puts the ball in their court to offer constructive feedback. It’s similar to the tactic used by hostage negotiators who will come right out, whether by bullhorn or telephone, and ask the hostage-taker, “What is it you’d like to have happen?” or “What is it you want to accomplish through this?”
You may not be negotiating a life or death situation, but keep your cool, present a calm, self-controlled front, and simply ask the question. Typically, they will be happy to give you the answer, and the conversation will tend to take a much more mutually beneficial direction.
“Always do your best. What you plant now, you will harvest later.” – Og Mandino
Just as a professional boxer uses the parry which, properly executed, allows the fighter to deflect an oncoming jab with the slightest flick of the wrist, these phrases take the force that your difficult person is throwing your way and defuses it. Often you’ll find that using these phrases even gives you the advantage.