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Trust is Not Reputation

Four words can have a big impact: Trust is not reputation.

But what does that mean? This year especially it seems the two words have been thrown around interchangeably for some time.

I took a look back at the last time I addressed the difference of the two words and how their definitions got confused along the way.

I trust my dog with my life – but not with my ham sandwich.

That is but one of dozens of humorous ways to indicate the multiple meanings we attach to the word “trust.” It’s remarkable how good we are at understanding the word in context, given its definitional complexity.

One interesting aspect of trust is its relationship to the concept of reputation. This issue is coming to the fore in the so-called “sharing economy” or “collaborative consumption” movement.

Who can you trust on the Internet to deliver the goods they said they would deliver (think eBay), to leave your apartment in good shape if you lease it on Airbnb, to not be a creep if you call an Uber?

It’s tempting to look at the concept of reputation as the scalable, digital badge of trust that we might append to all kinds of transactions between strangers, rendering them all as trustworthy as your cousin. (Well, most cousins.)

Tempting, but not exactly right.  Because trust, it turns out, is not reputation.

Greenspan’s Folly

William K. Black has written about the dire consequences of Alan Greenspan confusing trust and reputation, saying:

Alan Greenspan touted ‘reputation’ as the characteristic that made possible trust and free markets. He was dead wrong.

Greenspan believed that Wall Streeters’ regard for their own reputation meant that markets were the best guarantor of trust – because they would perceive their own self-interest as aligned with being perceived as trustworthy.

Unfortunately, Greenspan’s belief was probably based more in ideology than in history or psychology, as the passion for reputation was overwhelmed by the passion for filthy lucre, immortalized in the acronym IBGYBG (“I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone – let’s do the deal”).

Early Social Reputation Metrics

Think back, way back, to November, 2006.  A company called RapLeaf was on to something.Here’s how they described their goal:

Rapleaf is a portable ratings system for commerce. Buyers, sellers and swappers can rate one another—thereby encouraging more trust and honesty. We hope Rapleaf can make it more profitable to be ethical.

You can immediately see the appeal of a reputation-based trust rating system. And with a nano-second more of thought, you can see how such a system could be easily abused. (“Hey, Joey – let’s get on this thing, you stuff the ballot box for me, I stuff it for you, bada-boom.”)

Then there’s Edelman PR’s pioneering product, TweetLevel. It does one smart thing, which is to avoid a single definition of whatever-you-wanna-call it. Instead, it breaks your single TweetLevel score into four components: influence, popularity, engagement, and trust.

Edelman says:

having a high trust score is considered by many to be more important than any other category.  Trust can be measured by the number of times someone is happy to associate what you have said through them – in other words how often you are re-tweeted.

According to TweetLevel (back in 2012), here were my scores:

  •             Influence        73.4
  •             Popularity      70.1
  •             Engagement   56.4
  •             Trust               46.9

So much for my trustworthiness.

Guess who owned the number one trust score on TweetLevel that year? Justin Bieber. Now you know who to call for – well, for something.

The KLOUT Effect

It’s easy to poke fun at metrics like TweetLevel that purport to measure trust; but in fairness, because trust is such a complex phenomenon, there really can be no one definition. What TweetLevel measures is indeed something – it’s not a random collection of data – and they have as much right to call it ‘trust’ as anyone else does. Indeed, I respect their decision to stay vague about what to call the composite metric.

KLOUT raised a more specific question: it directly claimed to measure Influence, and is clear about its definition, at least at a high level:

The Klout Score measures influence [on a scale of 1 to 100] based on your ability to drive action. Every time you create content or engage you influence others. The Klout Score uses data from social networks in order to measure:

  • True Reach: How many people you influence
  • Amplification: How much you influence them
  • Network Impact: The influence of your network

I find that to be a coherent definition. If I’m a consumer marketer, I want to know who has high KLOUT scores in certain areas, because if they drive action, I want them driving my action.

Note that Klout doesn’t mention reputation at all – just influence. Where does trust come in?  Klout says, “Your customers don’t trust advertising, they trust their peers and influencers.”

Well, I wouldn’t go there. On TweetLevel, the top three influencers were Justin Bieber, Wyclef Jean, and Bella Thorne. Influencers – definitely. People to be trusted? What does that even mean?

Trust Metrics

One problem with linking trust to reputation is that it can be gamed. One problem with linking trust to influence is that notoriety and fame are cross-implicated. Bonny and Clyde were notorious, so was Bernie Madoff and the Notorious B.I.G. – that doesn’t make them trusted.

Take Kim Kardashian. Is she influential? You betcha: her Klout score was a whopping 92 (Back then! Juts think about today). Does she have a reputation? I bet her name recognition is higher than the President’s.

But – do you trust Kim Kardashian? Well, to do what? (By the way, TweetLevel gives her a 70.1 trust score – way higher than mine. Now you know who to ask when you need a trustworthy answer; I’m referring all queries to her).

So here are a few headlines on trust metrics.

  1. They’re contextual. You can’t say you trust someone without saying what you trust themfor. I trust an eBay seller to sell me books, but I’m not going to trust him with my daughter’s phone number.
  2. They’re multi-layered. Both Klout and TweetLevel correctly recognize that social metrics can’t be monotonic – a single headline number is useful, but it had better have nuances and deconstructive capability.
  3. Behavior trumps reputation. You can get lots of people to stuff the ballot boxes for you; it’s a lot harder to fake your own  behavioral history. Trust metrics based more on what you did, rather than just on what people say about you, are more solid.
  4. Good definitions are key. When people say ‘trust’ and don’t distinguish between trusting and being trusted, they’re not being clear. There’s social trust, transactional trust – it goes on and on. Good metrics start by being very clear.

So what’s the link between reputation, influence, and trust? There is no final arbiter of that question. Language is an evolving anthropological thing, and as Humpty Dumpty said, words mean what we choose to say they mean. So job one is to be clear about our intended meanings.

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Full disclosure: I have a small interest in a sharing economy company, TrustCloud. I have written more about the sharing economy and collaborative consumption in a White Paper: Trust and the Sharing Economy, a New Business Model.

(This post was originally published on TrustMatters)

Buddhist Capitalism vs Competitive Selling: the Power of Trust and Collaboration

When you think of capitalism, you probably think of competition as a central, driving force. We have enshrined the value of competition in our antitrust laws. We view competition between providers as a way to increase innovation and reduce costs; in today’s parlance, competition is what yields creative disruption.  Adam Smith is frequently (and somewhat inaccurately) cited as the prophet of competition in his concept of the “invisible hand.”

At a micro-level, we have also glorified competition. Athletic competition is seen as a metaphor, as well as a proving ground, for competition in business. Businesses line up to sponsor major athletic events and athletes.

And nowhere in business is competition more revered than in sales.

The truth is much of what we think about competition is dysfunctional, suboptimal, and actually destroys value. By contrast, what I’ll whimsically call Buddhist Capitalism shows another way that adds more value. I’ll explore this theme first at the business world level, then at the sales level.

Business Competition in the Real World

In the real world, pure competition leads directly to monopoly. Competition is inherently unstable, resolving to dominance of one more powerful firm over all the others. What we call “competition” in the modern Western world is a finely tuned mix of rules and regulations, as well as a few customs, that serve to keep behavior within socially acceptable bounds.

If you doubt this, think of what the U.S. economy would look like in the absence of the FTA, the FDA, the FAA, the SEC, or the FDIC. Or just look back a few decades in the history books. Maintenance of a state of competition depends enormously on the power of the referees.

Pure competition, even where regulatory regimes are strict, rarely exists. There are imbalances of labor, education, geography, and a hundred other variables. The point is in nearly every industry, there is an imbalance of power, exploited by one party at the expense of the weaker parties. “Competition” in the real world is more or less about zero-sum games, with one party holding the stronger hand.

The definitions of “capitalism” have been hijacked by extremist theoreticians in recent years: people such as Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, and Alan Greenspan, who believe in a moral purity produced by competition. (Never mind that an ethics built on selfishness isn’t worthy of being called ethics in the first place.)

Buddhist Capitalism

By contrast: imagine an economy relatively unencumbered by laws and regulations, but where trust and custom abounded. An economy with not nearly as many lawyers, but with fewer legal battles. An economy where the frictional costs of competition (and the regulation of competition) are lower, and innovation is higher.

You get such an economy when you introduce the concept of trust and collaboration. Zero-sum games shift to 1+1=3 games. Stephen MR Covey Jr.’s book The Speed of Trust is all about this: when trust is present, speed goes up and cost goes down.

If my Buddhist friends will forgive me the crude colloquial language, I’ll call this Buddhist Capitalism. What I mean is that it focuses on collaboration, not competition; on getting along harmoniously rather than vanquishing; on letting go attachment to outcome rather than obsessing over goal achievement.

It’s far from crazy. The lesson of the Prisoner’s Dilemma work in game theory is that a collaborative strategy always, always beats a competitive strategy if played long term. Research shows that collaboration produces more innovation than solitary introversion. Collaboration and trust build on each other, increasing knowledge of both parties to the point where they can jointly add value, cut costs, and reduce risks.

It may sound like a Beatles song—the more you give, the more you get—but it’s no less true for being musically suggestive.

Buddhist Selling

What does all this have to do with sales? Selling is just the micro-version of the same thing. We as human beings have a primal desire for survival, which can easily revert to competition. But we have an equally strong desire for connection, collaboration, and cohesion.

Except for pure commodities (and not even water or electricity is a pure commodity), buyers prefer to buy from sellers they trust. Trusted sellers have their customers’ interests at heart, ahead of their own. They play the long game because they know that the best way to long-term success is through their customers’ success, and, therefore, no particular sale is worth sacrificing the long-term relationship.

Trusted sellers are also not attached to a particular outcome. They don’t keep meticulous score at a detailed level, and they are willing to let their agenda be influenced by client needs. Finally, they keep no secrets from their customers because they see their interests and their customers’ interests as one and the same, and the value of shared information to both parties exceeds the value of secret information privy to just one party.

Of course, these attitudes are hard to come by in a world that prizes competition. Sellers everywhere are taught to compete not only with their competitors, but also with their own customers (that’s not a joke – go read Mike Porter’s Five Forces model of competitive strategy). Not getting a sale is considered bad form, if not unacceptable. Metrics in sales are short-term, incentives are largely extrinsic, and motivation basically consists of war chants.

But a seller who can “think Buddhist” will outperform a competitive seller over time because customers prefer to deal with sellers they trust. And they do not trust people who are in it for themselves.

The ultimate irony: by being willing to forego a sale and do the right thing, the “Buddhist seller” will end up selling more than the competitive seller.

 

This post was originally published in RainToday.com 

DON’T Always Exceed Expectations

Many of us go around repeating a mantra that we think is self-evidently correct: Under-promise and over-deliver, we say. Always exceed expectations.

There is a website ExceedAllExpectations.  Another website, HowTo.gov, tells governmental agencies to use metrics to exceed expectations. And as you well know, it’s a common mantra in business.

Not so fast.

Why Always Exceeding Expectations is a Bad Idea

Think this through. If you intentionally exceed a customer’s expectations, then you intentionally misled your customer about what to expect. If you make that a habit, then frankly, you’re a habitual liar.

Think that’s too strong? Think it through the next step. When a customer habitually gets more than they were promised, what’s such a customer to think?  That’s easy – that you’re constantly sandbagging the quote to make yourself look good. And they will naturally start to bargain with you about the expected results and/or the price.

When you make a habit of exceeding expectations, you are training your customers. You are training them to expect you to under-promise and over-deliver. And they are not dumb, they learn quickly.

You have trained them to doubt you, to suspect your motives, and to disbelieve what you tell them in the future.

Proof from the Market

In yesterday’s bi-weekly newsletter TrustedAdvice, I included a link to a video clip about this idea. (By the way, if you’d like to get TrustedAdvice via email, click here to subscribe).

Within minutes, I heard from two readers, with very interesting comments.

From Reader 1
I have learned this time and time again, but I want to please my clients, so I repeatedly try to exceed client expectations – only to find the clients coming back and demanding more and more.  The fact is, I set myself up for failure, as you cannot give more than 100%. I end up getting frustrated because then clients generally speaking don’t appreciate it when you do give them 100%, they just expect more and more of you and your time.

and Reader 2 adds another wrinkle
My company has exceeding expectations built into its DNA, a by-product of yours truly (though I am so much better now than I used to be). It has created more damage than you’d ever think. Not just in terms of clients expecting more for less, but in a shop that can never truly feel good about itself just for doing a good job, always feeling we could/should have done more.

“Always exceed expectations,” despite frequently coming from good motives, actually succeeds in destroying trust, with customers and employees alike.

So – don’t do that.

Instead, do what builds trust. Tell people exactly what to expect, and then deliver that. Period. After all, that’s how you develop a track record or being credible and reliable. That way your motives are never in doubt. That way you get known for being not only a straight shooter, but a particularly good estimator.

Basically, tell the truth. It’s always a better policy.

Warning: Don’t Read This Blogpost

Well, well. You saw the title, right?  And yet here you are, reading this blogpost.

Worse yet – you’re probably here reading this blogpost because you saw the title warning you not to. What does that say about you?

We Are All Teenagers

You’re hardly alone. People don’t really ever grow out of our rebellious teenage phase.  You know, the phase where whatever someone tells you to do just drives you in the other direction?

Partly that’s about finding our wings. But mostly, I suspect, it’s about wanting respect from the Others – in teen-hood that’s parents; in adulthood, it’s Everyone Else.

Whatever the reason, I suggest to you: we are all teenagers.  We all do not like being told what to do. In fact, we are sorely tempted to do the opposite of what we are told to do.

Teenage Buying

The implications for sales are profound. Permanent teen-hood means a continual state of resisting being told what to do. It would seem obvious that the worst way to sell someone, the worst way to get your advice taken, the worst way to persuade another to your worldview, is to tell them what they should do/think/believe/buy.

And yet – salespeople everywhere insist on trying to sell us.

The best way to persuade someone turns out to be paradoxical – you mainly listen to them.

That’s right – to best persuade, first stop trying to persuade.  In fact, stop talking. Listen. The natural reaction of our species is then to return tit for tat, listen for listening.

As proof, here are some time-tested samples of folk-wisdom that express the same point more eloquently than I can.

You might even try it on a teenager. It worked for me, and on me.

You Can Lead a Horse to Water, but You Can’t Make Him Buy

The biggest problem in sales? Violating the laws of human nature.

Exhibit A: one of those timeless folk-wisdom sayings, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Not many of us have equine interactions these days, but we still get the metaphor: you can’t make people do what they don’t want to do.

Cue Bonnie Raitt’s achingly beautiful “I Can’t Make You Love Me – If You Don’t,” for a Top-40 version of the same wisdom.

Or, if you prefer, try telling a teenager what to do. The same law will present itself.

Seller vs. Human Nature

When you try to sell a client – or, if you prefer, to “persuade” them (or to get them to take your most excellent advice, it’s all the same) – what’s your attitude?

Probably you’re trying your best to add value, to listen, to come up with great ideas. You’re trying to frame issues sensibly, to identify pain points and to clarify objectives and outcomes. All great stuff, of course.

And all the while, inside, not very deep down, your inner voice is screaming:

     “Drink, you damn horse – drink!”

Detach from the Outcome

The problem is, all those linear sales models lied to you. Not the first part – it’s all good, the leading the horse to water part.  The problem comes in making the horse drink.  Because people don’t do what you want them to do.

No need to get all psychoanalytic here, you can test it on yourself. When someone tells you to do something, what’s your instinct? And if they try to dress it up, pretty please with candy, pretending they don’t actually care if you do the thing they want you to do – what’s your instinct?

Neeeiiiighhh!

The trick is simple, really.  Give it up.  Detach from the outcome. Stop being wedded to the horse drinking. Stop obsessing about the sale.

Seriously – let it go. The client will buy, or the client won’t buy.  If you’ve done everything you can to bring the horse to water, then stop at the water’s edge. Let the horse drink.

The amazing thing is, if you do that, the odds of getting the sale go up. Not down, up. To get results, give up control. If that sounds more like a Buddhist mantra than a Salesforce.com app, ask yourself which model has been around longer.

Try selling instead from the serenity prayer: change what you can, accept what you can’t, and be attuned to the difference.

Why People Take Your Advice – Or Don’t: Webinar

Your client asks you for advice. You know the answer.

Further – let’s assume you’re absolutely right.

You give your client the answer.  And then – your client doesn’t take your advice.

What’s Up with That?

How is it that people come to take your advice? Or don’t?  How is that you take other people’s advice; or don’t?

Variations on the theme:

  • Why don’t my customers buy from me?
  • Why won’t my teenager do what I tell them to do?
  • Why doesn’t my spouse appreciate my well-intended suggestions?

If this interests you, join my webinar TODAY on

Why People Take Your Advice – Or Don’t

It is  TODAY, Wednesday August 8, at 11AM US East Coast Time

Major corporate clients pay me quite nicely to hear what I’ll share in this targeted webinar: you can get it for under $50, and I promise you it’ll be fun and entertaining as well.

The event is today, Wednesday August 8, at 11AM US EST.

I’ll talk about the drivers of trust, and how they relate to reciprocity and soft skills. I’ll tell you which gender and which profession is the most trustworthy, and why – and how that reason drives the influence triggers.

I’d love to see you there. Sign up quickly, the event is

TODAY, Wednesday August 8, at 11AM US EST.

Thank you.

If I Were You…

Mike O. explains how he came to understand what it means to be a trusted advisor.

————–

Getting It Right

I had been a consultant for many years. I had a good sense of what client service meant – that I should pursue the right thing for my client, rather than just what I thought was the coolest idea.

I had learned the importance of communication. You had to be clear on your thinking in the first place, then be articulate about getting points across. I knew about body language, about using graphics and not just data, and about dramatic presentations.

I knew all this was hard work and that even with good effort and skill, it was still not an easy task to persuade clients of what I knew to be in their best interest.

Then one day something happened.

Getting It Inside Out

I’d gotten to know Manuel reasonably well. We had spent time together “thinking aloud” and had gained respect for each other as thinkers.

We were talking about some business issue, I honestly don’t recall what. Toward the end he asked me what I thought he should do about a particular angle.

At that moment I was completely at ease. The job was going well. He and I got along nicely. It was a sunny day.

I knew the issue inside out. I knew what Manuel was good at and not good at, what he liked and didn’t like, and how he was likely to respond to the particular situation.

In that moment I could envision exactly what would work for him – while still from my perspective as an outsider. It was like being him, but without any attachment to either his limitations, or to my ego. I knew what would be exactly right for him to do.

“If I were you,” I began – and suddenly everything changed.

He leaned in toward me, relaxed, but focused and intent on what I was going to tell him.  He really wanted to hear what I would say next – and I knew he was going to do exactly what I suggested.

Now, I know how to read body language. I realized this had not happened before. Every other time I gave advice to clients, they leaned back or sat up straight; they stiffened their back, rather than relaxing. Their eyes narrowed, rather than opening up; they were preparing to evaluate what I had to say.

But Manuel wasn’t in evaluation mode; he was going to accept exactly what I said, and we both knew it.

If I Were You…

I realized later those words both triggered and expressed a new perspective. Until then, I had always thought of consulting as telling the client what I thought they should do. I was the expert, they were paying me to get my expert advice. I packaged my advice to maximize the chances they’d do the right thing.

But it was always me, advising them. With Manuel, for the first time, I’d gotten outside myself. I’d realized what I would do if I were him.

I no longer had to be me, telling my clients what to do. I could tap into being them, imagining what it was like, what would work, and what wouldn’t. All I had to do was imagine putting myself in their shoes.

I realized they really did want my advice – if I was a steward about it, really reflecting their take on things.  I became more careful about giving my advice, waiting until I not only had the facts and the problem straight, but had a chance to empathize with the client as well.  That way, when the time came, I knew I could sincerely say, “If I were you…”

Consulting began to get a lot easier. I still had to do the leg work, the thinking, the presenting. But I no longer felt it was a struggle. I now know, my best advising comes when I’m able to put myself in the other guy’s shoes.

———————

Thanks, Mike, eloquently said.

Let Your Doing Do Your Talking: Five High Impact Tips

It seems only natural. We rehearse, over and over, what we say and how we say it. “Put the em-pha-sis on the right syl-la-ble.” “Po-ta-to, po-tah-to.” “Take my wife—[wait for it…] please.” And so on.

What you say and how you say it is indeed critical—especially if you’re a stand-up comic or a keynote speaker.

But when it comes to sales and client relationships—what drives impact is not your saying—it’s your doing. You sell by doing, not by telling.

Behaving Trumps Talking

How often have you heard:

– Actions speak louder than words

What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say

People will judge you by your actions, not your intentions

-Walk the talk

-Talk is cheap because supply exceeds demand

-You have two ears and one mouth for a reason

There is much wisdom in folk wisdom like this. We over-emphasize content, over-analyze our words. Worse–our actions can contradict our words. If part of your spiel is that you’re client-focused—in that moment, you’re not.

It’s your actions that will sell—or not.

Five Opportunities to Replace Talking with Actions

You can read elsewhere tips about your demeanor, look, body language. Here are five ways you can design your actions to help your customers experience what you’re about.

1. When you illustrate a point through an example–make the example about this client, not your other clients. Everyone’s favorite subject is—themselves. Indulge them.

2. Offer free samples. It works with ice cream, but ice cream has color, taste, texture. Tax advice doesn’t. It becomes tangible only when the client gets some. Give some samples.

3. Work side by side with your customer. Don’t waste time back at your office pondering what your customer might want—ask them.

4. Put potential clients in touch with past clients–let them talk directly. They each learn a lot, and you get the credit for the introduction.

5. Ask for advice, not feedback. You can replace a hundred customer-sat written surveys with one serious, face-to-face meeting asking your customer to help you redesign your processes.

And one final bonus tip: Don’t say ‘trust me.’ Let your trustworthy actions do your talking for you.

 

Beyond 51 percent: Gaining Buy-In

In the airport recently, coming home from New Mexico, I just picked up John Kotter  and Lorne A. Whitehead’s new little book, Buy*in: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down.  The authors outline four ways in which attackers – consciously or not – try to kill new ideas:

–        Fear-mongering (hmm, where have we seen this before?)

–        Death by Delay

–        Sowing Confusion

–        Ridicule or Character Assassination

Their strategy for disarming these objectors is, at its heart, simple and counter-intuitive: instead of trying to work around naysayers, lining up votes in the cloakroom, ignoring vocal critics or trying to shout them down, Kotter and Whitehead suggest throwing open the doors and inviting the lions in. 

The key is then LISTENING WITH RESPECT. Kotter and Whitehead point out that trying to overwhelm the idea-attackers with more data and rebut them with more logical arguments won’t succeed. The critics need to be heard.

This research comports exactly with our teachings around building trust and gaining influence: listening as a sign of respect, letting others be heard before offering advice, the principle of reciprocity. Without first listening, we cannot be heard. And without being heard, our good advice or new ideas will never be accepted.

It really is that simple: to be heard, you have to listen first. 

The authors go on to give specific strategies for handling 24 objections, acknowledging the critic and at the same time avoiding getting drawn into inappropriate merits arguments. Take for example their Attack #18:

ATTACK: Good idea, but it’s the wrong time. We need to wait until this other thing is finished (or this other thing is started, or the situation changes in some specific way.)

RESPONSE: The best time is almost always when you have people excited and committed to make something happen. And that’s now.

****

As I read through Buy*in and thought about it in the context of Trusted Advisor Associates’ work, I was also struck by a conversation I had had the day before with my sister, whom I had been visiting in her home near Taos. I mentioned that people of all sorts seemed willing to tell her anything. 

She just smiled and said: “It’s because I’m not afraid to hear it.” A lesson I’m bringing home with me.

How to Convince Your Boss You’re Right

Your boss gives you an important job to do. You are good for the job, you know what you’re doing, and you’re clear about the right answer. And then–your boss won’t go along with it. 

Worse, you’re really qualified to make this judgment call. And your boss’s logic is goofy. His/Her reason boils down to ‘we’ve always done it that way,’ or ‘just do it by the book,’ or maybe just personal preference. Your boss won’t listen, just digs in his/her heels.   

And it’s getting really irritating.

What can you do to convince your boss you’re right?

Surprise surprise, there is no guarantee.   But you can dramatically improve the odds. Here’s how.

Convincing Starts with Right Thinking

You start by getting really clear on two ideas—in your own head.

Idea 1. You are not the boss of your boss.   Your boss is the boss of you. So if it ever really comes down solely to who’s got the power, you can hang it up. 

Deal with that.

Idea 2. You will rarely convince anyone—particularly your boss—that you are right, as long as that equates to convincing them that they are wrong. If “I’m right” rhymes with “you’re wrong,” you can also hang it up.

Are we clear? 

If so, then you’ve figured out that “How do I convince my boss that I’m right?” is entirely, 100%, the wrong question. Really—completely wrong. If you got sucked in by the title of this blog, then you have to do some re-defining of your objectives—right now.

Think about it. If your objective involves “I’m right” then you’ve got an ego problem. I mean, why is this all about you? If you’re a serious team member, shouldn’t the question be “what’s the right answer” rather than “who’s got the right answer?”

And if your objective involves “convincing someone else” then you’ve got a control problem. I mean, why should you assume the issue is one of changing someone else to think like you, rather than of creating new joint collaborative thinking?

Redefine “Convincing Your Boss”

Imagine—even though it’s extremely unlikely—that, just for the sake of argument—your answer isn’t fully perfect. And imagine, though equally unlikely, that you actually could convince your boss of the correctness of your flawed recommendation. That would not be the optimal ending, would it?

That’s one small reason for you to engage in a dialogue, rather than a wrestling match. But here’s a much bigger reason.

The Paradox of Influence

It turns out, one of the best ways to convince someone is to listen to them first. That’s the gist of what a world expert on influence, Dr. Robert Cialdini, has to tell us. If you listen to someone first, the tendency of humans is usually to reciprocate—which means, to then listen to you.

But this reciprocal listening must have a genuine quality about it. It can’t be just, ‘OK I’ll let you blab for a while as the price for letting me give my pitch, so let me just grit my teeth, OK off you go…”

It actually has to be a genuine act of respect. It has to come from true curiosity, not from a kit-bag of carefully pre-designed questions. You actually have to, for lack of a better word, care.

To Convince Your Boss, First Give Up on Convincing Your Boss

If you want to increase the odds of convincing your boss, first—give it up. Completely. Give up on the objective of ‘convincing your boss.’

In its place, commit yourself to an attitude of curiosity. Go ask your boss:

Boss, I know we’ve been cross-wise on this one. And you know what, I have to admit, I could, of course, be wrong. And if so, I probably don’t even understand how I’m wrong. So please, do me a favor. 

I would really appreciate it if you’d tell me all about how you see this issue—from start to finish. I want to completely understand how you come at it, and how you came to see it that way. I am truly curious, and want to know.

And that’s it. If all we do here today is help me learn from you how to think about this, it will have been a great day. Period.

Then listen. And plan to say ‘thanks,’ and walk away. 

Yes, walk away. 

Because if your boss has any interest in discussing your point of view, (s)he will ask you about it at this point. And if they don’t have any interest, go see Ideas 1 and 2 at the outset of this article, the part where it says they’re your boss, not vice versa.

Here’s the paradox. Assuming your idea really was pretty good, going through this process will considerably increase the odds of it being accepted by your boss. But only—only—if you are willing to completely give up your objective of bending another person’s will to the force of yours.

If you’re willing to give it up, you’ll increase the odds of getting it to happen.  The secret is: It’s not about you.