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24. Small businesses: getting them to change their mind without giving offence

Dale Carnegie has nine ways to achieve this, and as usual, they are simple and straightforward: but we still do not always follow this path:

1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation. The objective is to get them to work with you rather than against you, so start with what you agree with, or what you find positive and praiseworthy in what they have said.

2. Call attention to errors only indirectly. You may need to undermine the other person’s argument to make your point, but if you rush at the opportunity to demonstrate they are wrong, you will only set up the hostility you are trying to avoid. If the object of your discussion is to get them to take some action or hold some view that you want, then winning the argument will not help UNLESS you take them with you. If by this stage they will do anything rather than what you want, then you have lost, not won.

3. Talk about your own mistakes – it makes it much easier for the other person to either admit theirs or change their view. It is a natural human instinct to mimic behaviour. So if someone is aggressive to you, the tendency is to respond with aggression. So if you show how you can get it wrong, you invite the other person to be ready to show how they are not always right. This can set the tone for rational and objective appraisal rather than entrenched positions.

4. Ask questions that lead to the point, rather than telling. This enables the other person to identify the result as their conclusion rather than yours.

5. Let the person save face: the objective is to create change, not to prove you are right.

6. Praise every step that goes in your direction, so that the other person feels encouraged to continue on that route. You are basically trying to lead the other person, and you will not do this by tugging them, but by gently obstructing and deflecting from paths which do not lead where you want, and by being very encouraging when they are going where you do want.

7. Give them a fine reputation to live up to! When you say to that really difficult buyer that you have heard they have a reputation for being tough but objective and fair, you are making it very difficult for them to not give you a fair hearing. If they want to see themselves as tough but fair (but usually are not) they are likely to try unusually hard to live up to the image you have set for them.

8. Encourage them by making faults seem easy to correct. For example, perhaps applying 7 above you have got the buyer to admit that perhaps he has assessed your service too harshly against competition, you might respond that it is easy for that to happen and that you will happily organise another opportunity to evaluate it again.

9. Make the other person feel happy about doing what you suggest. If you are the IBM sales person who has just persuaded the buyer to spend a lot more with you than they would have with your competitors, on the underlying basis that “No one ever got fired for buying IBM”, you might want to round off with a comment on how his decision will protect his company from risk, put them in good company with many major corporations who have chosen similarly etc – anything rather than suggest the decision was actually about reducing his own risk.

All the above sounds easy, but for a lot of people, their natural instincts point in another direction – to win, to excel, to show off (in a good as well as a bad sense). That is one of the reasons that it is not always the powerful extroverts who are the best sales people.  The quieter and more introverted often find it easier to listen, easier to praise others, easier to focus on and understand the other person’s point of view, and be ready to give praise for it. The more I read Dale Carnegie, the more I tend to rethink some basic mind sets that I have got into, and more I acquire habits which are more effective. His simple guidance is actually based on some fairly fundamental factors which go much deeper than the apparently simple techniques suggest.