6. The Safety Valve in Handing Complaints: Let the Other Person Do Most of the Talking
Most people who try to persuade others do too much of the talking. Let the other person talk. Let them talk as much as they want. They know more about their business and problems than you do. Ask them questions, and listen carefully to their answers. If you disagree with anything they say, you will be tempted to interrupt them; but, don’t. It’s dangerous because, if you do, they won’t be able to focus on anything you say since they are suddenly forced to wait till you’re done to get back to the rest of their concerns. That’s stressful because they have to try to remember what they wanted to say and, at the same time, try to understand what you’re saying. Encourage them to express their thoughts, feelings, and ideas fully before you begin your persuasive speech.
G.B.R., a sales representative of an upholstery manufacturing company, was forced to let the potential client do the talking because he suddenly got laryngitis. At stake was a contract to supply one of the largest U.S. automobile manufacturers with all the upholstery it needed for one year. There were three companies the executives liked and those companies were invited to make a final presentation on a specified date. The three companies had each provided samples and their proposals prior to these meetings.
G.B.R. explained what happened: “I was ushered into a room and found myself face to face with the textile engineer, the purchasing agent, the director of sales, and the president of the company. I stood up to make a valiant effort to speak, but I couldn’t do anything more than squeak. They were all seated around a table, so I wrote on a pad of paper: ‘Gentlemen, I have lost my voice. I am speechless.’
“’I’ll do the talking for you,’ the president said. He did. He exhibited my samples and praised their good points. A lively discussion arose about the merits of my goods. And, the president, since he was talking for me, took the position I would have had during the discussion. My sole participation consisted of smiles, nods, and a few gestures.
“As a result of this unique conference, I was awarded the contract, which called for over half a million yards of upholstery fabrics at an aggregate value of $1,600,000—the biggest order I have ever received. I know I would have lost the contract if I hadn’t lost my voice, because I had the wrong idea about the whole proposition. I discovered, quite by accident, how richly it sometimes pays to let the other person do the talking.”
Letting the other person do all the talking also works in personal relationships. Barbara Wilson had a daughter, Laurie. Laurie had been a very cooperative, happy child, but was growing up to be an uncooperative and sometimes angry teenager. Wilson lectured, threatened, and punished her. But, none of it worked.
Wilson explained to her Carnegie class what finally worked: “One day, I just gave up. Laurie had disobeyed me and had left the house to visit her girl friend before she had completed her chores. When she returned, I was about to scream at her for the ten-thousandth time. But, I just didn’t have the strength to do it. I just looked at her and said sadly, ‘Why, Laurie? Why?’
“Laurie noted my condition and in a calm voice asked, ‘Do you really want to know?’ I nodded; and, Laurie told me, first hesitantly, then it all flowed out. I had never listened to her. I was always telling her to do this or that. When she wanted to tell me her thoughts, feelings, ideas, I interrupted with more orders. I began to realize that she needed me—not as a bossy mother, but as a confidante, an outlet for all her confusion about growing up. And all I have been doing was talking when I should have been listening. I never heard her. From that time on, I let her do all the talking she wanted. She tells me what is on her mind, and our relationship has improved immeasurably. She is again a cooperative person.”
7. How to Get Cooperation: Let the Other Person Feel the Idea is His
People like their own ideas best. So, isn’t it wiser to make suggestions and let people come to the obvious conclusions themselves? None of us likes the feeling of being sold something or told what to do. We want to believe we are making our own decisions about what to buy or acting out of our own desires. We like to be asked about what we want, think, or prefer. And, we like to have our opinions taken into consideration.
Eugene Wesson sold sketches for a studio that created designs for stylists and textile manufacturers. He had visited the office of one of the leading stylists in New York once a week, every week, for three years, trying to make a sale. “He never refused to see me. But, he never bought. He always looked over my sketches very carefully and then said, ‘No, Wesson. I guess we don’t get together today.’”
After taking the Carnegie course, he decided to try a new approach. The next time he visited the buyer’s office, he had half a dozen unfinished artists’ sketches with him. Wesson told the buyer, “I want you to do me a little favor, if you will. Here are some uncompleted sketches. Won’t you please tell me how we could finish them up in such a way that you could use them?”
The buyer looked at the sketches, then said, “Leave these with me for a few days, Wesson. And, then, come back and see me.” Wesson came back, as instructed, took back the sketches with the buyer’s suggestions, had them finished exactly the way the buyer suggested. What happened? The buyer bought all of them.
After that, this buyer ordered many more sketches from Wesson, all based on his own ideas. Wesson said, “I realized why I had failed for years to sell him. I had urged him to buy what I thought he ought to have. Then, I changed my approach completely. I urged him to give me his ideas. This made him feel that he was creating the designs. And, he was. I didn’t have to sell him. He bought.”
President Woodrow Wilson relied heavily on the advice of Colonel Edward M. House, even if the President was not always aware of it. House explained to Arthur D. Howden Smith in an article for the Saturday Evening Post how he did it:
“’After I got to know the President, House said, ‘I learned the best way to convert him to an idea was to plant it in his mind casually, but so as to interest him in it—so as to get him thinking about it on his own account. The first time this worked, it was an accident. I had been visiting him at the White House and urged a policy on him which he appeared to disapprove. But, several days later, at the dinner table, I was amazed to hear him trot out my suggestion as his own.’”
But House did not interrupt the President to say, “That’s not your idea. It’s mine.” House preferred to have results than credit. So, he let the President believe the idea was his and more. He gave the President pubic credit for his own ideas.
8. A Formula that Will Work Wonders for You: Try Honestly to See Things from the Other Person’s Point of View
Even when people are completely in the wrong, they usually don’t think they are. Don’t condemn them. It’s easy to do that. Try to understand them, and you will work wonders. Everyone does what they do for a reason. Try to figure out what it is, and you may be able to unlock the mystery to their actions and personalities.
Sam Douglas of Hampstead, New York, could not understand why his wife spent so much time on their lawn, pulling weeds, fertilizing, and mowing, when it still looked the same as it did when they moved in four years ago. Of course, his negative comments always ruined their evenings. After taking the Carnegie course, he realized she must enjoy the work and would probably appreciate a compliment for it now and then.
One night, after dinner, she invited him to keep her company while she pulled some weeds from their lawn. At first, he said no. Then he reconsidered and joined her. She was pleased; and, they spent an hour together in hard work and delightful conversation. Afterwards, he often joined her when she worked on the lawn and complimented her efforts. Consequently, their relationship improved, all because he took a little time to examine her behavior—which he found so annoying—from her point of view.
Elizabeth Novak of New South Wales, Australia, was experiencing financial difficulty and was six weeks late on her car payment. This is how she told her story to her Carnegie class: “On a Friday, I received a nasty phone call from the man who was handling my account, informing me if I did not come up with $122 by Monday morning, I could anticipate further action from the company. I had no way of raising the money over the weekend. So, when I received his phone call first thing on Monday morning, I expected the worst. Instead of becoming upset, I looked at the situation from his point of view. I apologized most sincerely for causing him so much inconvenience and remarked that I must be his most troublesome customer as this was not the first time I was behind in my payments. His tone of voice changed immediately; and, he assured me that I was far from being one of his really troubling customers. He went on to tell me several examples of how rude his customers sometimes were, how they lied to him, and often tried to avoid talking to him at all. I said nothing. I let him pour out his troubles to me. Then, without any suggestion from me, he said it did not matter if I couldn’t pay all the money immediately. It would be all right if I paid him $20 by the end of the month and made up the balance whenever it was convenient for me to do so.”
Before asking anyone to do something, try to examine the whole thing from the other person’s point of view. Ask yourself, “Why would they want to do it?” If you learn nothing else from this entire book except to always look at all sides of the situation, this will be an invaluable stepping stone in your career.
9. What Everybody Wants: Be Sympathetic with the Other Person’s Ideas and Desires
If you want a magic statement you can use to stop arguments, get rid of bad feelings, create good feelings, and make the other person listen to you, here it is: “I don’t blame you for feeling the way you do. If I were you, I’d feel exactly the same way.” And you can say this with 100% sincerity because if you were the other person, of course you would feel exactly the same way they do. Most people are hungry for sympathy. Give it to them; and, they will love you for it.
President William Howard Taft, in his book The Ethics of Service, provides an example of how he softened one incredibly angry, meddling, and disappointed mother by sympathizing with her:
“A lady in Washington whose husband had some political influence, came and labored with me for six weeks or more to appoint her son to a position. She secured the aid of Senators and Congressmen in formidable number and came with them to see that they spoke with emphasis. The place was one requiring technical qualification, and following the recommendation of the head of the Bureau, I appointed somebody else. I then received a letter from the mother, saying that I was most ungrateful, since I declined to make her a happy woman, as I could have done by a turn of my hand. She complained further that she had labored with her state delegation and got all the votes for an administration bill in which I was especially interested, and this was the way I had rewarded her.
“When you get a letter like that, the first thing you do is to think how you can be severe with a person who has committed an impropriety, or even been a little impertinent. Then, you may compose an answer. Then, if you are wise, you will put the letter in a drawer and lock the drawer. Take it out in the course of two days—such communications will always bear two days’ delay in answering—and, when you take it out after that interval, you will not send it. That is just the course I took. After that, I sat down and wrote her just as polite a letter as I could, telling her I realized a mother’s disappointment, under such circumstances, but that really the appointment was not left to my mere personal preference, that I had to select a man with technical qualifications, and had, therefore, to follow the recommendations of the head of the Bureau. I expressed the hope that her son would go on to accomplish what she had hoped for him in the position which he then had. That mollified her; and, she wrote me a note saying she was sorry she had written as she had.
“But the appointment I sent in was not confirmed at once; and, after an interval, I received a letter which purported to come from her husband, though it was in the same handwriting as all the others. I was therein advised that, due to the nervous prostration that had followed her disappointment in this case, she had to take to her bed and had developed a most serious case of cancer of the stomach. Would I not restore her to health by withdrawing the first name and replacing it with her son’s? I had to write another letter, this one to the husband, to say that I hoped the diagnosis would prove to be inaccurate, that I sympathized with him in the sorrow he must have in the serious illness of his wife, but that it was impossible to withdraw the name sent in. The man whom I had appointed was confirmed, and within two days after I received that letter, we gave a musicale at the White House. The first two people to greet Mrs. Taft and me were this husband and wife, though the wife had so recently been in articulo mortis [at the point of death].”
Jay Mangum worked for an escalator repair company in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that had a contract with a hotel in Tulsa. The hotel’s escalator needed a repair that he estimated would take at least eight hours. But, the hotel manager did not want to the escalator shut down for more than two hours at a time to avoid inconveniencing his guests. Magnum did not argue with him. Instead, he sympathized with his concern:
“Rick, I know your hotel is quite busy and you would like to keep the escalator shutdown time to a minimum. I understand your concern about this, and we want to do everything possible to accommodate you. However, our diagnosis of the situation shows that if we do not a complete job now, your escalator may suffer more serious damage and that would cause a much longer shut down. I know you would not want to inconvenience your guests for several days.” The manager had to agree that an eight-hour shutdown was better than several days’ and the conflict was resolved without any argument.
Joyce Norris, a piano teacher in St. Louis, Missouri, told the story of how she handled a teenaged girl’s long fingernails by sympathizing with her about how hard it would be to give up such beautiful nails to play the piano: “I knew that her long fingernails would be a barrier for her in her desire to play well. During our discussions, prior to her starting her lessons with me, I did not mention anything to her about her nails. I didn’t want to discourage her from taking lessons; and, I also knew that she would not want to lose that which she took so much pride in and such great care to make attractive.
“After her first lesson, when I felt the time was right, I said: ‘Babette, you have attractive hands and beautiful fingernails. If you want to play the piano as well as you are capable of, and as well as you would like to, you would be surprised how much quicker and how much easier it would be for you, if you would trim your nails shorter. Just think about it, okay?’ She made a face that was definitely negative. I also talked to her mother about this situation, again mentioning how lovely her nails were. Another negative reaction. It was obvious that Babette’s beautifully manicured nails were important to her.
“The following week, Babette returned for her second lesson. Much to my surprise, the fingernails had been trimmed. I complimented her and praised her for making such a sacrifice. I also thanked her mother for influencing Babette to cut her nails. Her reply was, ‘Oh, I had nothing to do with it. Babette decided to do it on her own; and, this is the first time she has ever trimmed her nails for anyone.’”