Early in my career as a speaker and a workshop leader, I was approached by a man named Joe Billings, an executive in a major brokerage firm. He wanted me to design and implement a training program for some of his managers. I spent time with him, asked him many questions to find our just what kind of program he needed, and told him I would mail him my agreement letter within a few days. We agreed to meet in his office in two weeks, at which time he would sign the agreement and we would go over the preliminary outline for the program.
When I arrived at his office, I could see my agreement letter, unsigned, off to the side on his desk. Mr. Billings asked me to sit down, and then explained that he was no longer interested in doing the program. I was devastated. I really wanted this job. My first thought was to try to convince Mr. Billings that he was wrong. Instead, I asked him one question.
"Mr. Billings," I said, "you were so interested in doing the program when we first spoke. What was it that made you so excited about it two weeks ago?"
As Mr. Billings started to go over his list of reasons, he realized they were still valid. His enthusiasm began to build. He kept on talking about how much this training program would do to improve his teamís performance and production. I did not have to say another word. Within five minutes he said, "Letís do it!" and reached over and signed the agreement.
What happened to get Mr. Billings to change his mind? Nothing I could have told him at that meeting would have convinced him to hire me. But when I asked him that one question, he was forced to review - in his own words and from his own perspective - the benefits of my program. He sold himself on the fact that training his managers was a good idea.
The secret to persuasion is to encourage a person to come up with his or her own answers to questions or solutions to problems. You can do that by asking questions that lead the person in the direction you want him or her to go.
We are all salespeople in one way or another. We are constantly selling our ideas to others. We want to persuade people to do a certain thing, to think in a particular way, or to go in a specific direction. Even when we might have the best intentions, however, it is difficult to get people to do what you want them to do. The best way to persuade is by getting people to persuade themselves.