I have always admired David Maister, one of the world’s leading authories on the management of professional service firms. He has written best-selling books like “Managing the Professional Service Firm” (1993) , “True Professionalism” (1997) and “The Trusted Advisor” (2000).
David says that competence in giving advice does not end with having the right attitude, it calls for using the right language as well. Keeping the listener in mind is a basic principle because recipients of your message understand it in a way which is unique to them.
Telling them ” You have got to do ABC” -even if that is correct – is very likely to evoke emotional resistance. People don’t like to be told that something must be done, even if it is really in their own interests. Try telling a smoker ” You must stop smoking” and see his reaction!
It’s usually better to say something like this: “Let’s go through the options together. Here are some we have discussed. Can you think of anything else we may have missed out? Let’s go through the advantages and disadvantages of each option. Based on these, doesn’t it look like option ABC would seem to be the best choice? Can you think of a better solution?”
If the listener does not want to follow option ABC, at least the conversation is still alive. If you had said “You have got to do ABC” and he said ” I won’t” you have lost the chance to convince him and made him defensive.
Using the right language makes a huge difference in reaching out to the listener.
As I have mentioned in earlier posts, asking questions rather than making statements is another useful way of starting a conversation to resolve problems.
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