Today’s guest blogger is Brian Ahearn who has written here before. Once again, we’re talking about buts. Sorry – I couldn’t resist acting like a third grader there. Take it away Brian before this goes further downhill…
A few weeks ago I read Mike’s article Managerial Miscues: The But(t) Sandwich (Reprise) and told him I really liked it but…
The article addressed how people often blow it when it comes to bringing about behavioral changes because all too often they want to appear nice so they say something nice then finish with “but…” and take the other person to the proverbial woodshed. Not effective management.
I teach classes on ethical influence and persuasion and one of the things I talk about with people is the power of transitional words like “but” and “however.” We focus on how to strategically use those words to make the most effective presentation because small changes can make a big impact!
Here’s the basic teaching point for you to remember when it comes to transitional words – people forget what comes before “but” and focus on what comes after. For example, has anyone ever said this to you, “Honey, I love you but…”? Odds are, all you remembered was the hammer falling after hearing the word “but.”
So how can you use your but better?
The previous example is just one way people blow it using transitional words. Let’s consider some others. Perhaps you’re a manager juggling lots of priorities, the two most important being sales growth and profit. That’s really the end game for most businesses — are you growing profitably. In your case we’re going to assume sales are up significantly and profits are down.
This is a classic case of good news/bad news. How do you present this information to accentuate the positive? One school of thought is to hit them with the good news first and glaze over the bad. Consider which of the following will sound better to the boss, board or shareholders:
1. Our sales were up a record 10%, more than double the industry average, but we were unprofitable due to storm losses.
2. We were unprofitable due to storm losses, but our sales were up a record 10%, more than double the industry average!
If you’re like most people you prefer the second statement. Both present exactly the same information but it’s undeniable that the order makes all the difference. Statement #2 ends on a positive note and that’s what will be most memorable to the average person.
It’s not unlike a boxing match where a boxer “steals” the round with a flurry before the bell. That flurry of activity is what remains foremost in the judge’s minds. If you know the second statement will be received better then you’ be shooting yourself in the foot to not go that route.
Let’s consider another familiar situation; owning up to mistakes. Most people want to avoid admitting fault which is usually a bad idea. Dale Carnegie was dead on when he told readers to admit their mistakes quickly and emphatically.
Don’t believe me? Just look at all the baseball players caught in the steroid scandal. If A-Rod had owned up to his bad judgment when Katie Couric asked him point blank, he’d be revered right now because nobody has stepped up to the plate – literally. The same goes for Mark McGwire when he was in front of the congressional panel. Instead they’re both looked at as cheaters and liars.
So when it comes to admitting a mistake, which one of these really takes the blame?
1. I could have done a better job pointing out the time change however; the 10 a.m. start time was in the emails leading up to the meeting.
2. The 10 a.m. start time was in the emails leading up to the meeting however; I could have done a better job pointing out the time change.
I’m familiar with this one because I recently made this very mistake when I moved a meeting up from 10:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. As I wrote my follow-up email to a group of managers I made sure to choose the second option above. Someone refusing to admit they were wrong could argue there were two email reminders in the days leading up to the meeting and people should have read them carefully but what good would that do? Most people were on time for the start of the meeting but several were not and it that was due to the time change. I chose the second option because I was responsible for the meeting so I have to look at what I could have done differently. If I had it to do over I would have clearly noted a change in start time so I might as well bite the bullet and own up to it.
What I’ve shared is not just my opinion or grandma’s good advice. As I mentioned earlier, I teach classes on ethical influence and the material we cover is grounded in social psychology behavioral experiments. While I can’t tell you everyone will react just like you’d hope simply because you strategically use transition words, what I can tell you is significantly more people will respond favorably. I say that with confidence because science backs me up.
So the smart person will rely on the work of the scientist but the bumbler will choose to learn through trial and error. Which will you be?
– Brian Ahearn, Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes!” Brian is a Senior Sales Consultant with the State Auto Insurance Companies in Columbus, OH. He’s one of only two dozen Cialdini Method Certified Trainers in the world. Read more of his perspectives on his blog Influence PEOPLE.