Chris St. Hilaire

When Facebook bought Instagram for nearly $1 billion, the social networking site was all but admitting that a smartphone app was poised to decimate its user base. But Facebook knew what all businesses must accept: When it comes to communications, we are in hyper drive.

As quickly as Twitter captured the public’s attention, the next new thing could replace it. Facebook is intent on keeping pace. You should be too.

Businesses must select the apps, sites, social networks and other modes of communication that best reach their client base and then create messages that can pierce through the blizzard of other messages. At no time is this more important than when a crisis hits or an opportunity suddenly emerges.

You need a rapid response team that can instantly craft the right message and get it to everyone who matters.

You must get your message out first. If you don’t, your critics or competition will define you. Every organization needs a rapid response plan that can be launched at a moment’s notice. Here are the basics:

1. Have your communication platforms in place. Facebook is losing some popularity, but it remains an excellent way to connect with people. If you don’t tweet, you should still have a Twitter account to follow trends that relate to your business.

Do you belong to or host Internet chat rooms that pertain to your industry? Do you have an 800 number you can direct people to if you must respond to a sudden crisis? Email is still a valuable way to communicate, so keep your email list updated. Texting allows you to instantly contact your base.

Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr are hot right now. Decide which options you want to use and assign people to manage them on a daily basis.

2. Use technology to take the public’s pulse. Never assume that you know the public’s reaction to an event. Track their opinions on Twitter, and set Google alerts for keywords that relate to your business or events that will affect it. These free resources can guide you even if you don’t have a large budget.

If you need specific data before responding to a crisis or capitalizing on a news story, consider online surveys or smartphone survey apps. Before you react to a critical situation, make sure you know how your base is feeling about it.

3. Gather your rapid response team and give them three messages. The key to any good communication — and to winning any battle — is consistency. Having one person make a statement and the next person contradict it is the worst possible scenario.

You need to develop three messages that make the same point in different ways. The basic message must be succinct and all members of your team should consistently employ these three messages.

The most effective messages either use a third party to make your point or place the situation in a larger context. When reacting to a crisis, having a loyal client or customer defend you is much more powerful than defending yourself.

As for creating a larger context, choice, fairness and accountability are three concepts that everyone can relate to. You have 15 seconds or less to capture your audience’s attention, so make your point bigger and broader. That’s how to respond in a world that is moving faster every day.

Chris St. Hilaire is founder and CEO of Surveys On The Go, a smartphone market research application.

We recently met a defense attorney who chatted with us about wooing a potential client who had a big case against a “whistle-blower.” What was our free, unsolicited advice for that meeting?

Stop calling the plaintiff’s key witness a whistle-blower. A whistle-blower is someone who comes into the case with a distinct credibility advantage, and therefore is someone jurors want to protect.

Instead, we suggested he describe it as a lawsuit filed by a “disgruntled employee.” Rather than ramping up that person’s believability, this language calls into question his or her motives for testifying.

Defining the language allows you to control the debate. Instead of allowing others to control the conversation with their potentially biased vocabulary, set your own terms with language that tells your story.

Control the terms

This is how so many companies became the leaders in their markets, because they controlled the terms: Kleenex for tissue, Chapstick for lip balm, Xerox for photocopy — and Starbucks for the Tall, Grande and Venti sizing system that most of us still use even when we’re buying coffee from a competitor.

Groupon’s catchy name — short for “group coupon” — has now become the word of choice to describe any online daily deal. Perhaps this is why, according to a Bloomberg report released this in August, Groupon still holds the majority of the market share in its industry.

Language can also be used to help you connect with others on a fundamental level. We recently worked with an emergency room doctor whose humility was in sharp contrast to the stereotypes about arrogant, presumptuous physicians. When he described his background, we were immediately taken in by his story of growing up in rural Kentucky and eventually going to medical school overseas.

But a few descriptors painted an even more appealing picture: This doctor was raised by an apple farmer and a schoolteacher, and after helping with the farm for several years when his father died, was named a Rhodes Scholar and earned his medical degree in London. Just a few more words, but the portrait is much more captivating — and his testimony that much more credible.

Watch for connotations

Language also worked — and didn’t work — for health care providers we met with in North Carolina. When we asked a doctor involved in a medical malpractice childbirth case why he chose his specialty, he gruffly replied, “It had the shortest residency.”

The answer might be 100 percent accurate, but it is also 100 percent likely to turn off a jury. A nurse at this same hospital had by far the better response to why she chose to work in labor and delivery: “I wanted to be there for that miracle.” Even we cynical jury consultants melted — and when she testified a month later, so did those jurors.

Your ability to define and control the language, whether it’s for a product, service or telling your side of the story in the courtroom allows you to own the terms of the discussion.

For example, Best Buy’s Geek Squad is so newsworthy that the media even reports when it switched its fleet of Geekmobiles from VW Beetles to Ford vans.

The Apple Store and its Genius Bar attract millions of visitors each year, and they’re not just gawking at smartphones. The Apple Store chain’s 2011 sales of $3,085 per square foot ranked first among U.S. retailers in terms of sales per unit area in 2011, almost double that of second-place retailer Tiffany & Co., according to a story by David Segal in The New York Times.

Whether in business, the courtroom or in the coffee shop, owning the language means your product or service is the one people will remember.

Chris St. Hilaire is the author (with Lynette Padwa) of 27 Powers of Persuasion: Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences and Win Allies (Prentice Hall Press). He is an award-winning message strategist who has developed communications programs for some of the nation’s most powerful corporations, legal teams, and politicians.

“That’s so 24 seconds ago,” scoffs the tailgating dude in an advertisement for AT&T mobile phones. With all the focus on technology that lets us deliver news instantly, it’s easy to forget that we have the power to control the flow. Sometimes fast and furious is a great approach, but occasionally, slower is better. It’s crucial that we stop and think about it, because people’s perception of news depends on when they receive it.

To be the master of your company’s news, follow this formula: release bad news quickly and good news slowly.

Rip the Band-Aid

I was channel surfing late-night TV a couple of years ago when my eyes snagged on an especially dour-looking David Letterman. Pausing, I heard him deliver a 10-minute confession that involved adultery, sexual relations with his staff and a blackmail attempt. The news was unsavory, to say the least, and it had the potential to tank his career. The next day the media exploded with Letterman’s confession, and it remained a top story for several weeks. Then it was over. Letterman had dealt with the blackmail attempt by delivering all the bad news himself in a single announcement. He’s still on the air, of course.

There are two main reasons to release bad news quickly. First, no matter how terrible the news is, it is perceived as a lone event. Ten semi-bad stories are much more damaging than one really bad story that includes the same 10 details. If you can get all the details of a bad story out in one day, there’s a good chance it will blow over because there will be nothing for the media (or your competition) to follow up with.

The second reason to release bad news quickly is that it creates trust and may limit the wrath you may face, legal and otherwise, from people who will be affected. Sitting on bad news is perceived as devious.

When you’re dealing with internal bad news, such as layoffs, deliver all of it as quickly as possible. Waiting only leaves more time for anxiety to spread among the staff. Let’s say you have come to the conclusion that this year you’ll have to freeze all salaries, offer no bonuses and make a 10 percent cut in personnel.

This will be an extremely unpleasant announcement to make, and your employees will not be happy. Now imagine how they’d feel if you announced one of those decisions every week for three weeks. The staff would be worse than unhappy; they’d be in a panic wondering what disaster was awaiting them at the next meeting.

The same rules apply if you’re delivering bad news to a superior. Spill the entire story at once, and it’s one bad day. Stretch it over days or weeks, and it looks like you don’t know how to do your job.

Savor the good news

The same psychology holds true for good news, only in reverse.

If there’s a way to release positive client feedback slowly, the effect will be greater and the glow will last longer.

When you’re rewarding team members for their performance, stretch it out. Tell them personally, and also e-mail a general announcement to the staff. To compound it, follow up a few days later with a compliment from a client or supervisor referencing the same project. A day or so after that, give them a gift card to Starbucks or another of their favorite venues as a token of your appreciation.

Release bad news quickly and good news slowly. It’s counterintuitive, because we all have a natural tendency to spread good news the minute we hear it and to minimize bad news. If we can learn to do the opposite, we will have more control over the way the people perceive our business.

Chris St. Hilaire is the author (with Lynette Padwa) of “27 Powers of Persuasion: Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences and Win Allies” (Prentice Hall Press). He is an award-winning message strategist who has developed communications programs for some of the nation’s most powerful corporations, legal teams and politicians.

With any business idea, there will be people who are with you, people who are against you and some who are undecided. Sometimes the people against you will forcefully attack you or your position. In those cases, the best response is often to give the opposition nothing to oppose. It’s the same principle that some Eastern martial arts techniques, such as aikido, are based on.

Managing opposition by giving it nothing to oppose simply means prevailing by not fighting back. The strategy plays out in different ways depending on the situation. If it’s just you and one other person having an argument, the natural tendency is to respond to every attack.

Next time, instead of responding and defending yourself, just nod as if you see the other person’s point and then let it sit. Give it a few minutes. In my experience, 90 percent of the time, the other person will moderate his or her own position and come more toward yours. All things tend toward balance and people innately know when they’ve crossed the line.

In group situations, a similar approach is possible. In the past, I’ve advised readers not to respond to a big ego that is trying to dominate the room. If you perceive that person as petty and insecure, chances are everyone else does too.

In the same way, if someone launches an attack on your idea in a group setting, often you can sit back and not respond at all while the person’s words hang in the air and the rest of the group comes to their own conclusions. Then you can go back to the original goal without making a value judgment about the person.

If ignoring a challenge doesn’t end the opposition, you can manage it by redirecting the energy. In those cases, the most effective move is acknowledging his or her point of view because that gives the person’s opposition nowhere further to go. Once the kneejerk opposition subsides, you can come back and approach the topic from a different angle. Don’t capitulate your position, but know that there is usually more than one way to get where you want to go.

In any debate, arguments can turn into sub-arguments that have little effect on the overall outcome. Without losing any important ground you can say, “I see your point,” and leave it at that. Or you can rephrase the other person’s point and ask, “So is that what you’re saying?” The other person will respond, “That’s right.” You can then say, “Well, that’s interesting,” and now the opposition is thwarted without a confrontation.

Managing opposition when you are not part of the argument calls for a different approach. If everyone is in an equal position of power, what often happens is that when someone makes a suggestion and another person opposes it, the first person will immediately dig in his or her heels. If you’re witnessing this, it’s a good opportunity to remind everyone of the goal — “Why are we here today?”

In group situations where there is a clear superior, strong leaders will sometimes allow heated arguments to take place, trusting that the group will resolve the problem on its own. Experienced CEOs know that if they immediately step in, they may stifle creativity by imposing their will.  Instead, they’re patient and allow the room to work things through.

The best CEOs seem to know intuitively when to sit back and when to guide the debate. When the group finally makes a decision, they’ll just say, “I think that’s a great idea. Let’s do it.” They won’t take credit for it because now the group owns the idea.

Whether you are among equals or in the leadership role, the main concept to remember about opposition is that there’s no use in swimming against the current because you won’t get anywhere. Instead, you’ve got to swim with the current and redirect it. To do that, you’re letting silence work for you. You’re finding common ground with your opponent. And you’re always going back to the goal that the group is trying to accomplish together.

Chris St. Hilaire is the author (with Lynette Padwa) of “27 Powers of Persuasion: Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences and Win Allies” (Prentice Hall Press). He is an award-winning message strategist who has developed communications programs for some of the nation’s most powerful corporations, legal teams and politicians.

Imagine you had a secret power that could calm frazzled colleagues, foster teamwork and help you manage conflict. Not only would this power be versatile, it would also be invisible. To ignite this power, you would merely need to do … nothing.

That’s the power of silence.

The best politicians know all about silence; just watch them being interviewed. Notice how they pause after a difficult question, appear to think about it, and then finally give an answer. That pause makes the audience believe that the politician listens to others and thinks very carefully before responding. As a longtime political consultant, I can assure you that seasoned politicians have been briefed on every possible question and have prepared their answers well in advance. They’re using silence to create a specific effect.

Communication pros, such as salespeople, reporters and trial attorneys, all consider silence to be one of their most effective tools, as I explain in my book, “27 Powers of Persuasion.” Here are six ways silence can help you communicate, negotiate, mediate or persuade. And the power of silence works not only with colleagues but also with your friends and family.

Use silence to build consensus for your idea

If you’re presenting a plan to a group, chances are you already know what some of their objections might be. Rather than blurt out an instant response, take a page from the politician’s book. Listen. Pause for a moment. Then say, “That’s a good point. What if we handle it this way …” When others feel heard, they are much more likely to listen to you in return.

Use silence to get a better answer

Reporters never settle for the first answer they get from an interviewee. If you’re interviewing a potential hire, inquiring about a plan of action or otherwise trying to ascertain reliable information, let the person respond to your question, then wait. Don’t say anything. They will fill in the silence with a more complete answer. If you then murmur something vaguely encouraging — for instance, nod and say, “Hmmm” — they will dig even deeper. Many reporters believe that the third answer is the most revealing and valuable.

Use silence to gain advantage in an argument

When you’re having a disagreement, the natural tendency is to respond to an attack. Instead, nod and say nothing. Ninety percent of the time, the other person will moderate his or her own position.

Use silence to negotiate

Car salesmen do it all the time. You make an offer on a car. He frowns and says nothing. The silence builds. Finally, you can’t stand it any longer and say, “Maybe I could go a little higher.” You’ve just increased your own bid. In any negotiation, the first one to speak after an offer loses.

Use silence to regain control of a conversation

If someone else is dominating a discussion, wait until he or she is done, then pause for a few seconds before you say your piece. Silence always feels longer to the person who has just been speaking, so if you wait, a subtle advantage swings your way.

Use silence to buy time while appearing thoughtful

In the midst of a conversation, you may need a few seconds to think. When that happens, gaze down and take the time you need. Our research has shown that when people look downward, they are perceived to be thoughtful and intelligent. When they gaze upward, they look like they’re searching in the air for answers.

The other side of silence is knowing how to interpret it. In general, don’t assume that the silence is a bad sign and don’t take it personally. There could be many reasons why a room is quiet after your presentation. The audience could be confused or bored, but they could also be completely satisfied. When it happens to me, I like to say, “Judging from the silence, I must have covered this topic brilliantly.” The line always gets a laugh, and sometimes it’s even true.

Chris St. Hilaire is the author (with Lynette Padwa) of “27 Powers of Persuasion: Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences and Win Allies” (Prentice Hall Press). He is an award-winning message strategist who has developed communications programs for some of the nation’s most powerful corporations, legal teams and politicians.

Whenever I hear somebody complaining about a boss who is clueless, inept or petty, one of Bob Dylan’s songs pops into my head — “You Gotta Serve Somebody.”

Unless your name is Gates, Buffett or Zuckerberg, you will need to persuade someone in a position of power to see things your way. That’s why two of the earliest chapters in my book, “27 Powers of Persuasion,” are about managing egos. While it’s nice to be able to manage the egos of colleagues and staff, it is absolutely crucial to manage the ego of your boss. By doing so, you can avoid conflict and increase your chances of getting your plans approved quickly.

Too often, people’s knee-jerk reaction to a supervisor’s criticism is to respond to every attack. That’s the wrong approach. Successful persuasion is not about winning arguments, it’s about aligning all the players and unifying them around a common goal. Responding to attacks does not achieve that, it just makes you seem defensive, close-minded or too sensitive.

Consensus is what you’re aiming for, and to that end a little proactive unity building never hurts. When the group first convenes, ask, “Why are we here today?” As the group decides on the meeting’s main topic, it will be reminded that there is a big picture to consider. If arguments erupt later on, you can return to the common ground of that originally stated goal.

As the discussion continues, there are several effective strategies for dealing with a boss’s negative input without threatening his ego. The first is easy: After the boss’s comment, simply nod, say nothing and wait. Ninety percent of the time, he will moderate his own position when he becomes uncomfortable with the silence. (It works with everyone, not just bosses.)

If the boss demands a response, say, “I see your point.” Pause for a beat and really consider it. Then offer another suggestion that, if possible, incorporates some of his idea or deals with part of his objection.

A few more suggestions for managing the objections of your boss:

Find one thing to like about the other person. A print journalist once told me that she used to work for an extremely difficult editor. But despite his poor news judgment and consistently condescending tone, they did share a love of the same central California pinot. If the journalist began all their conversations with a discussion of the editor’s latest wine-shopping adventure, the rest of the meeting would be relatively civil.

Make it about choice, fairness and accountability. These are three of the most popular words in the English language. Redirect any debate using one of these concepts, and if you argue correctly, you’ll never lose.

Be your own pundit. People often move from assignment to assignment without ever stopping to review their performance. By consciously taking a step back and reviewing what worked and what didn’t, you gain a fresh perspective of what you should do again and what you can do better next time. This is especially important when calibrating your next encounter with a superior.

These tactics aren’t about manipulating your boss or strong-arming your way to winning every debate. They are strategies aimed at figuring out what matters to people and how to use that information to influence them and achieve mutual goals — and learning how to evaluate your own ego and admit that sometimes, your boss is right.

Chris St. Hilaire is the author (with Lynette Padwa) of “27 Powers of Persuasion: Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences & Win Allies,” published in 2010 by the Penguin Group. He is an award-winning message strategist who has developed communications programs for some of the nation’s most powerful corporations, legal teams and politicians. Reach him at csthilaire@m4strategies.com.

Let’s say you can pitch your business like Moses delivering the Ten Commandments ? your passion and energy will make a believer of just about anybody. Unfortunately, there is only one of you, and there are multitudes of people who need to hear your message. 

Yes, technology has changed business communication, but one fact remains as true for you as it was for Moses: nothing beats word of mouth. For that, you need people – advocates ? and you need to arm those advocates with memorable messages about your organization.

Who are your potential advocates? Any person within your company or outside of it who can speak on your behalf ? customers, vendors, clients, employees, salespeople, service reps and so forth. Advocates are invaluable when you’re implementing a particular strategy or promoting a new product or service. But just as important, advocates can build ongoing buzz for your business by passing along positive messages about your company whenever the opportunity arises.

To arm your advocates most effectively, think like a politician. Give your advocates talking points ? succinct, specific messages that support the larger story. You can give different advocates different talking points, but don’t give any one person more than three. The following types of talking points are especially memorable and persuasive.

Statistics, trends, and other numbers 

People remember numbers, whether it’s calories or horsepower or hamburgers served. To find the numbers just mine your own data. Has business increased 20 percent each year? Did you receive 15 e-mails from satisfied customers in a single month? Do you have 36 positive ratings on Yelp? Are 80 percent of your clientele return customers?  If your business is too new to have impressive numbers of its own, broaden your search to the field. Find statistics that support the cost-effectiveness or other benefits of businesses like yours.

Third-party validation

Politicians seek endorsements of influential groups and individuals to add credibility to their campaigns. Third-party validation is just as effective in promoting your business. Within your organization, that might mean a vote of confidence from various departments or from clients; but keep in mind that it must be specific. Telling your employees that you’re getting positive customer feedback is nice, but vague. Instead, give your team leaders specific talking points to pass along, such as, “The president of Able Corp. said this was the fastest turnaround of any company he’s hired. He’s thrilled.”  For advocates who will be spreading the word to the outside world, think like a movie marketer and provide “blurbs” from your most impressive clients or from positive coverage in print or on web sites. Comb consumer review sites for memorable quotes that you can turn into talking points. For example, “One customer called us the da Vinci of carpet cleaners.” Obviously, awards you have won are the most succinct and impressive type of third-party validation.

Track record

The longer you have been in business, the more talking points you can develop from your track record. Have you been in the same location for 10 years? Have you met every deadline for the past six months? Is yours a family business that goes back two generations? Encourage your best customers and clients to visit sites like Yelp and Angie’s List, where their positive reviews will build an instant track record if your business is new or fortify your track record if you are already established.

It’s worth taking the time to brainstorm talking points about your business in general, particularly important upcoming projects, as well as to list all the people who could be your advocates. Keep in mind that the folks your advocates talk to will also be able to spread the word, meaning they will then become your advocates. That’s why your talking points must be easy to remember. Keep them brief and use a colorful quote or a specific number to make them go a long way.

Chris St. Hilaire is the author (with Lynette Padwa) of 27 Powers of Persuasion: Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences and Win Allies (Prentice Hall Press). He is an award-winning message strategist who has developed communications programs for some of the nation’s most powerful corporations, legal teams, and politicians. Reach him at csthilaire@m4strategies.com

How much of your day is spent persuading people? Persuading prospects to become clients, employees to step up, customers to buy?

In all aspects of life, nearly every conversation involves some type of persuasion. Politicians, whose careers depend upon their ability to persuade, know that there are three magic words when it comes to convincing people: choice, fairness and accountability. If you know how to use those words, you too can tap their power.

To get a sense of just how potent those words are, consider any political message you’ve been exposed to. There are “pro-choice” campaigns for reproductive rights and “school choice” initiatives for school vouchers. There are countless organizations based on “fairness”: Citizens for a Fair Share, Fair Vote Count, Fair Trash Contract (really!) and many more. There are myriad legislative acts promising “accountability” in everything from leadership to education to presidential pardons.

The typical response to the words “choice,” “fairness” or “accountability” is almost Pavlovian. No matter what the topic, you can say, “I just want to make sure you have choices, and that in the end someone is held accountable so that we ensure the fairest result,” and the whole room will nod in agreement. Obviously, you’ll want to wield these words (and the concepts they stand for) with a bit more finesse than that. Here’s how:

Choice

Choice always evokes a positive response — we think of it as free choice, almost synonymous with freedom. For that reason, offering your clients a choice is an excellent way to present a plan. Give them two or three options, making sure you could live with any they choose. It’s fine to state your own preference while emphasizing that ultimately the choice is theirs. When I’m hired as a consultant, I always say, “I work for you, so this is your decision. Here’s my recommendation.” Nine times out of 10, they take my advice.

The same strategy works with employees. Instead of simply passing out work assignments, offer several viable options. Does this mean you should convert every task to a multiple choice question? No, but for important jobs you stand a better chance of enthusiastic buy-in if you ask, “We could do A or we could do B. Which do you think would be most effective?”

Fairness

People’s definition of what is fair may vary, but everyone instinctively grasps the concept. We all passionately believe that things should be fair. Stating upfront that fairness is one of your top priorities will immediately get your listeners’ attention and make them more receptive to your ideas. You can also use words such as balance to suggest fairness. If you say, “It’s important to me that this is a balanced proposal,” you’re inviting other people to contribute their opinions — an equitable approach. Perhaps most important, talking about fairness builds trust, an essential element of any strong business relationship.

Accountability

Accountability is a way to ensure fairness. It strikes the same emotional chord, but it’s more tangible. In a business setting, the most effective way to use accountability is to start with yourself: “The plan I’m proposing will have built-in checks and balances, so you can hold me accountable and we’ll all be working together.” Then you can take suggestions from the group about how to construct the checks and balances. The end result: everyone has agreed in public to take responsibility.

Choice, fairness and accountability are concepts you probably incorporate into your workplace without consciously thinking about it — and that’s why saying the words out loud is so powerful. You’re giving voice to basic human values, and by doing so, you’re creating unity.

The most effective leaders not only persuade, they also unite.

Chris St. Hilaire is the author (with Lynette Padwa) of “27 Powers of Persuasion: Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences and Win Allies" (Prentice Hall Press). He is an award-winning message strategist who has developed communications programs for some of the nation’s most powerful corporations, legal teams and politicians. He is the founder, president and CEO of both Jury Impact and M4 Strategies consulting firms. Reach him at csthilaire@m4strategies.com.

How much of your day is spent persuading people? Persuading prospects to become clients, employees to step up, customers to buy?

In all aspects of life, nearly every conversation involves some type of persuasion. Politicians, whose careers depend upon their ability to persuade, know that there are three magic words when it comes to convincing people: choice, fairness and accountability. If you know how to use those words, you too can tap their power.

To get a sense of just how potent those words are, consider any political message you’ve been exposed to. There are “pro-choice” campaigns for reproductive rights and “school choice” initiatives for school vouchers. There are countless organizations based on “fairness”: Citizens for a Fair Share, Fair Vote Count, Fair Trash Contract (really!) and many more. There are myriad legislative acts promising “accountability” in everything from leadership to education to presidential pardons.

The typical response to the words “choice,” “fairness” or “accountability” is almost Pavlovian. No matter what the topic, you can say, “I just want to make sure you have choices, and that in the end someone is held accountable so that we ensure the fairest result,” and the whole room will nod in agreement. Obviously, you’ll want to wield these words (and the concepts they stand for) with a bit more finesse than that. Here’s how:

Choice

Choice always evokes a positive response — we think of it as free choice, almost synonymous with freedom. For that reason, offering your clients a choice is an excellent way to present a plan. Give them two or three options, making sure you could live with any they choose. It’s fine to state your own preference while emphasizing that ultimately the choice is theirs. When I’m hired as a consultant, I always say,I work for you, so this is your decision. Here’s my recommendation.” Nine times out of 10, they take my advice.

The same strategy works with employees. Instead of simply passing out work assignments, offer several viable options. Does this mean you should convert every task to a multiple choice question? No, but for important jobs you stand a better chance of enthusiastic buy-in if you ask, “We could do A or we could do B. Which do you think would be most effective?”

Fairness

People’s definition of what is fair may vary, but everyone instinctively grasps the concept. We all passionately believe that things should be fair. Stating upfront that fairness is one of your top priorities will immediately get your listeners’ attention and make them more receptive to your ideas. You can also use words such as balance to suggest fairness. If you say, “It’s important to me that this is a balanced proposal,” you’re inviting other people to contribute their opinions — an equitable approach. Perhaps most important, talking about fairness builds trust, an essential element of any strong business relationship.

Accountability

Accountability is a way to ensure fairness. It strikes the same emotional chord, but it’s more tangible. In a business setting, the most effective way to use accountability is to start with yourself: “The plan I’m proposing will have built-in checks and balances, so you can hold me accountable and we’ll all be working together.” Then you can take suggestions from the group about how to construct the checks and balances. The end result: everyone has agreed in public to take responsibility.

Choice, fairness and accountability are concepts you probably incorporate into your workplace without consciously thinking about it — and that’s why saying the words out loud is so powerful. You’re giving voice to basic human values, and by doing so, you’re creating unity.

The most effective leaders not only persuade, they also unite.

Chris St. Hilaire is the author (with Lynette Padwa) of “27 Powers of Persuasion: Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences and Win Allies” (Prentice Hall Press). He is an award-winning message strategist who has developed communications programs for some of the nation’s most powerful corporations, legal teams and politicians. He is the founder, president and CEO of both Jury Impact and M4 Strategies consulting firms. Reach him at csthilaire@m4strategies.com.

Thursday, 17 February 2011 14:56

Support from the start

Want to get maximum buy-in from employees when you’re introducing a new project? Make your goal their idea. The more people feel invested in your plan from its inception, the more support and enthusiasm you’ll have weeks — or even years — down the line. Inviting your staff members to speak up with their thoughts and concerns at the very first meeting is crucial to getting sustained support. Here are my top strategies for building enthusiasm on day one.

1. Forge the goal together. You can often do this by presenting a challenge instead of a plan. Ask for ideas to help meet the challenge, then listen for answers that align with what you hope to accomplish. In most situations, there are not infinite possibilities, so if you ask the right questions, sooner or later people are going to respond with the answers that support your goal, at which point you can agree with them. Now it’s their idea, too.

2. Use other people’s comments to tie your plan together. Pay attention to what the others are saying. Jot down notes next to their names so you won’t forget who said what. When you want to move the discussion to the next topic or underline a point, use their comments: “That goes back to what Maggie said about product liability, and it also relates to Walt’s ideas about building the consumer feedback links. With that in mind, I’m thinking a time frame of four months.”

3. Use your listeners’ language to describe the goal. It can be playful, like adopting a term someone coined as part of the unofficial lingo of the project. Or you can repeat key points made by the others, incorporating the person’s phrasing. A great way to use your listeners’ language is to ask them to name an element of the project, whether it’s a product, a strategy, a document or even just the schedule.

4. Say, “From my perspective.” This phrase liberates your listeners by implying that everyone is entitled to an opinion. You have a perspective, and so can they. It automatically opens up the discussion.

5. Recognize their reality. No matter how gung-ho your employees are, they probably have a different perspective than top management. For important projects, take the time before you launch an idea to carefully consider how your staff may perceive it. Your challenge is to recognize their reality, align it with yours, and then create a common benefit that is your goal. For everyday situations, use a light touch. When my team is slammed with a big workload, I may say, “We’ve got to complete six rounds of documents this month — and when I say we, you do realize that I mean you, right?” They laugh, because although they’ll be doing most of that work, at least they know I’m aware of it.

6. Play devil’s advocate. In any open discussion, there will be doubters. A good way to deal with them is to play devil’s advocate or ask the doubter to do so: “That’s a fair point. Want to play devil’s advocate? We can try to get a handle on potential problems sooner rather than later.” Now the doubter has a specific role in the discussion, and you’re still all on the same side. The same is true if you play devil’s advocate yourself — you’re not disagreeing with the doubter; you’re playing a role in order to root out weaknesses in the plan.

The unity you build with your team at the beginning of a project affects how they will feel about it from that day forward. If you must change course later on, this approach pays double dividends: Everyone had a hand in the original idea, so there is far less finger-pointing when it needs to evolve.

Chris St. Hilaire is the author (with Lynette Padwa) of “27 Powers of Persuasion: Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences and Win Allies" (Prentice Hall Press). He is an award-winning message strategist who has developed communications programs for some of the nation’s most powerful corporations, legal teams and politicians. He is the founder, president and CEO of both Jury Impact and M4 Strategies consulting firms. Reach him at csthilaire@m4strategies.com.