Talk More Productively

“Talking,” says the bad guy, Casper Guttman in the classic film “The Maltese Falcon, “is something you can’t do judiciously unless you keep in practice.”

But practice alone is not enough. Your practice must center around effective approaches that will help you navigate the many minefields of human interaction and get more of what you want, as often as possible.

Here are some effective approaches you can attempt next time you try talking:

“As I understand you,”

Rather than immediately arguing or contradicting the person you’re talking to, this approach puts you at least temporarily in the role of eager acolyte, hoping to learn more from what the other person is saying.

Repeating, sometimes in your own words, what you have just been told has several benefits. First, it’s a great way to make sure you’re hearing the other person correctly. If you’ve gotten it wrong, this presents a perfect opportunity to understand your errors and get it right. Second, it puts everyone on the same page and eliminates all the time that can be wasted in a discussion that’s based on misunderstanding.

What’s more, the “as I understand you” approach eliminates a lot of the defensiveness that people often feel when their ideas are too quickly challenged, opposed, or otherwise contradicted. By repeating their thoughts back to them, you automatically show that you’re giving fair value to what they think and feel.

“Walk me through”

This is another approach that defuses the confrontational aspect of questioning another person’s point of view, logic, and/or conclusions.

By asking someone to “walk you through” their emotional and intellectual journey to whatever they’re telling you, you immediately position yourself as more of an ally than an opponent.

As with “as I understand you,” this approach presents a golden opportunity to clarify the other person’s meaning and eliminate any of the misunderstandings that can lead to disagreeable results.

In addition, working through their thoughts and feelings for your benefit often helps you – and sometimes even the other person – recognize any false assumptions, logical errors, or unwarranted leaps of faith they’ve made unawares. From there, it’s a much easier process to getting them to give more credence to your view of the matter.

“What would you say to”

Making a demand of another person is often a triggering event that causes them to dig in their heels and say “no.” Even the simple act of making a request can raise their hackles and produce more resistance than they would otherwise actually feel.

The “what would you say to” or “how would you feel about” approach constitutes a softer way to present a demand, a request, or even just a suggestion in a relatively non-aggressive manner. In addition, its speculative nature removes any pressure to immediately change their mind or make a final decision. In short, this approach effectively opens the door to further discussion, negotiation, and mutual cooperation.

“What I’d like is”

If you’re naturally reluctant to express a strong demand, using this approach can be beneficial. It clarifies where you stand in the situation by making clear exactly what you hope to achieve, receive, or see happen. In addition, it comes across as less demanding or acerbic that the more common approaches, such as: “Give me,” “I demand,” or “You need to.”

As a side benefit, this approach can help to set the psychological stage for you to be a lot more specific about what you’re requesting.

“Here’s what I’ll do”

This is a very useful approach when someone asks you a question you can’t answer, or pressures you to make a decision, or requests something you can’t immediately agree to.

“Here’s what I’ll do” is a good response because it buys you time to come up with an answer that makes you look good and/or meets your needs.

The key to using this approach most effectively is to include a hefty dose of specifics.

For example, “I don’t know the answer to your questions, but here’s what I’ll do. I’ll look into the matter and get back to you by tomorrow at five PM.”

Or “I recognize this matter is important to you. Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll review the options you’ve presented and consider them in light of current priorities and needs.”

Or “Thanks for the invitation to speak at your meeting. Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll check my commitments for that week and also do some thinking about what I could speak about knowledgeably.”

However you use the “here’s what I’ll do” approach, it converts your response from one of uncertainty and ambiguity to the clear-cut, forthright commitment of a competent, concerned, responsible person.

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