I’ve just found this great article on using a Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) process to improve your results when presenting new ideas to a skeptical audience:

Presenting Ideas To Skeptical People

by Shelle Charvet

How do people usually convince other people? Sometimes we reason to make them see the light, using our strongest arguments. And yet some people still won’t budge. Other times we tease, cajole, prod, beg, plead, order and shout! While some of these methods work with some people some of the time, many find it demeaning to have to use such techniques just to be taken seriously.

Have you ever noticed that the more enthusiastic you are about an idea, the more skeptical others become? When someone tells you that you have to see a movie, it rarely lives up to the hype. It ‘s as if enthusiasm creates skepticism. Instead of doing all that work, what if we met the other person on their turf and then brought them to where we needed them to be? You may have done something like this at moments when you made people see a situation in another way.  You have even persuaded some “stick-in-the-mud” types to completely change their point of view. What specifically did you do when they got that thoughtful look on their face and then agreed with you? Was it magic or just a lucky break?

Communication Is What The Other Person Understood

Let’s look at a definition of the word communication. Communication is what the other person understood. It is not what I intended for them to understand; it is not what they ought to comprehend; it is what they actually understood. If I said something and someone got angry, from their perspective, they had a reason to get angry, and a reason therefore to dismiss my idea. People simply understand what they understand. So if you really want to get your point across, and you notice that you obtained a negative reaction to something you said, you could say to the person, “That’s not what I meant. It wasn’t my intention to make you angry. Here’s what I meant,” and then restate your message another way.

Wouldn’t it be great to know exactly how you need to phrase your ideas to get people to go from where they are, in their way of understanding, to where you need them to be? While some of the following strategies and suggestions may already be familiar to you, some may seem slightly counter-intuitive. The only way to know for sure if they work is to test them out for yourself. Only try those you suspect might have some value.

You, Me and the Fly on The Wall: Three Points of View

There are three positions people take when communicating. In the First Position one perceives the world from one’s own point of view. I have my thoughts, opinions and feelings. When I have a disagreement with someone and I am in First Position, I will likely think that the other person must be wrong because he or she doesn’t share my point of view.

Many people spend a lot of time in First Position, particularly if they tend to be proactive. It’s relatively easy to know when you are operating from First Position, because that is when you consider other people to be ridiculous, absurd and unreasonable. Or when it seems bizarre that they just don’t get it. Being in First Position enables you to assert your own needs and views. If you spend too much time there it is easy to become intolerant of others and their points of view.

Three Points of View

First Position – My point of view

Second Position – The other person’s point of view

Third Position – The Overview (Fly on the wall )

When we create empathy and rapport with people we shift into Second Position. This is the “walk a mile in my shoes” position. We perceive the other person’s point of view; we empathize with their reaction to something – “I can understand why you might be hesitating about this.” If we spend too much time in Second Position, we can become overly accommodating of other people’s needs and lose sight of ours.

Traditionally,  conflict resolution strategies showed people how to use a combination of asserting one’s needs from First Position and showing empathy with the other person from Second Position. It has since become apparent that while being able to switch between these two positions is a useful way to improve communication by themselves, they are insufficient for dealing with complex issues. Neither position provides an overview of the situation.

The Third Position can help people overcome many communication difficulties. In this position we take the perspective of the fly on the wall. Remember a time when you watched two other people arguing and you could tell as observer that they were actually in agreement? The Third Position allows you to see the big picture in a relationship; to know where it’s going and what needs to be done. If one spends too much time in Third Position, one can be perceived as distant and putting oneself above everyone else.

The ability to switch between these positions enables you to check if your message is actually getting across. Did you say what you wanted to say? (First Position) If you were them, how would it sound/look/come across? (Second Position) If you were a fly on the wall, looking at everyone, what is the relationship between them? Good? Trusting? Skeptical? (Third Position) Selling Weird Ideas From my 20 years of studying and teaching Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP)1, I have learned there are processes happening for my audiences, outside of their conscious awareness. There is a lot going on for which one needs to predict and build responses, right from the very beginning.

One of the wackiest concepts I talk about is the existence of the unconscious mind. Imagine a group of dark suited business people nodding enthusiastically when I announce that 90 to 95% of what they do is controlled by parts of themselves they know little or nothing about. Yeah, right. Think about your own response. What are your objections to that statement? Remember the last time you lost your keys and you had to look for them all over the place? And when you found them, you couldn’t recall putting them there? Someone put them there and if you didn’t, who did? Have you ever driven your car to a place you know so well, that it almost seems like someone else took over your body and drove you there?

Some people may find it hard to believe, when they first think about it, that they have so highly trained themselves to do most of the things they do, they hardly have to think about them consciously anymore. You just take them for granted. And if your unconscious mind is doing all that, why can’t your conscious mind just take a holiday instead? And why is it, that if your spouse or mother suggests you do something, a part of you objects immediately without even considering the suggestion?

Many of the ideas each of us are “selling” are just as weird to the people we want to convince. Motivational speakers have a few of these which seem weird to the general public: Goal setting will change your life. Your problems can be solved by you becoming motivated and committed to acting. Active listening will transform your relationships. Spirituality will turn the bottom line around.

Steps for Presenting Ideas To Skeptical People

Here ‘s a process you might want to try out. It is designed to make sure that you are not demanding that people take a leap of faith in order to buy your message. It may help you clarify what you want to achieve, and simplify your strategy. You can avoid all those demeaning behaviours and ensure your ideas will get a fair hearing. It will help get those skeptics to listen to you without any groveling on your part.

Step One: Create Your Main Message. Identify your main message. What is the most important point you want to get across? What response do you want to your message? Do you want agreement, action, a change of beliefs?  Let ‘s take the message of many motivational speakers: “Goal setting will change your life.” Motivational speakers want people to believe this and to take specific actions as a result – they want people to set goals and follow a plan of action for achieving them.

Step Two : Identify the Objections. Think about the people you want to convince. What are the objections, including the most extreme, that anyone could have about your message? List several. Go into Second Position and see the world from their point of view. Ask your cynical friends and family for help with this if you are stuck in a positive frame of mind. For example, “Goal setting will not help me when most of the things that happen in my life are outside of my control.”

Step Three : Find Common Experiences Which Prove Your Point. Search for some experiences that most people will have had which provide evidence that your main message is true. The key is to choose an experience that enables each person to go inside themselves and decide for themselves if it is true.

For example, “Remember a time when there were many choices and you ended up doing what other people wanted and not being happy about it because you just got kind of pushed in that direction.”

Another example, “Think about a situation when you were so determined to get something you wanted, that no matter what obstacles were put in your way, you still made it happen in spite of everything”.

When someone is in a mode where they hear only the flaws in your argument…you need to use special language.

Step Four: Create Your Opening Using Objections and Common Experiences. Briefly introduce your topic. Next, address the conscientious objectors by telling them the objections that you came up with. For example: “Some people may be thinking that setting goals won’t help them because there are too many areas in their lives over which they have no control.” List all the objections.

Then invite the person or group to think about the common experiences, getting them to relive each one, going inside and checking for themselves the truth of your main message.  For example: “Remember a time that because you weren’t sure of what you wanted you then ended up doing what someone else wanted? Think about a diff e rent situation where you were so determined to do something, that no matter what obstacles were put in your way, you still managed to make it happen.” (Always end on positive experiences.) Create a link to your main message. For example: “It’s all about figuring out what is important to you and how you can make it happen. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about today…..”

When you introduce a topic of conversation by stating the possible objections and the common experiences which prove your point, you are creating a framework for your message.

This allows you to go meet a person or a group where they are, even if they are extremely skeptical. Because you have brought up the possible objections, everyone knows that you really have thought through what you are saying or writing. They can begin to feel that you have truly taken into account their point of view.  If you don’t pre-frame the objections and proof this way, people hang on to their objections and then respond to your ideas with: “Yes, but…”

The Psychology of Skepticism

When anyone becomes skeptical about something, she or he is operating from a pessimistic belief about what is not possible. If you propose a solution to a problem, a skeptic may believe: “It won’t work for me because I’m different.” They are often reluctant to accept someone ‘s credibility and will keep demanding more and more proof. People get frustrated with this attitude because deep down inside there is a sense there will never be enough proof!

Skeptics have other patterns as well. They tend not to be goal-oriented. In fact they only seem to be motivated when they can identify a problem, an issue, a mistake or something out of place. We call this Away From because you can hear the pattern in their language. They use phrases indicating they prefer to move away from problems rather than go towards goals. “How are you going to prevent that from happening again?” rather than “How are you going to achieve this goal?” Think about those times when you are a “Doubting Tom”. Aren’t you more prone to be considering how to avoid the things you don’t like? Skeptics do not want to be told what to think by another person. They want to have the information and to evaluate it for themselves. We call this pattern Internal because the person is operating from their own values and does not respond positively to outside influences.

It does no good to name drop or say “You should..” or “If I were you…”, it only annoys them. Some skeptical people get convinced about something on Monday and when you speak to them again on Tuesday, they seem to have somehow become unconvinced again. In fact you can never be sure if they are ever truly convinced by an idea. They keep finding new doubts to try on. This pattern is called Consistent because this person wants the information to be consistent, unwavering, every single time.

Mastering the Language of Influence

When someone is in a mode where they hear only the flaws in your argument, when they don’t want you to tell them what to do and they could be easily unconvinced again, you need to use special language. Here are some suggestions from which you could choose each time you want to persuade someone. These phrases will help prevent your ideas from being dismissed and increase the chances you will get a good hearing.

The Language of Suggestion

” Here’s an idea you may wish to consider.”

“Only you can decide what you don’t like and what isn’t bad.”

“Each time you think about this you’ll know whether or not it fits.”

” It’s not up to me to tell you what to do.”

“You know what is and isn’t important .”

Notice that with the above phrases, you are offering information and inviting the person to decide for themselves. It’s easier for skeptical people to take in information offered this way.

I bought some new furniture for my living room and knew that I needed to repaint. I hadn’t a clue what color would go with my burgundy, royal blue and forest green print sofa. I asked Simone to help. “Do you see this taupe thread going through the print?” she asked, “Well the wall color has to be taupe.” Has to be? I was annoyed. I was not prepared to be told what color I had to paint my living room. Then Sandra came over to help. “What colors do you like best in your sofa?” she asked. When I said the burgundy really attracted me, she showed me a range of burgundy to highlight that color in the sofa and helped me figure out which one I liked best. At no time did she tell me what to do. She merely gave me information and asked what I thought.  When someone tells us something in a directive manner, we often reject what is being said, without truly considering it.

The Sanity Check

In my office we regularly do a doublecheck before sending important documents out. Whether it’s a sales document, a report, a marketing piece, we do a Sanity Check. We shift into the receiving person’s point of view, (Second Position) while reading the document and ask ourselves: “Is this a sane thing to have said to them?” We also ask how will this affect the relationship we have with them. (Third Position) We call this the Sanity Check.

Create Your Main Message

Identify Objections

Find Common Experiences that Prove Your Point

Create Your Opening Using Objections and Common Experiences

Imagine if you did a Sanity Check before you sent things out to be read, or before a presentation or sensitive discussion. Imagine asking: “If I say this, how is that going to be perceived? How does that affect our relationship?”

The Macho Test

One of the most irritating aspects of day-to-day communication is when you are trying to convince someone who takes a Macho attitude. Women are often dismayed to find that while amongst ourselves we can build on and critique each other’s ideas, it is sometimes much more difficult to do this when male colleagues are involved.  And sometimes even women become Macho !

When a person is running a Macho Pattern, they operate as if they believe the following:

They already know everything there is to know.

They do not have any problems; they and everything connected with them are perfect.

If there are problems, they are of someone else’s making.

They are better, higher, more important, more knowledgeable than any one else.

How many times have major decisions been made to assuage someone’s ego or simply to not lose face? Just listen to radio interviews. When the interviewer asks if someone was surprised by the turn of events, rarely will the person admit to being surprised. That would be saying that they did not already know everything there is to know. Once I sold a training program with optional follow-up coaching. No one took up the coaching offer because that would have meant conceding they needed help. Now the coaching is just part of the training program.

All of us become Macho at times. Notice your reaction when one of your parents tells you what to do! To make sure that even someone who has become Macho will consider your ideas, you could use the Macho Test as an editing technique. While I have formalized the Macho Test, you may have already done something like this yourself to make sure your important messages get through.  Write the document or prepare what you are going to say using the 4 step formula for presenting ideas to skeptical people. Then look it over and ask yourself the following questions about what you have prepared.  Is it anywhere stated or implied that:

There is something they don’t already know,

I am telling them what to do,

They have a problem and I have the solution,

They are not perfect in some way, and/or

I am better than they are in some way.

If any of the above are stated or implied, it does not pass the Macho Test!

You may wish to rephrase as follows :

As you probably know…(then state the thing you suspect they do not know )

Use the language of suggestion: You may wish to consider…

I understand that other organizations have had this issue and what some of them have done is…How have you solved this problem? (implies they have already solved all the problems )

With your experience and knowledge in this area…

Your role is…My role is…(establishing different yet equal roles)

Next time you get the sense that if you present a ‘new’ idea, the person will deny it’s actually new, try suggesting that it may be something they have already considered. You probably already know exactly who the Machos are in your life. I find that once I rephrase to pass the Macho Test, the people I’m addressing stop being Macho and become more willing to participate in the free flow of ideas. I published an article entitled: ” Ten Tips for Surviving the Health Care System. “The title passes the Macho Test as “tips” are only suggestions. It would not have received nearly as much attention had I entitled it: “Te n Rules for Getting Through the Health Care System.”

From my years helping people solve communication problems, I have learned that most of the effort is in getting someone into a mental and emotional state of openess, where they will be able to hear what I am saying. When we are successful at getting people to listen and take us seriously, it is because we have cleared enough mental space in the other person for our words to go in.

All the Skeptics in the World

When preparing for an important meeting or a speaking engagement, pretend that the people you will be addressing are skeptics. Imagine they are busy, don’t want their time wasted, don’t want to be blamed for the ills of the planet, that they need to be given a good reason to give you some of their precious time and that any flaws in your argument will be cause to dismiss you. While this may at first seem pessimistic and unnecessarily negative, it motivates one to rigorously prepare for each and every audience.

While most women are not constantly on the stage, there are times when a little thought and preparation will go a long way to making communication easier. It really doesn’t take much time to think through the 4 step process: What’s my main message? What are the possible objections? What common experiences provide proof? Open with the objections and common experiences and link to the main message.

Then do a couple of Sanity Checks, add in The Language of Suggestion, pass the Macho Test and you are ready to convince professional nay sayers and perhaps even your spouse or your kids! Skeptical? The only way you’ll know for sure is to try it out for yourself.