I was at the Qwest Center in Omaha last week, getting ready to make a presentation to a great group of meeting professionals when the phone in my pocket buzzed. The text message was from my friend David:“@ meeting w/5 directors & 20 lawyers. Thought would be good opportunity 2 schmooze potential referral sources. Want 2 impress them so they refer business 2 me. But there is 0 useful information. Think I’ll get a root canal. Won’t be as bad as listening 2 these guys drone on. What U think?”
“I think you should compliment them all on their talks.”
When I got back to town, David reported that he made great contacts and got a stack of business cards to follow up with. But he was feeling a little slimy for lying to the speakers.
“I told each of them how good they were,” he said, “and they all nodded and thanked me and asked about my business. How did you know?”
I know because I just read a great book called Getting More by Stuart Diamond. Mr. Diamond is a lawyer, internationally recognized negotiation expert, and professor of the negotiation course at the Wharton Business School. On page 32, Diamond writes, “A negotiation is about the people…it’s always about the people. People like to give things to others who listen to them, who value them, who consult with them.”
What good would it have done to tell the presenters how turgid they were? Was David asked to truly evaluate them and improve their speaking? Were the presenters even interested in that advice? No, David’s goal was to build relationships and get referrals. And he was only going to accomplish that by working with people who liked him.
Diamond writes that studies “…show that blaming people reduces performance and motivation. Praising people, on the other hand, improves both.”
According to Diamond, negotiations are about relationships; the substantive issues are only one part of the interchange. He believes that you can’t even use facts to persuade effectively until the person you’re talking with is ready to hear the facts.
My friend David made it clear to the presenters that he was interested in what they had to say and that he appreciated the work they did. By doing this he used what might be Diamond’s most important technique, indeed the question that Diamond writes will improve every business strategy. “What costs you nothing that gives me what I want, and what costs me nothing that gives you what you want?”
What did the speakers want? To be praised for their work.
What did David want? Referrals.
Both praise and referrals were in the giver’s power to provide and neither cost the giver anything at all.
For those of you who have been reading this and wanting to scream “But what about the lies? The speakers were awful, why didn’t David tell them so?” Diamond would ask, “who was hurt by the compliments?” Thanks to David’s kind words the speakers gained more confidence and felt good about their presentations. If they really wanted constructive criticism, they could always ask for it. In response, David could have given them some helpful tips without being cruel.
Instead, the transaction satisfied everyone involved and proved the old adage “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Thanks to what I’ve learned from Stuart Diamond, I would only add, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care ABOUT THEM.”