Your team’s discussing a project plan, you have an opinion on what to do, know what you want to say, but you just don’t know how to say it.
Here’s a writing and speaking technique to help you explain things, teach people how you see things, win people to your way of thinking, and do so without causing offense or resentment.
1. Lead with the facts.
Begin with a list of objective facts pertinent to the problem you’re solving. Paint a picture of the situation. Let the details speak for themselves. Stick to the facts and maintain a neutral tone so the reader has no reason to stop reading.
I used to begin my point in discussions saying “We should do X…” or “That won’t work because…” Showing my disagreement at the outset, saying in other words: “I’m right, you’re wrong; I’m smarter than you” — I might as well began with a war cry.
If before I was a warrior, today I’m a teacher. Setting up this week’s material by reviewing last week and the hinting at unsolved problems. Persuasion is selling, and selling is teaching, and teaching is moving the student from what they know to what they don’t know; so that’s where we begin, with what the reader knows/agrees with.
2. Explain the effects.
Explain the effects for all parties: yourself, customers, most important of all — the reader. Clarify the problem and strengthen the desire for a solution. Cater to what they care about.
I used to think the significance of the facts would be self-evident; I know better today. As we’ve seen with climate change, for instance, even facts can be rationalized, minimized, or denied.
What the reader is missing is a clear picture of how they and what they care about will be affected. So listen to them and learn their language, watch them and learn what’s important to them until you see what they see from their perspective. Finally, you’ll know what they want to hear or what you need to say to affect them.
Knowing what they want to hear or how to affect them is as important as knowing what you want to say.
To think up effects, try asking these questions: What loses will the person face if your conclusion isn’t enacted? What will the person gain if your conclusion is enacted?
If you’re writing for a group, tailor for the person with final say.
3. End with “their” conclusion.
The strongest conclusion doesn’t need to be said. Let the person think the idea is his or hers.
I used to think coming up with the answer would impress my boss or whoever, resulting in pleasure and profit and making me feel important; today I know those were lost opportunities — each an opportunity to make my boss or peer feel important and let them come up the answer. Or at least let them think they did.
“What do you think?” is probably my most typed phrase in Slack. If you’ve won the reader to your way of thinking, they’ll conclude the same as you, you don’t have to say it out loud. Let the other person think the conclusion is his or hers, say “Good idea!”, making them feel good and patting yourself on the back in secret.
Rhetoric doesn’t substitute action
I hope this helps you persuade people to believe the truths you have to say, and improves the quality of your discourse.
I picture my reader as one of the good ones, one who knows their shit and gets shit done, and that shouldn’t change. This technique is simply a supplement, for rhetoric is no substitute for action. Talk a bit, but act big.
Please say hi at @travisjeffery.
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Thanks for reading.