Persuading Your Client to Accept Reality

What does a Freelance consultant do when a client refuses to believe what should be an undeniable fact and instead chooses to believe something that is obviously incorrect? When a client denies or ignores the reality of circumstances in his/her organization—like a strategy that’s not producing the desired outcome or a decision that’s caused a problem to go from bad to worse—can an external consultant (or subordinate employee) tactfully open the boss’ eyes? Maybe.  But before you try, examine the alternate reality in which some of us will occasionally choose to live.

In a four-year study conducted by LeadershipIQ, a company that provides online leadership development seminars, 1,087 board members at 286 organizations that had ousted their CEOs were interviewed.  In 23% of the organizations surveyed, the dismissed CEOs failed to acknowledge, and therefore act upon, adverse business conditions or other obvious threats to the organization and that lapse was the pivotal factor in his/her demise.  In other words, those CEOs chose to deny reality and paid the price.

Business and other leaders, like everyone else, might at times choose to deny or ignore uncomfortable truths, a behavioral trait known as the ostrich effect, where the birds are said to hide their heads in the sand when faced with a threat (untrue, BTW).  There are those people who prefer to see the bright side because they are convinced that positive thinking brings about positive results.  Every once in a while, that is true.

For the resolutely rose-colored glasses crowd, however, you may have noticed that presenting accurate information is often ineffective because their denial is rooted in misplaced emotion.  With this group, facts do not win arguments.

There are a number of paths that might lead to faulty logic that prevents one from seeing and responding to reality.  The phenomenon of confirmation bias demonstrates that we humans have a tendency to seek out and interpret data and other information that is in line with our belief systems.  The sunk cost fallacy essentially means that one has so heavily invested in the truism of a particular decision’s outcome that there will be no backing down now.

In the backfire effect, we elect to dig in our heels when presented with facts that call into question the value of our self-worth, identity, worldview, or group belonging.  In many cases, presenting those facts causes the person to cling even more tightly to his/her incorrect or unsustainable beliefs.

Unfortunately, those who tell the truth to someone who is mired in denial, and most likely engaging in one of the above behavioral patterns, risk triggering an attack by the denier, in the classic shoot the messenger face-saving mechanism.  In this scenario, the realist cannot win because according to behavioral scientists, denial is more about identity than information.

Now to get back to the client we’re trying to persuade to do one thing or another—what can one do when demonstrable facts are not only insufficient, but are also capable of imploding your valuable relationship? Ohio State University behavioral scientist Gleb Tsipursky recommends that we sidestep a potential showdown by asking a few delicately phrased questions that might reveal the emotion behind the denial and idealy, allow the denier to back away from his/her original stance and save face as this occurs.

While it may have already become apparent that you hold another viewpoint on the matter,  your first objective is to portray yourself as trustworthy and not an enemy.  Say what you can to convey to your denier that you share his/her core values and concerns.  Rephrasing what that person has said could be useful, to demonstrate that you understand and (perhaps) agree with what is most meaningful to him/her.

Your second objective is to gently reveal to the denier that his/her position is actually in conflict with his/her core values and/or goals.  This will take a silver tongue, I admit.  You might be able to get the ball rolling by noting that the denier’s position is quite understandable, based on the available information at the time, or as a result of his/her experiences.

If you can follow that up with an example of when and how someone who is known to the denier subsequently changed his/her opinion or practices on a particular matter, so much the better.  You want to make it safe for the denier to make a tectonic shift and show him/her how to do it painlessly.  Revealing that others sometimes do so is validating.

Finally, reconfirm -your denial prone client’s goals and based on what the two of you now agree upon, cobble together a solution that the client can accept.  Since the client will substantively participant in the process, buy-in will be achieved and you will emerge with a signed contract.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The Denial of St. Peter  Gerard Seghers, circa 1623                                                      Courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Art

 

 

 

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Holiday Gifts for Your Top Clients

OK procrastinators, it’s time to finally bust a move and get busy with the holiday cards and maybe gifts, too, that Freelance consultants MUST send to every client you’ve worked with over the past five years.  Relationships are everything in life and it’s up to the Freelancer to cultivate and sustain business relationships that help you grow your client list.  It’s important to periodically communicate with clients past and present and the good news is that at holiday time, there’s no need to invent a reason to reach out.  The December holidays are an important element of every Freelancer’s client retention strategy.

I’m happy to report that my business holiday cards were mailed on December 12.  So far, I haven’t felt the need to give client gifts.  BTW regarding cards, the vast majority of your clients are Christian and they’ll celebrate Christmas to some extent.  However, 2014 data shows that 30% of adults in the U.S. do not practice Christianity and it is for that reason your holiday cards should avoid a specific religious theme and instead refer to “the holiday season.” Because you know your clients, the brief message that you’ll write in each card (whether or not you order them pre-printed) can reference Christmas, Ramadan (which can occur in December), or Hanukkah.

If you feel that presenting selected clients with a gift (to acknowledge your gratitude for generous billable hours), take action and order today.  Corporate gifts are mailed, as are cards, so you must allow for shipping time.  Start with a call to the client’s HR department to inquire about corporate gift restrictions.  There may be a cap on the amount, or alcoholic beverages may be prohibited.  Once you’ve confirmed the policy, decide what you feel is appropriate to spend, consider your gift options and choose the company you should order from.

When you’ve identified two or three companies that seem to be good possibilities, do an online search to find out if there have been problems with customer service, delivery times, or the quality of the merchandise.  The company should track the delivery of the gifts you’ve ordered from them and let you know when they’ve been received by your clients.  Alternatively, the company should make it possible for you to track your gifts and confirm receipt.

Furthermore, the company you order from should not include its promotional material in the gift box.  Not even your company promotional material will be in the gift box.  Your purpose is to thank your clients for the business relationship.  The company can include a sticker or business card so that it can be identified as the source of the gift.

Every corporate gift company will allow you to include a personal note, so be sure to draft one before you place your order.  A note expressed in your words will communicate your thoughtfulness and respect to the recipient.

Finally, look for a company that will guarantee the gifts with a refund policy for missed delivery times or damaged goods.  Here are a few corporate gift suggestions at various prices:

  1. Texting gloves —keep hands warm on frosty winter days and give fingers touch screen conductivity    $10.00 – $80
  2. Uber or Lyft gift card— sure to be appreciated and quickly used    $20 minimum
  3. Plant—scientific research shows that adding greenery to the environment boosts a person’s mood and energizes the overall ambience of the space. Choose a plant that’s easy to care for and not fussy about the light required.  A geranium could work and they flower year round.  Call a local greenhouse to order.    $20 – $50
  4. Docking station—You may want to oder one for your home office! It’s a sleek charging station for your mobile devices.    $20 – $100
  5. Spiral notebook and mobile charging station from Time Traveler USA    $65  http://timetravelerusa.com/notebook-powerbank-corporate/

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The New Bonnet (1858)  Francis William Edmonds                                            Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art   New York, NY

 

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

Those in the crisis communications sector of public relations will have a very Merry Christmas indeed.  Your client list is growing and billable hours are overflowing! Accusations of powerful men (and at least one woman—Mariah Carey) behaving badly have been flying thick and fast.  The professional, political, personal and financial fall-out will be enormous.  Whose brand will be resilient enough to survive the scandal?

Re: the accused, the smart (and probably most evolved) perpetrators quickly ‘fessed up, accepted responsibility and apologized to those who felt violated and hurt, whether a presumed victim or family member (e.g., soon to be ex-Senator Al Franken and comedian Louis C.K.).  My guess is that those with the pragmatism, if not decency, to own up early on will fare the best in the long run.  A couple of years of restorative PR may possibly allow them to re-enter polite society and re-start a public career,

The arrogant—-most notably, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer—are probably finished.  Their public careers are over and they’ve seen the last of good tables in the right restaurants.  The trophy wives of Lauer and Weinstein have jumped ship, now that indiscretions of which they were well aware have become public (Cosby’s wife opted to ride it out).

Yet the most arrogant and most teflon of all publicly accused violators—former President Bill Clinton—faced allegations so serious and believable that he was successfully impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998, only the second impeachment of a president in U.S. history (he was acquitted by the Senate in 1999).  Furthermore, he was compelled to pay a settlement that exceeded $850,000 to former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones, who sued Clinton in 1994 for sexual harassment.

High profile feminists (Gloria Steinem, Senator Dianne Feinstein, et al.) defended Clinton to the end and they still do (as they attack President Donald Trump for less onerous and numerous incidents and remain silent on Weinstein, who’s been a big contributor to “liberal” causes).

Clinton never apologized to anyone for anything and he vociferously denied his actions (“I did not have sex with that woman!” [Monica Lewinsky]). Like it or not, it’s obvious that the Clinton brand is the strongest in the land (and the most controversial, too).

Regardless of the Bill Clinton style, effective leaders learn how to apologize.  What is an apology and why is making one necessary?  An apology is a statement in which an individual expresses sincere remorse for behavior that can be considered inappropriate and that person acknowledges that s/he has hurt, mislead, embarrassed, or betrayed another—the public trust, a friend, colleague, or intimate partner.  An explanation, not to be confused with an excuse, could be made, as might an offer to make amends or restitution.

Trust, respect, team building and performance will be positively impacted when you make it clear that you, the leader, are willing to hold yourself accountable for your behavior, including your missteps.  Your apology is the core of that process.

Lolly Daskel, President and CEO of Lead From Within, says that there is a wrong way and a right way to apologize and I’m sure that you’ll agree.  Most of us have received so-called “apologies” that were offered grudgingly, sometimes under duress, or given disingenuously, in an attempt by the perpetrator to evade responsibility for his/her actions.

An apology is a statement in which an individual expresses sincere remorse for his/her behavior and acknowledges that s/he has hurt, mislead, embarrassed, or betrayed the public trust, a friend, or an intimate partner.  An explanation, not to be confused with an excuse, might be made as might an offer to make amends or restitution.

THE WRONG WAY TO APOLOGIZE

Blaming

A former colleague from the my days in the corporate world was known to say “Never complain, never explain.” Lolly Daskel would add “and do not blame.” Pushing responsibility onto others when it was you who dropped the ball is the wrong thing to do, every time.  As temporarily uncomfortable as it may make you feel, put on your big girl pants and admit your mistake.  Apologize to those whom you offended or inconvenienced.  Make restitution when possible and move on.  You will when respect and admiration when you do.  Blamers are losers and they never win.

Excuses

While there may have been legitimate reasons for making a mess of a situation, or burning dinner,  or not completing an important assignment, be careful that you don’t devolve into making too many excuses as you explain to those who may want to know what happened.  Just say you’re sorry and that you should have stayed on top of things, or started earlier, or whatever.  Once again, it’s about taking responsibility for your behavior.

Justifying

Don’t even think about trying to defend your behavior when you’ve screwed up.  I mean, there goes your credibility, down the drain.  Own up and apologize.  Now.

Minimizing

When you’ve let someone down, it is imperative that you take their hurt or inconvenience seriously.   In no way are you entitled to deny the full measure of the outcomes that are the result of your failure to hold up your end.  That other person has every right to be upset when they’ve been let down.  If you did not come through as expected, squelch the temptation to resort to manipulation and accept responsibility, apologize and make amends ASAP.

Shaming

Those who feel that they are doing quite enough for you (whether or not that can objectively be considered the truth) may sometimes feel entitled to break promises large and small, if they eventually find fulfilling that obligation inconvenient or expensive in some way.   When you speak up they attack and accuse you of being ungrateful for all the “other” favors they’ve done for you.  You have a right to expect that someone will keep their word.  Shame on them for being both unreliable and manipulative.

Stonewalling

Refusing to apologize, discuss, or acknowledge your mistakes or bad behavior and the difficulties it causes other people is called stonewalling.  It is abusive behavior.  It is hugely disrespectful.  Seek therapy immediately if this is common behavior for you.

THE RIGHT WAY TO APOLOGIZE

Timing

An apology is much more meaningful when it is delivered sooner, rather than later.  The longer that the offending party avoids making a sincere apology, the greater the risk to the relationship.

Acknowledge

Admit what you’ve done and apologize for the inconvenience, misunderstanding, hurt feelings, or embarrassment that you’ve caused.  This is an important step toward maintaining or rebuilding the trust that the other person had in you.

Accept

Own your behavior.  Show the respect that you have for the injured party and the esteem in which you hold him/her when you make a proper apology.  Demonstrate that this person matters and is entitled to your integrity.

Express

The apology made must be sincere and not self-serving.  Be prepared to grovel a little, if you’ve really dropped the ball, or if the other person(s) is very hurt or angry.  You can explain why or how you miscalculated, but don’t fall into excuse making.  Ask for forgiveness.

Amend

Do what you can to mend fences, so that you can soothe hurt feelings compensate for disappointment,

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Secret Hearts #88, 1963  (the study for Ohhh Alright, 1964)  Roy Lichtenstein

Christmas Season Networking for Introverts

Hello! Last week, we talked about how to network during the Christmas season and the meet & greet suggestions focused on attending parties and finding networking opportunities there.  This week, I propose that we revisit the Christmas season topic from a different perspective and explore how to network when the party scene is either not convenient or undesirable. This week, I’ll network with the introverts.

You may have noticed that I’m an extrovert by nature.  I love a good party.  I’m writing the first draft of this post on Friday December 1 and at a few minutes past 6:00 this evening, I will walk into a party and inaugurate my holiday season.

I’ll attend another party on Saturday afternoon at the branch library where I’m a board member and to round out the weekend, I’ll join the festivities at my neighborhood tree trimming party on Sunday afternoon at 4:00.  I’ll attend another three or four parties through December,  but I don’t expect any of them to be a networking bonanza.  All are social and that’s OK with me.

But be advised that in between holding glasses of wine I’ll do some targeted networking to support the roll-out of my newest content marketing service and I will not be in extrovert mode when I do.  The style of networking that I’ll employ as I prepare to beta test and launch the service I’ve been refining since September requires me to adopt the introvert mode.

Networking at parties is a subtle art.  It’s a turn-off when at social events some hyper-ambitious extrovert wrestles as many people as possible into participating in unsolicited business discussions, in a misguided attempt to find clients.  Introverts intuitively know that such behavior is a major faux pas.

So I’ll wear my introvert’s hat and email or call a short list of colleagues and good friends to propose that we get together soon. “It’s Christmas. Let me treat you!” I’ll reach out early this month, but won’t mind if we meet in January.  The two of us can catch up, compare notes and talk a little business.  I’ll broach the subject of my new service and describe how it can benefit the client’s business. “I’m looking to get this thing going quickly and I need referrals.  Is there someone at your company who might be interested? Who do you know at other B2B companies?”

We’ll figure out a strategy as we have a nice, uninterrupted talk that is free from blaring music, loud voices and friends plopping down in adjacent chairs, looking to join our conversation.  Extroverts get all of the attention when it comes to the subject of networking, yet introverts may have the inside track when it comes to relationship building and reaping benefits from their networking efforts.

Introverts know that a room full of chattering people balancing plates and drinks is a less than ideal environment for getting to know anyone beyond the surface gloss.  They feel most comfortable in small groups, where they can relax and get beyond superficial attempts at communication and that is why they can be so successful.

When an introvert does attend a party, s/he is likely to approach the girl or guy who’s sitting alone, to make some friendly small talk that might develop into a real conversation.  They often know how to make others feel included and welcome, in the most genuine sense.  That is the essence of networking and relationship building and it can be very profitable.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Five O’ Clock Tea, Mary Cassatt (1880)                                                                   Courtesy of The Museum of Fine Arts  Boston, MA