If you’re in a disagreement – try this!

If you have read through this blog a few times you’ll know that I’ve been a big fan of the work of David Maister.

Here is a piece David originally posted in June 2006 which was titled “Maister’s Exaggeration Ploy” It is definitely worth a read!

I have noticed something very strange about engaging in discussions (and even disagreements) with people.

The more you disagree with them, taking the other side in an argument, the more vehemently they push their original point of view. However, if you don’t disagree, but restate their point in an exaggerated form, they often back down, or at least tone down their original statement.

This works so well, I’m thinking of copyrighting the idea and calling it “Maister’s Exaggeration Ploy.”

(I know, I know, there’s little new in this world and someone else probably thought of it before me, but I don’t think I stole this from anyone. And if I did, I can’t remember from whom.)

To see how my principle works, imagine a family member, say, a brother, who is upset at how he has been treated by a cousin. Your brother says: “I’m really upset with Jimmy. He had no right to speak to me that way!”

Because you want you brother to calm down and get over it, you might say: “Don’t let it bother you. Perhaps he really didn’t mean to be unkind.”

As valid as your point may be, you can bet your remarks will only serve to annoy your brother. After all, you appear to be defending cousin Jimmy by downplaying his intentions. This will set your brother off on another tirade, and also, probably, cause him to get annoyed with you, too.

But what if you had said: “You’re right! Jimmy’s a louse. He always has been! I think we should have nothing to do with him, ever again! Let’s leave him off the invitation list for all family gatherings from now on!”

Nothing with people is a certainty, but I would bet that your brother’s next remarks will be something like: “Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad. I’m upset, but there’s no point over-reacting.” You have calmed him down by agreeing with him and exaggerating his own point!

The same principle of exaggeration applies in the workplace. If your boss (or client) berates you because you were late in delivering something, don’t fight back, saying it was his or her fault (especially if it was!)

Instead, say: “I realize what a problem this has created for you. I’m really sorry that I caused you such turmoil. Can you help me figure out a way to prevent this in the future?” The boss (or client) will, with high probability, calm down and you’ll survive! Or at least the odds will be more in your favor!

Try my approach out. Let me know if it works for you!

See you next post.

James E

Keep it (really) simple stupid

The other day I wrote that I would be sharing with you some of the hallmarks of what makes a professional an effective communicator.

The first hallmark is simplicity.

Have you ever been in a presentation or a meeting when someone insists on using long & complex words and phrases rather than simple and plain language? Of course you have! It’s as if they believe that they will impress people with their command of language by using words & jargon that show just how smart they are. Doing this helps no one.

I’d like to share with you a story. The moral of this story will give you a tremendous insight into how to more effectively communicate with your clients, prospects, staff, suppliers … in fact anyone you need to speak with and whom you want to understand the words you are using.

Many years ago I attended a student residential conference whilst at university. The conference was held in a wonderful bushland setting a couple of hours drive south of Sydney.

The keynote speaker was a terrific & engaging guy with the somewhat unusual name of Winkie Pratney (that is a name you don’t forget in a hurry :) ) He was sharing insights on leadership and value-driven work.

Winkie’s style of instruction/teaching was great. He peppered each seminar with real life examples and anecdotes. One such story has stuck in my mind since (25+ years!). Winkie called it the “3 Stages.” Here is how it went.

There are 3 stages in effective communication – be it written or oral.

Stage 1 – This consists of small ideas in small words. We all go through this stage. From our first acts of speech we use smalls words like da-da, mummy, bye-bye and eat to convey simple greetings and requests. As children grow & develop, the volume of words increase but not so much their length and the ideas behind them are still small … “Dad can I have $10 please?” I think you get the idea.

Stage 2 – This stage is big ideas in big words. This is the use (& sometimes overuse) of jargon and technical language. Have you had a meeting with an “average” tax lawyer lately? Tax legislation is typically complex, verbose and detailed. However, sometimes the interpretation or the explanation given by the tax lawyer is equally complex, verbose and detailed – a definite case of big ideas in big words.

Stage 3 – The 3rd and final stage in effective communication is simply this: you will never become a great communicator until you translate big ideas into small words.

To unpack this simple rule a little more, consider this. If a person knows and understands their subject matter extremely well then he/she should be able to explain the material to someone new to the area. For example, I have no understanding of physics whatsoever having done no study at either school or uni – it just doesn’t interest me for some reason. However, I once saw an interview with a Nobel Prize winning physicist on television explain in small words the big idea of Einsteins General Theory of Relativity. Not bad!

Conversely, if a person doesn’t know their subject matter that well they will tend to hide behind jargon or big words. Keep this in mind when listening to a politician speak about some so-called “complex issue.”

Here is a question for you – “When you communicate with your clients do you use small words or big words?”

See you next time,





5 pieces of great advice

Given the type of work I do I get to meet a lot of accountants, lawyers, management consultants and corporate advisers. Most of the people I meet are just fine. However, from time to time some people just “stick out.” Often its not because of their technical brilliance or long impressive track record it might be something as simple as being enthusiastic and passionate about their work. One such person is Karen Eaton – a client services director with accounting firm Allan Hall Business Advisors in Sydney, Australia.

Here is Karen’s response to the question, What do you do to understand what your clients really want?

Every client is unique and their needs and expectations will differ – there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to understanding what a client wants. Recognising this enables an adviser to tailor their services to provide advice that the client can rely on and use.

In my view, a good starting point in determining what your client wants is to simply ask them!

Good communication is vital. Take the time to listen to what they have to say; encourage them to be open; ask questions to clarify your understanding; and seek feedback to confirm that you are both on the same page.

Tailor your style. As the client shares their thoughts and opinions in their own words, you will gain insight not just into the business and its issues but also the client as a person. This enables you to individualise your approach and language style to suit that particular client.

Know the clients business. Gain an understanding of the client, their industry and the challenges they face. This knowledge allows you to assist the client to identify opportunities and to detect and avert potential problems early.

Build the relationship. Make the effort to get to know management and key staff, and to understand their roles within the business. Showing interest and being involved helps to build the relationship with the client and promotes mutual trust and respect.

Work together. Be honest, friendly, approachable and accessible. Offer the client solutions (not just answers) and provide practical advice to enable the client to make informed decisions. Encourage the client to consider non-financial and lifestyle factors when making decisions. Taking all these things into consideration will assist to promote a good understanding of each client’s needs and expectations, which provides a solid foundation on which to build or grow the relationship.

Nice one Karen!

See you next post,

James E