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Agreement & Disagreement With CSR |Emerald Foundation|

January 10, 2012

Winning Cooperation with the Magic Question “Why?”
Owner, Anderson Persuasion Training, and Harvey H. Nusz, CISA CISSP, CIA, CISO, 4IT Security, Governance and Compliance

We all need things from others – goods, services, information, and most of all, cooperation. If other people don’t offer what we need willingly, if we aren’t positioned to demand it, or if, in the interest of future good will, we’d rather not resort to demands, we try to persuade them.

Some professionals face special challenges in this arena. Auditors; information and physical security personnel; environmental, health, and safety specialists; and others who must persuade people to comply and play by the rules don’t just use persuasion occasionally to support their primary work. Rather, persuasion is part and parcel of their primary work. They may need to persuade anyone from a part-time high-schooler to a C-level executive.

All these compliance professionals face similar challenges and can use similar tools to improve results. Let’s look at how just one of these tools, the magic question “Why?” wins cooperation, as we track its use through an example.

Ask Yourself “Why?”

Cody works in Information Security for a company that makes software for facilitating sports performance visualization. Cody’s boss tells her that Mickey, who manages a team of Customer Tech Support workers, plans to install a remote access protocol system so his workers can see and remotely control clients’ computers. The boss assigns Cody to review this system for security, privacy, or similar issues. But when she calls Mickey to set up a meeting, he doesn’t welcome Cody or her review; he’s in a hurry to get his new system up and running.

One of Cody’s special challenges is that she isn’t Mickey’s superior, or even a member of his department. This prevents her from inspiring the cooperation she might if she formed part of Mickey’s day-to-day working life. On the contrary, Mickey resents “an outsider” looking over his shoulder, telling him what he can or can’t do with “his” team and “his” budget. Cody may have the clout of company policy behind her, but brandishing that over Mickey would only make him resent Cody, and her review, even more.

Cody wants two things:
(1) to do a good job on the review, and
(2) Mickey’s cooperation. Before meeting with Mickey, she clarifies her interests by asking herself “Why?”

As to her first need, why does Cody want to do a good job on the review? To impress her boss and keep her company out of trouble. Why keep the company out of trouble? When the company thrives, it rewards its employees, including Cody. Note that Cody has already developed one persuasive talking point, because rewards are mutually in Mickey’s interest.

Turning to her next need, why does Cody care whether Mickey resents the review so long as he submits to it? She has several reasons. First, pleasant working relations affect everything from Cody’s work quality and efficiency to her health. Secondly, if Mickey has “an attitude” about the review, he will comply grudgingly at best. On the other hand, if he buys in to the review, he will do a better job, not only in giving Cody what she needs, but also in implementing any recommendations. Finally, Cody may deal with Mickey in the future. She’d like to establish rapport now, rather than set up additional hurdles to jump in future dealings. She also wants Mickey to give her “good press” within their company.

Here, again, by asking herself “why?”Cody has uncovered possible mutual interests–pleasant working relations and rapport.

Beware of Impulse

If Cody were to follow her first impulse, she would probably tell Mickey about all the repercussions of not complying. For example: “What if a customer sues over some privacy issue? It could cost the company plenty,and get you in trouble.” These intuitive arguments, while legitimate, suffer from three traits that cut against their persuasiveness. The intuitive arguments, though legitimately on Mickey’s superiors’ radars, are also:

1. Speculative. The dire consequences Cody lists may or may not occur
2. Distant. The dire consequences float hazily in the future, whereas Mickey must address real life issues right now. He sees cooperating with Cody as interfering with his immediate concerns
3. Negative. They may register as threats in Mickey’s mind. If so, they’ll further increase his resentment. Moreover, when negative repercussions do persuade, they are most effective in getting people to avoid certain behaviors But here, where Cody wants to persuade Mickey to take positive action (and develop a positive attitude toward her), she would do better to use positive motivators.

These three traits often characterize compliance conflicts. Recall a situation when someone strongly resisted your efforts to persuade them to comply with rules. Do you see yourself struggling to get that busy person to take action in order to avoid (negative) something that might or might not happen (speculative) in the future (distant)?

Unlike knee-jerk impulses, the most persuasive techniques are often counterintuitive.

Ask the Other Person “Why?”

When Cody meets with Mickey, she doesn’t begin by telling him what she thinks he should be concerned about (lawsuit, getting in trouble, rewards, rapport). Rather, she first makes an effort to understand what he is concerned about (as in Control Self Assessment). “Why” is the key to uncovering Mickey’s concerns or interests. When Cody learns what’s really driving Mickey, she broadens the definitions of what he does and doesn’t want, just as she clarified her own interests by asking herself “Why?” The broader she and Mickey define his interests, the more ways there are to address them. The more ways to address them, the better the chances of finding one that also addresses Cody’s interests.

Why does Mickey not want the review? What difficulties will the review cause him? These here-and-now issues can load Mickey’s mental circuits, blocking out any concerns about speculative future events.

Cody already has a clue to the answers. Mickey’s in a rush. Unfortunately, Cody can’t complete the review as quickly as Mickey wants. So she delves deeper, asking Mickey why the rush? What will happen if the new system isn’t up and running by his target date?

With patient and tactful questions, Cody learns that Mickey promised his team he’d have the system going by a certain date; if he disappoints them now, he’ll lose face.

Cody steers Mickey toward addressing her interests by first addressing his. She helps Mickey find an upbeat, face-saving way to explain the delay to his team. He can say he’s learned of an in-house resource (Cody) for reviewing the system for potential problems before it’s installed; the team’s use of the system will proceed more smoothly in the long run if it’s reviewed, and possibly improved, first.

Keep Asking “Why?”

Speed, however, may not be Mickey’s only concern. So Cody also asks him about other reasons why he doesn’t want the review. She learns that he’s afraid the review will prevent his getting the system at all. So, then, why does he want that system to begin with? What advantages will it provide? What problems will it solve?

Mickey wants the system because some customers have trouble following tech support workers’ instructions for tailoring the program to their individual sports performance objectives. Cody first tells Mickey that he could well get his system after the review. Everything might check out just fine. If not, there may be ways to work around any potential problems.

Furthermore, there are other ways to improve interactions with customers, such as training for his team or improved tutorials or help functions in the software their company produces. It’s even possible that some of these other options could address Mickey’s interests better than the remote access protocol system, i.e. could further optimize satisfaction of his interests. For example, improved tutorials or help functions could enhance customers’ ability to deal with future issues on their own, in turn reducing the customers’ perception that they’re”always having to call in about this software.”

The more Cody explores and addresses all Mickey’s interests, the greater the chance that he buys in to the review, wants to deal with Cody in the future, and speaks well of her to others.

What If You Can’t Satisfy the Other Person’s Interests?

What if, try as she might, Cody can’t solve all Mickey’s problems concerning the review? By making a sincere effort to understand and address his interests, Cody has curbed Mickey’s resentment. He is now more likely to respond reasonably when she advocates for her interests, using an open question: “What do you think my boss would do if I rushed through this review and missed something?”

With a cordial relationship now established, negative repercussions of non-compliance, such as possible lawsuits, have a better chance of winning Mickey’s cooperation than they would have at the outset, especially if Cody brings them out with another open question: “How do you think it would affect us if we shortchanged this review, and then the company got sued over a privacy issue?”

After Mickey reaches his own conclusion that this would be bad news for him, Cody can follow up with one of the positive mutual interests she identified earlier. “If the company avoids legal expense, they can pay us better bonuses.”

If worse comes to worst, and Cody must say, “I’m really sorry, but company policy requires this review,” even that will go down better with Mickey after he’s seen Cody’s sincere efforts to understand and address his concerns.

What If You Don’t Buy Cody’s Story

Put any two people in the same situation, have them both use the question “Why?” and you can be sure of two things:
(1) they’ll come up with at least slightly different answers and use them in slightly different ways; and
(2) they’ll both fare better than if they tried to argue or strong arm Mickey. This isn’t about “the right” thing to say to anyone who resents your review of system; it’s about a process for generating persuasive dialogue that feels right for you in any persuasive encounter. The first step in that process is asking “Why?”

If you’re not comfortable asking, “Why do you want this system?” use different words, just find out why. For example, “What will this system do for you?”

If Mickey doesn’t say, “Customers have trouble following instructions,” address whatever interest he does express.

If you sense what he says isn’t the whole story, keep digging, not like an inquisitor, but with sincere interest and desire to help. Try it. You’ll be amazed at what happens.

Won’t This Take a Lot of Time?

Actually, when the conversation is focused on both persons’ interests, it’s more efficient than knee-jerk arguments, and proceeds much faster than you might imagine. The more you practice this interest-driven way of thinking and talking, the more efficient you grow. A practiced person can often complete a persuasive discussion in just a few minutes. But even when the effort takes more time, say you have to sleep on a problem and resume the conversation later, it’s worth it. Cody finds that the time she spent preparing and persuading Mickey pales in comparison to the time (and unpleasantness) of completing the review without Mickey’s full cooperation. If Cody has future dealings with Mickey, the time saved by the established rapport is incalculable. Conversely, if they start off at odds, it may be that no amount of time will get them back on track.

Ask “Why?” at Every Turn

Whenever you face resistance or disagreement, ask yourself about your own reasons why, and ask the other person about his. Understand his interests as fully as possible before trying to persuade him. Keep asking “Why?” to each answer until you can’t uncover any more interests or broaden them any further. Then address the ones you can. Show him you’re trying. Show him your interests, and solicit his ideas for addressing them. The more you practice, the better, faster and more persuasive you’ll grow. Though “Why?” is only one of many persuasion tools, you’ll find it works wonders.

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