You may have experienced this. You’ve had a preliminary chat with the client and go to see them with a solution in mind. When you get there, you find they have made their mind up to adopt a solution that you think is completely unsuitable. You are thinking screwdriver; they are thinking hammer.
So what do you say when the client has picked the wrong solution?
This is about why you shouldn’t immediately challenge the client, what you should do instead, and how you should go about it.
Why shouldn’t you challenge your client? The first thing I am going to do is contradict myself and say sometimes you can. It’s what I call the lifesaving ‘no’. If the client respects your authority, you might be able to say, “That’s not a good idea”, and they will accept it.
But most of the time you shouldn’t. This is because you are up against the motivator of consistency. Once people have said they are going to do something, they tend to feel that they should do it and if they don’t, they feel they lose face. So, if you directly challenge them, you are immediately establishing a conflict between your opinion and their emotion.
A similar thing happens if you ask, “Why did you decide on that solution?” The ‘Why word, has many uses, but in this situation, it is an invitation to your client to justify their decision. And you might well end up by reinforcing exactly the opposite of what you want – again because of their need to be consistent.
What I am going to suggest is that you find a way to focus on interests, rather than positions. The hammer is a position – and so, incidentally, is your screwdriver.
An interest is about what the person is trying to achieve with the hammer or the screwdriver. And you express this as what we call a WOST – a way of, so that. So, expressing the hammer or the screwdriver as a WOST might be a ‘way of fixing two pieces of wood together, so that they don’t come apart’.
So, how do you do get to the point where you can express your client’s position as an interest? Well, this is yet another use for an open question about the past beginning with the word ‘how’.
You can start by saying something like, “I’m interested in your thoughts on this. Can I ask, how did you arrive at the decision to use a hammer? What was in your mind at the time?”
By getting your client to do a bit of time travel, and retrace their steps you should find there is a point where you can say, “Oh I see, so what you were looking for, it’s a way of fixing two bits of wood together so they won’t come apart. Is that right?”
If you can get your client to agree to that, you are still allowing them to be consistent with their original intention.
And most people want to be seen as reasonable people, so you can now say, “So you would be prepared to speak about other ways of doing that.”
And then off you go with a conversation that is based on a shared understanding of the interests of your client.
Now I can’t guarantee that this will work, but it is a serious alternative to challenging your client’s entrenched view and ending up by getting them more committed than they were to start with.
It’s much more difficult if your client has already been speaking to other people about their preferred solution. This is why it’s almost impossible to be successful in submitting a non-compliant response to a request for a proposal.
Incidentally, if you have ever been successful in doing that, I would like to hear about it, because I generally discourage people from trying it, and I’d like to be proved wrong.
- avoid challenging your client, otherwise they might dig themselves in firmer
- explore how they came to their view. Focus on the story, not getting them to justify it
and from the story, work out the interest, the way of so that
- Once they have agreed it, exploit their desire to be reasonable in discussing options
And hopefully they will come to see that your screwdriver is really the tool for the job.
Thanks for inspiration to: Robert Cialdini, Elizabeth Stokoe, Roger Fisher and William Ury (who wrote “Getting to Yes”) and my clients.