by Nick Vaidya,
Management Consultant and the Managing Editor of The
CEO Entrepreneur Magazine
The other day, I was talking with someone about a start up idea. He is
a very successful sales person and wanted my view on the concept. As we
moved on with the discussion I realized that there were some strategic
holes in his plan which I wanted to point out.
What I had not realized,
however, is that he had bought into the idea lock, stock, and barrel and
only wanted to hear me echo his feelings. The same day my daughter was
unsuccessfully trying to explain to her friend that unlike what she
thought, their common friend's behavior was not an affront. A few days
earlier, I was telling my wife to give up the idea of trying to go to
India in November when the chances of getting certain things done on
time was practically impossible, but it was a completely futile
You know what I am driving at – situations where you try hard to make
someone see reason but feel as if you are banging your head against a
wall. Intensely frustrating as they can be, they are very, very common.
I have no doubt that many of you could recall having been through a
similar situation or two in the recent past. I mentioned a few incidents
where I was the one banging my head against a wall, but I am sure people
who know me can point out situations where I have played the wall
Now these “not uncommon” interactions are not limited to friends and
family members, they are an integral part of how the human mind works.
Maybe it’s something to do with our natural instinct for
Or maybe our egos, fears, and greed gets the better
part of our intellect. I am not sure about that, but what I do know is
that we all get caught up in our own ideas so deeply that we do not see,
or want to see what is obvious to others. The numbers driven corporate
world has also had to bear the brunt of executives forging ahead bullheadedly with their convictions to the detriment of their
organizational goals, ignoring the logic of well prepared advisers.
Obviously, when decision makers and stakeholders have precarious
view-points they need to be made aware of the risks. But bluntly stating
your position will not only make it likely that you would fail to get
your point across, it might also land you into trouble. How one handles
such situations makes the difference between success and failure of
projects, goals, and relationships.
So, what are we to do?
There is more than one way to skin this cat, so
to speak. Nobody has a definite set of answers. But here is one strategy
that works really well for me. I call it the PAQ (Pause-Answer-Question)
Method. The central idea behind this approach is to lead the listeners
to see the consequences of their current approach or thinking. Let them
arrive at your conclusions on their own.
PAUSE: When you realize that
you have to say something which goes against the grain for the listener,
pause to understand how the listener sees the situation and plan your
communication beginning from his or her point of view and leading to
yours before you state your position. Develop this attitude of
restrained communication. It takes time but you will become more
effective with continued practice.
ANSWER: While you frame your
thoughts based upon the position of the listener make a conscious
assessment of his or her emotional stance. People don’t see reason when
they are emotionally attached to certain ideas. So emotion is where you
have to do the real work. Answer the question: What is the degree of
awareness and willingness of the listener? Plan the effect you wish to
seek from the interaction based on what is possible in the given
Clearly define what you seek from the interaction. Remember,
you can’t give them the solution until they see the real problem and are
ready to listen to you. You would be wasting your breath otherwise.
Remember, the real problem is that they have not thought through the
idea in question completely as they are bonded emotionally to their
QUESTION: Frame your desired effect as a set of questions
the answers to which should lead to the point you want to make. Lead
your listeners to discovering the consequences of their line of thinking
on their own. For example avoid saying directly why business A will not
succeed like Business B because A and B are fundamentally different,
which is unlike what the person believed so far. Instead you could ask
one or more of the following questions:
- How important is it to succeed?
- What do you think are the consequences of failure?
- Is the opportunity cost high enough to demand careful thinking
before moving ahead?
- What do you think can be done to minimize the risk of failure?
- Are there any holes in the analogy being banked upon?
- How is this business different from the one managed before?
- How can we prepare for the differences between the two business
As you talk about the issue remove the word ‘but’, ’should’ and
the like from your conversation. Substitute them with “and.”
Essentially, you are not going to tell them what they should be
doing or how they are wrong; you are only going to provide them with
various other options or perspectives, thus helping them really
think through the idea.
When you take this approach you will notice a remarkable
difference in your communication. Try, experiment, and internalize
this process, practice it in imaginary conversations until it
becomes your second nature. As you use this method regularly you
will have a lot more buy-in for your idea and the change you expect
will be practically guaranteed in most situations, unless of course
if you were wrong to begin with. This process of communication takes
longer but it gets the job done and also saves you from putting your
foot in your mouth.
About Nick Vaidya
Nick Vaidya did his graduate and doctoral work in business and
psychometrics at the Texas A&M University, where he has also served
as a faculty. His career straddles sales, marketing, and
advertising. Based in Austin, TX, Nick has consulted with companies
like Microsoft, Dell, eBay, Qwest, IBM, and also several mid sized
firms. His consulting practice focuses on business profitability
management and decision making. He works with both large and
midsized technology driven firms. Nick has served as a senior
advisor with the Chairman's Strategy Team at a Fortune 100 firm, and
was responsible for managing the profitability of almost half the
company. Currently, Nick is focused on exploring the applications of
80|20 principles to understand the root causes of
“Failure-To-Thrive” among small to mid size enterprises.
Nick is the Managing Partner of The 8020Strategy Group, the
President of the Global Alliance of CEO's, and the Managing Editor
of The CEO
Entrepreneur Magazine (http://www.8020ceo.com).
The magazine has been created and designed to promote collaboration
among CEOs, and to inform and inspire the community towards making
businesses more efficient. For keynote addresses, workshops, and
consulting engagements, Nick can be reached at nickvaidya @
8020ceo.com(remove the spaces) or 512 257 7868.