So there I was, standing in a gloomy training room one hot evening in late June, ready to start a course on customer service and empathy. I watch as the class participants drag in one by one and slump into their chairs. Twenty-five flat, tired faces from a diverse group of countries sit looking blankly back at me. Faces which have just finished a long and gruelling shift as waiters and kitchen staff at VIPs, a chain of cafeterias. Twenty-five faces that don’t know each other and don’t know me, the “guiri” trainer. The only thing we have in common was wanting to be anywhere else but there.

Lord, I have to find a connection—and fast—or this is going to be a long and painful four hours. I decide to ditch the video I’d planned to open the session.

“Before we start, let me tell you a little about me,” I begin instead. “I was born in Wales, but when I finished my studies I came to Spain for a two week holiday. I met someone, fell in love and just stayed and stayed—and now suddenly twenty years have gone by!”

I see a small flicker of curiosity cross their faces, a couple of nods and smiles emerging. I quickly pull a photo of a dark, smiling 10-year-old girl out of my wallet.

“I’d like to tell you something about my daughter, Sara…Sara was born a full three weeks early. And she caught her dad and me by surprise because we just weren’t expecting it. I woke at 5am with stomach pains, thinking it was the carrot soup my husband had made me for dinner. As he lay there snoring, I half-heartedly packed my bag, just in case, expecting the pain to pass.”

The class shifts a little, some participants sitting up straighter in their seats.

“I was in denial—this just couldn’t be happening.” I continued. “We weren’t ready—we had a pram and a crib, but no nappies, no baby bottles. We hadn’t done the food shopping in a week. My parents had a flight booked for two weeks later and my parents-in-law would take 6 hours to drive here from Cádiz. And I still had things to do at work.”

“But the pain got worse and worse. By 8am I couldn’t stand it any longer, so I booted my husband out of bed to go to the hospital just in case. But straight away we hit the morning traffic jam and he had to drive at about 10 km per hour all the way there, with me groaning in pain and still complaining about the soup.  Just imagine.”

The class laugh now, people leaning forward in interest, some looking alarmed that my daughter could arrive in the world in the back seat of a car in moving traffic.

“When we got there, I thought the nurse was going to laugh at us as obsessive newbies and send me straight back home, but instead she said “You’re going nowhere—this baby’s knocking at the door now!”  I remember that as my gynecologist rushed in, red-faced and stressed from his own battle with morning traffic, my husband said, “Hurry up doctor, the bull’s in the ring!””

Laughter and nodding now, from the guys too.

“And just like that, our little Sara was born at 1pm, just in time for lunch!” I pause, watching their smiles.

“We were thrilled it had all happened so quickly and our tiny, beautiful daughter was finally here. The first day passed in a whirl of phone calls to surprised friends and family who thought we were joking. Day 2 we spent marvelling at Sara, counting fingers and toes and wrestling with breast-feeding.”

“Then came day 3. The doctor did his round just before lunch, announcing “You’re doing fine, and your daughter too, so you’re free to go now.””

“What? Already? You mean after lunch, at least, right?” I asked the nurse, in a panic. But the look on her face told me everything I needed to know. Just like that, we were being kicked out of the hospital to fend for ourselves.”

Most of the class shrug in amusement—three or four women clasp their hands to their mouths.

“Half an hour later we were standing at the top of the hospital steps nervously clutching the new blue Maxi-Cosi baby. Finally we had wanted to continue alone for a few days, so there was no help, no one waiting at home except an empty fridge. Careful what you wish for. We looked down at our new fragile little baby blinking sleepily in the autumn sunlight. “What the hell do we do now?” asked my husband.”

Looking around at all the expectant faces, I ask “So where do you think we went? Where is the first place we took our newborn baby, the most precious thing in the whole world?”

An agonizing silence. I wait, heart pounding, praying that someone will give me the reply I need. “Did you take her to VIPS?” asks one of the women from Santo Domingo, hesitantly. Silence. Everyone in the whole room is waiting for my reply.

“That’s right. We took our new-born daughter straight to VIPs in Arturo Soria. And why? Because I knew we would be looked after there. Because I had been there often and the staff were always so patient and kind to me. Because I felt safe there.”

I pause to let my message sink in. “That was ten years ago and I think that since then the levels of empathy and customer service here have dropped a little. And that’s why we are here all here in this room today. To work together to get it back.”

Now almost every single person in the audience nodded, eyes shining and smiling. A couple of men wiped their eyes. I smiled back in relief. In less than three minutes I had them in the palm of my hand, the atmosphere completely transformed through the power of storytelling. They had opened up to me and now I could get to work.

————–

Dear Reader, Every single word of this story is absolutely true. But in order to succeed, I had to dare to tell my story—and tell it well.

Dare to tell your story

Storytelling may sound complicated, but it’s actually something we all do naturally on a daily basis, sharing memories and anecdotes with friends, family and workmates. And throughout history, from Aesop or the Bible to Shakespeare or even “Who Moved my Cheese”, stories have been used to captivate the audience and transmit ideas in an easy, powerful and memorable manner.

In the business world I must have seen thousands of PowerPoint presentations, but remember almost none. What I will never forget, however, is our European Director telling us—in the year 2000!—how he had used his mobile to buy sweets at a vending machine in the Helsinki metro.

According to neuroscientists, storytelling creates an emotional and physical connection with the listener. Dozens of experiments using MRI technology have shown that the brains of those listening to and telling the story activate in the same pattern—a phenomenon known as neural coupling. And our brains activate more areas when we listen to a narrative than when we are given facts, figures and dry data. This is why storytelling can play a powerful role in motivating teams in difficult times, inspiring trust and driving change.

Tell it well!

There’s no need to be an Oscar winning actor or stand-up comedian to tell your story well. What you do need to do is use great body language and voice (playing with rhythm, tone and pauses for effect). A lot depends on the situation and what you want to achieve. In the example above I deliberately included a lot of personal detail and humour to break the ice with a large audience of complete strangers.

Deep inside, we all have a treasure chest of personal memories and anecdotes built up over our lifetimes—but we don’t always know how to put them to good use. That’s why we have designed our new Storytelling workshop to help you identify your most valuable stories and perfect your narrative so that they capture the hearts and minds of your audience.

So how does my story end?

Well, after the success of that first time I went on to share that story with another 20 groups—and it worked its magic every single time! So much so that I got excellent feedback and for years afterwards, every time I visited a VIPs the waiters would come up and say hello and ask after Sara! But the most important thing is, there was a marked improvement in teamwork and customer satisfaction for several years afterwards. So I guess you can say—thanks to storytelling, we all lived happily ever after!

According to The New York Times, an incredible $8.9 billion dollars were spent on online Black Friday bargains in the US this year. And judging by the avalanche of ads, Americans are not alone in succumbing to Black Friday fever! But ever wondered if Black Friday is good for anything apart from separating you from your hard-earned cash? Well, it’s probably no surprise to learn that Black Friday can teach you a thing or two about persuasion strategies. Indeed, a brief visit to any good shop or website will reveal some influencing “weapons” that you can also use to boost your influence with colleagues and customers. Now’s your chance to become a persuasion ninja!

Technique 1: Social proof

Whether we’re buying basics like breakfast cereal and shampoo or more sophisticated items like computers or TVs, these days we’re spoilt for choice. Supermarkets now have over 40,000 references—that’s almost seven times the number on sale 30 years ago! And if we were to weigh up the various advantages of every single purchase, then we’d be overwhelmed by paralysis by analysis. Luckily for retailers, we have a natural tendency that helps us avoid decision-fatigue and, we think, choose the right thing. This tendency is to obey Social Proof—in other words, what do others like us buy or do in a similar situation?

A famous experiment by renowned social psychologist Roberto Cialdini showed that 48% of hotel guests obeyed a request to re-use their towel when they were told that the majority of the guests who had stayed in that room had also done so. This was a huge 30% improvement on just asking for cooperation on environmental grounds alone.

So, what is going on here? Researchers explain that most human beings feel an innate need to fit in—we feel safer going along with the crowd, especially when we are in an unfamiliar situation or admire the person or social group in question. That’s why Influencers wield such enormous power over teenage spending habits. Or why Amazon points out that “people who bought X also bought Y”. And why salespeople tell you, “There’s not much demand for the game you’re asking for, but TikTok is really going mad over this other one. I bought it for my children and they really love it!”

How can you apply the Social Proof principle?

When talking to colleagues and clients try to find things in common and use their vocabulary to create a sense of similarity and connection! When selling an idea, make sure to mention how other (similar, admired) internal customers or stakeholders were in a similar situation and explain how your suggestion helped them.

Technique 2: Scarcity

Last Days, Final Offer, Today Only…All these sales slogans play on our ancestral fear of missing out on valuable resources and maybe losing them to a competitor. In short, the more difficult something is to obtain, the more we tend to value it. We all marvel at the long waiting lists to get into exclusive restaurants, buy limited edition handbags, or even the undignified fighting over toilet rolls—all triggered by the scarcity response. Salespeople using the scarcity “weapon” will often invoke a special offer that ends today, an exclusive offer limited to premium customers, or even one that requires special management approval, to push us to buy. “What?! 55 people bought this EasyJet flight today and now only four seats are left at this price? I’ll take all four right now!”

How can you apply the Scarcity Principle?

Don’t say, “Ring me any time on Monday afternoon”. Instead say, “I know this is important to you, so I will free up Monday afternoon so we can discuss it”. Don’t say, “We have a lot of X left over, I’ll have no problem getting it to you”. Instead say, “X was very popular last month, but we did reserve a selected number of items for special customers. I´ll see what I can do”.

Technique 3: Authority            

There’s a reason so many toothpaste ads feature a dentist in a white gown. The authority principle is an important weapon of influenceafter all, we are brought up to respect and note signs of authority from childhood onwards. This means that we have a tendency to make our decision-making easier by following expert advice and recommendations. After all, nine out of ten dentists recommend Colgate/Sensodyne/Licor del Polo! The same principle is at work in Black Friday and Christmas ads featuring models promoting beauty aids and athletes pushing sports equipment. Sometimes you don’t even have to be an expert in the same field—if Rafa Nadal is recommending Deckton for your kitchen, it must be good!

How can you apply the Authority Principle?

Make sure to flag up—without sounding arrogant—your relevant qualifications and experience to deliver what your client is asking for. Also look and sound the part. No need to don a white gown, but appropriate dress, voice and confident body language all contribute to your aura of authority and gravitas.

Become a Persuasion Ninja!

Now that you know some of the “weapons of influence”, you will immediately recognize them next time you talk to a salesperson and be able to make a more objective decision. So does that means it’s wrong to use these techniques? Like everything, that depends how and why you use them. We spend an enormous amount of time at work selling ideas and trying to get people on our side. Providing we respect the other person’s needs and interests, a little purposeful persuasion can help make our proposals more attractive, accelerate decisions and gain faster cooperation.

Finally, remember that Persuasion is a skill—a learnable one. And even people who consider themselves to be influence lightweights can become persuasion ninjas by using these proven techniques. If you want to learn more, check out Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion—or even better, book your place on one of our Communication courses!

 

 

 

 

 

So, you have to prepare a presentation today? Well you’re not alone! According to estimates, 36 million presentations are given daily all around the world. Yes, you read that right! Incredibly, that’s about the equivalent of the population of Canada! And yet how many of these presentations actually achieve their purpose? And in online presentations, how many people are actually still listening by the end slide? Now we’re probably talking more like the population of Liechtenstein! Because while it is easy to lose your audience face-to-face, this danger is even greater than ever as people follow online from the comfort and distractions of their own home office.

Let’s face it – you can’t please all the people all the time, but you can improve your chances by avoiding the following 8 common, yet lethal pitfalls.

 

The 8 Killer Mistakes of Online Presenting

 

1. Not getting to the point quickly

These days, time is short and attention is shorter—we’re not here to hear the Iliad, so keep any background information brief and avoid detours. Are you selling us an idea? Explaining a roll-out plan? Asking us to make a decision? Think like Twitter, get to your main idea within the first two minutes and tell us directly and clearly how it will make our lives better or easier. Structure your content clearly and use facts and examples to make your arguments more interesting and persuasive.

2. So many words…

In a face-to face setting, your body language and overall presence can partly compensate for dense, confusing or unattractive slides. But when online, the audience’s attention is channeled almost exclusively towards the slides right in front of them. It’s like sitting in a nice restaurant and only looking at your plate! Take care with fonts and sizes, colours and spelling errors. Spare your audience the ordeal of a “Docupoint” and its big blocks of text and endless bullet points— use key words and memorable short phrases instead. Remember, when it comes to communication, “Less is More”!

3. Not enough slides

Yes, you read right! Business presentations are often complex, but excess data whether text, numbers or graphs all on one slide, will cloud, not clarify your idea. Good news! Slides are free! Rather than cramming so much into one slide so that it looks like the London Tube Map circa 2050, you’d do much better to spread your content over several good clear slides. This way you will get your message across more effectively AND keep the audience engaged as they have more of a sense of progression, spending less time on each slide. Think Less Across More. Include section-dividers to guide your audience through your story and avoid them getting lost.

4. Not enough images

Images are without doubt the single most powerful way to give your presentation more impact and boost your chances of engaging the audience. What’s more, images are essential not just to make your message more attractive, but also to help others understand it more easily—65% of people learn visually. Look for good quality eye-catching, interesting photos to capture or underline your message; try Shutterstock for symbolic or conceptual images or Unsplash for more real and (free) images. Remember, be brave and go full screen—don’t scatter small photos around your slides. Your images should be the main dish, not the garnish!

5. Not flexing your voice

First and foremost, never use the PowerPoint as a teleprompter! Remember your audience can read much faster than you can read aloud  – 60% faster to be precise! The average (educated) adult reading speed is 280 words per minute compared to the rate of 173 spoken words per minute used by TED speakers. This is a difference that can seem excruciatingly slooooowwww in an online setting. Don’t read your content—instead summarize and talk about your message, enrich it with facts and examples. Your voice is absolutely vital to bring your message to life and engage the audience. Sit straight or stand to release your diaphragm and use intonation, pauses and vary your tempo to project energy and enthusiasm. Without body language, your voice is the star of the show, so bring out your inner DJ!

6. It’s a one-man or woman show

Conversely, one of the biggest mistakes you can make online is to talk continually at the audience instead of with them. While people are sitting in a meeting room social pressure will prevent them from much more than sneaking a furtive glance at their mobile. At home, however, there is no one to stop the siren call of the laptop and its treasure trove of mails, social media and breaking news. Stop the rush for the virtual door by building in interaction every 5 or 6 minutes to interact with the audience with questions, polling or asking for comments via webcam or chat. OK, we know, at the beginning it can feel like you’re talking to the Big Black Hole, but if you give it a little time then people will respond, we promise! Try Mentimeter, Kahoot and Quizziz to engage big audiences with games and polling. Get help managing the chat function as it can easily get out of control  and divide your audience’s attention. For longer presentations, think about taking speaking turns with a colleague so that the audience hears different voices. As always, variety is the spice of life!

7. You don’t have a Plan B

Let’s face it, Murphy’s Law is absolute since presenting on-line became the norm. Over the past 6 months giving courses and attending webinars, whether at Harvard, Stanford or even MIT, our team has witnessed cameras and microphones fail, problems sharing screen or sound, Microsoft Teams crashing, and spontaneous computer re-starts. And let’s not even start with the traffic noise, cats meowing and children screaming! So, what can we do?!” Always rehearse, arm yourself with patience and have a Plan B—send your PPT to a colleague beforehand just in case, have a PDF of your talk and have some questions ready to fill time while you or your IT hero fix it. If the worst does happen, keep calm and don’t worry! We’re all in this together and the audience has seen it all before! As one speaker at MIT said, “This is what life’s like now”.

8. You have had no training

Sorry, not sorry to plug our expertise here! So many people muddle through presenting the best they can, yet a little training can have a huge impact. By learning insider tips, practising new techniques and receiving expert feedback, you can really boost your presence, influence others more effectively and make the experience more enjoyable for all. After all, there is a world of difference between having basic cooking skills and being a Master Chef!

 

So next time you get ready to give a presentation online, remember our tips and keep your audience watching right till the credits roll! For more information on Presenting with Impact in English or Spanish, check out our Open Course offering or get in touch to learn more about in-company options.

 

 

negotiating, negociación

Life is one long negotiation.

You are a highly experienced negotiator. You negotiate at home with your spouse, at work with your colleagues and in shops with sales assistants – and you do it every day.

The goal of most negotiations is to obtain something you want. But how you achieve this depends on the strategy you choose to employ. Maybe you could hold out for your best offer…or you could pretend to hold out, but be ready to compromise in the end. You could attack the other side and try to prove that they’re wrong and you’re right…or maybe you simply try to be as reasonable and fair as possible.

Finding the right strategy can be crucial to the success of the negotiation. As the true story that follows shows, everyday situations can teach us a lot about simple negotiating techniques.

Everyday negotiating

Columbia University professor Adam Galinsky was waiting to board a flight when he heard the following announcement: “We are overbooked and are looking for volunteers who can fly tomorrow instead of today.” Initially the airline offered a $200 voucher to anyone willing to postpone their flight to the next day. Adam was not tempted by this initial offer as it was not particularly convenient for him to change his travel plans. As no volunteers appeared, however, the airline increased the offer to $350 (tempting to Adam, but not tempting enough), and finally $500. Since Adam did not have a lot of money, this was an offer that really got his attention – especially as he had only paid around $200 for his original ticket!

Room for manoeuvre

Most people in Adam’s shoes would simply have accepted the voucher and flown the next day. However, as a business professor, Adam realized he was in a negotiation with the airline. So he went to the counter and said: “If I take your offer, will you put me in first class tomorrow?” The airline replied, “Sure, we can do that”. Adam now had a $500 voucher plus a first class upgrade. Next, Adam asked for a hotel for the night. “Sure, we can manage that too”, said the airline. Now he had a voucher, a first class seat and a hotel.  However, Adam wasn’t finished yet. “I’m going to need  dinner tonight, will you pay for that too? And a friend was going to pick me up this evening but he’s not free tomorrow, so can you organize a car to take me home?” The airline agreed to everything.

The Nibble

This technique is called ‘the nibble’. You reach a general agreement and then ask the other side to throw in something small. In this case, these were things the airline did not care that much about. The airline probably had spare first class seats and an agreement in place with hotels and limousine services. Ten passengers accepted the airline’s offer of a $500 voucher that day, but Adam was the only one to receive the extras.

The moral of this story: Always be negotiating. Even if you think you‘ve got a deal, you can often get more.

Be sure to enroll in our Negotiating for Success course to discover and practice a range of proven techniques to apply to negotiating with internal and external customers.

communicating with impact

Most politicians talk too much. But not the 30th president of the United States. Calvin Coolidge, president from 1923 to 1929, was known as Silent Cal. Coolidge’s reputation for brevity was well-deserved. And yet he was renowned for  communicating with impact.

A woman once came up to him and said:

‘Mr. President, I bet my husband that I could get you to say more than two words.’

‘You lose,’ Coolidge replied.

Silent Cal may have taken matters too far in his search for conciseness, but he was right about one thing: Brevity is key to   communicating with impact. Less is more!

For messages with impact – Less is more!

  1. Shorter is more digestible: Good communication has a lot in common with healthy eating. Both require you to find the right measure. You want your audience to leave the table feeling satisfied, but not bloated. Overly long interventions lead directly to communicative indigestion, a terminal condition that begins with incomprehension and ends with boredom and death. How long is long enough? Always remember to make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening.
  2. Shorter is more decisive: Don’t be afraid to finish early. If you’re scheduled to speak for 20 minutes, but can say what you want to say in ten, finish in ten! Likewise, don’t write a four-page report if you can do it in one. It takes confidence and leadership qualities to do this. And if done appropriately, it will help you stand out from the crowd and look more incisive and decisive.
  3. Shorter is more memorable: Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address – the one about “government of the people, by the people, for the people” – is often cited as one of history’s great speeches. It’s also one of history’s shortest speeches. How short? It runs 272 words and took about three minutes to deliver. Lincoln’s address followed a two-hour peroration by Edward Everett, a well-known US orator of the time. No prizes for guessing which one is best remembered today!

Amen!

And just to prove it, here’s a story Ronald Reagan used to tell about a very short sermon he witnessed as a boy in Dixon, Illinois. It was the hottest day of the year and sweat was dripping from everyone in the church. When it came time for the sermon, the preacher took his position at the pulpit and faced the congregation. He pointed downward and said: ‘It’s even hotter down there in Hell’. And without another word, he descended from the pulpit. That was his sermon!

Digestible, decisive and memorable. Amen! (418 words – the shortest In Form article ever! Amen again!)

If you’d like to learn more about communicating with impact, then check out our course offerings From Better Business Writing to Presenting with Impact, we have a range of solutions to help you gain confidence and increase influence and cooperation in the workplace.

influence , humour, impact

When was the last time you actually listened to the flight safety announcement as your plane was waiting to take off? Why listen, right? You’ve heard it hundreds of times and it’s always the same. Not on Southwest Airline it isn’t! Check this out

Southwest Airlines is a US carrier that specializes in humour. Its flight attendants are encouraged to put a smile on passengers’ faces. And as you can see in the video, some of them have taken the message to heart and turned their passenger announcements into comedy routines. More importantly, notice the reaction of the passengers. They listen to every word. They laugh. And they even applaud!

Humour and business can go together

The message should be clear: Humour and business can go together…and can do so very successfully. Southwest Airlines is a good example. From the moment the airline was set up in 1967, humour was identified as a key component of the company’s culture. Generating smiles is an official corporate goal; it’s even part of the selection process. “Have you ever used humour to solve a workplace problem?” is a question asked in job interviews. And the strategy is clearly working. The airline now has nearly 46,000 employees and operates more than 3,400 flights per day. In fact, Southwest is no 1 US airline for domestic routes.

One of the things that has struck us over the years from observing participants on our courses is how lively, creative and humorous people are…until they start talking about business! At this point their smiles disappear and their language becomes heavy and dull. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Humour can be appropriate in the workplace. And it can significantly influence business success.

How humour in the workplace can help you – and your team!

Humour in the workplace can help you and your team in many ways. It can help you become:

1. More creative

First, humour enables innovation. People tend to withhold their ideas when they find themselves in cheerless and judgemental environments. In contrast, a fun and jokey office culture encourages the sharing of ideas (however wacky), ideas that may turn out to be extremely valuable.

2. More relaxed

Laughter stimulates circulation and aids muscle relaxation, both of which are important for reducing the physical symptoms of stress. In addition, it’s an excellent way of increasing personal satisfaction, as laughter makes it easier to deal with difficult situations and influence others. Managers with a good sense of humour are also seen as being more approachable. Laughter truly is the best medicine!

3. More memorable=more influence!

The average person sends and receives a total of more than 50 emails per day – and spends more than 80% of the working day engaged in some form of inter-personal communication. In this scenario it’s all too easy for your message to get lost in the communication overload. Humour can help prevent this; it can make your message stand out from the crowd and give you more influence.

4. Better paid

Really! A study by the Harvard Business Review reveals that executives with a sense of humour are paid more and promoted faster. The research shows that a good sense of humour correlates strongly with competency and adaptability, factors that distinguish the best leaders from the rest of the pack.

Still not convinced? OK, here’s one more. Humour can even help you:

5. Lose weight

Furthermore, laughing for 10-15 minutes a day burns around 50 calories. And that’s enough to lose a couple of kilos if you keep it up for a whole year!

Be careful!

Finally, a few words of caution are in order. Humour must always be appropriate to the situation and the people. Culture is a factor that you need to be aware of too. What works in one country may not go down so well in another. It goes without saying that there are limits and that you must always use humour tactfully.

Despite this caveat, we believe the rewards greatly outweigh the risks. Don’t assume you can’t use humour at work. You can. Book yourself a flight on Southwest Airlines and see for yourself!

For more practical tips and techniques to help boost your communication and personal influence, check out our star offering Effective Influencing

key to conflict resolution

Aristotle has all the answers. Want to learn about logic, politics, ethics, philosophy or biology? Read Aristotle – he knows. But what about more mundane matters? Can he help us with our everyday problems at home and at work? Of course, Aristotle has all the answers! Take, for example, conflict resolution.

Forget blame – think future!

Aristotle tells us that the secret to conflict resolution is shifting tense – grammatical tense, that is.  Instead of letting our arguments take place in the past tense, we should shift them to the future. As we will see, the future focuses on choice and opportunity, while the past tends to be about assigning blame.

In his book Thank you for arguing, Jay Heinrichs explains exactly what Aristotle meant. Imagine you’re at home listening to music and your partner asks you to turn the music down. Depending on how you’re feeling, you could respond in one of two ways:

  1. Blame (past tense focus): It’s not my fault! You’re the one who set the volume last.
  2. Choice (future focus): But is the music too loud or do you want me to put something else on?

Future focus helps conflict resolution

Notice how the past tense deals with issues of justice. It’s what Aristotle called ‘forensic’ rhetoric. Forensic arguments help us determine guilt and deliver punishment. Watch any TV courtroom drama and you’ll hear plenty of past tense dialogue. Although it works well for lawyers and detectives, it’s not a recipe for workplace or domestic harmony.

In contrast, the focus on the future avoids conflict. The future tense doesn’t get bogged down in petty arguments over who was right or wrong, it concentrates directly on finding a solution to the problem. Aristotle loved the future tense for just this reason: it argues about choices and helps us decide how to meet our mutual goals. Here’s another example:

My wife: Who drank all the beer?

Me: That’s not the question, is it? The question is: how are we going to keep it from happening again?

Forget arguing – think Aristotle!

All joking aside, we do expect our arguments to achieve something. And if possible, we want everyone to walk away at the end in agreement. But this is impossible when so many arguments degenerate into accusation and counter-accusation. The reality is that most arguments take place in the wrong tense.

Therefore, if you want more productive arguments, focus on the future! Avoid the negative accusatory tone of questions like ‘why did you send the report late?’ and adopt the more positive future-focused tone of ‘how can you deliver your reports in a more timely manner?’

In short: to unblock the argument, look forwards and not backwards. The past is for blame and the future is for conflict resolution…and Aristotle is forever!

Finally, if you’d like to learn more about dealing with difficult situations, why not take a look at our best-selling course Resolving Conflict