How Skillfully Manipulating Conversations and Communication Can Get You the Results You Need
The mind works in mysterious ways. We’ve seen how it can take the input from your five senses and twist it to fit into a vision that’s unique to you. We’ve also seen how it can (with scientifically measurable results) change the real world through ways that physicists are just now beginning to understand. It all hinges around perception–your mind’s ability to make sense of the world as you see it. So, if your perception is your reality, you can learn to control other people’s perceptions to make their reality what you need it to be.
We’re not talking about real mind control through the internet like researchers at The University of Washington seemed to demonstrate in 2013. Nor are we talking about Gaslighting like The Guardian warned us all against. We’re talking about skillfully spotting and understanding communication clues other people are giving you and formulating your response to subtly influence opinions of you and outcomes of conversations.
This is a useful tip for introverts to learn because we’re not naturally the center of attention in any gathering and sometimes (whether we like it or not) we need to be. If we’re gunning for a promotion at work, if we’re trying to showcase the value we bring to the company, if we’re trying to manage difficult employees or coworkers, we need to learn how to read people, then feed them the information they need to make the decisions we want them to.
Being a Full-Body Listener
Listening to the other people in the conversation is the first–and most important part–of this not-so-nasty scheme. But it’s not enough to simply hear the words coming out of their mouths. You really have to take in all the energy they’re putting out verbally, physically, and mentally. Use all of that to really understand what they’re saying (and what they want you to hear). Doing so will help you formulate the correct response.
People communicate on so many levels–some research even confirms electromagnetic direct brain-to-brain communication–that can be almost impossible to get the straight dope without digging far below the surface. Below are a few tips on how to become a full-body listener and really get to the heart of a conversation.
- Active Listening–This set of techniques can not only help you understand what people are really saying but will help them feel validated (and valued) as well. Researchers at Duke University have pinpointed three solid habits for good active listening.
- Leave Distractions Aside: Make sure the speakers know they have your full attention
- Be Mindful of Your Body Language: Sit close, incline your head, hold eye contact, make positive acknowledgements (nods, etc.)
- Ask for Clarification: Summary what the speaker has said then ask specific questions to confirm or deny your assumptions.
- Read Their Body Language–Look for clues in the way their holding themselves: arms close to the body or open and expressive, eyes focused on you or wandering around the room, body erect and uncomfortable or relaxed. All of these subtle hints will let you know if they’re being genuine, snarky, fearful, engaged, or bored to tears.
- Letting Silence Speak for You–Derek Borthwick, author of How to Talk to Anybody, has an interesting technique to illicit more information when a speaker is reluctant to give it up: silence. Uncomfortable silence. It will make people’s brains go into high gear and they’ll speak to fill it–often giving away more info and opinion than they had intended to.
Communicate Your Intentions
You can’t assume that the other people in the conversation are understanding everything you’re saying as deeply as you’d like them to. The old trick about speaking as if to a child or to someone that knows absolutely nothing about the subject is a good technique to use but even then you may lose some of your followers. Sometimes, you can’t even assume they’re listening to you at all.
That’s why you have to hammer home your point as quickly and succinctly as possible:
- Minimize small talk–it’s a time waster than can lead you astray.
- Get the recipient engaged with the conversation (usually by asking them bout themselves or their role in what you’re discussing).
- In certain circumstances–employee/employer relations–it’s appropriate to ask them to reiterate your point so you know that they got it.
Here are a few more tips you can use to make sure your presentation goes as smoothly as possible.
- Avoid Confusion–Prepare your conversations in your head before, if you can. Take a moment during the conversation to ensure the words come out right. Pay attention to your speech.
- Get Out of Your Own Head–Don’t let your own doubts derail the conversation. Getting wound up about what the listener may be thinking about you or what you’re saying often spirals out of control.
- Don’t Try Too Hard—Stephanie Vozza, writing for Fast Company, says that overcompensating is the easiest way to lose your credibility. Instead, be your authentic self and bring the same game every time.
Be Bold and Don’t Get Lost in the Weeds
There comes a moment in every conversation where your point has to get across or the whole endeavor is a waste of time. This is the point of no return during which you have to be direct, decisive, and bold–often to a point just shy of rudeness.
Introverts will often couch their main point in a lot of extraneous talk because we’re very aware of the listener’s emotional response to what we have to say. However, doing that can water down your main idea, lead to confusion, and may function as a sign of deference to the listener (which can be terrible for employer/employee relations in the long run).
Instead, clearly make a bold statement. It’s uncomfortable but when pulled off correctly it showcases your idea, your courage, and your value to the team.
“I don’t believe in going around the block to go next door; I believe in direct communication. I believe in saying, ‘Here’s what I heard. Is that what you were told? If so, I’d like to present my side of the story.’”Roberta Matuson, author of Can We Talk? Seven Principles for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work.
This is all great advice if you’re driving the conversation or are politely given the chance to express your message. However, we all know there are times when you feel as if you can’t get a word in edgewise.
Hijack the Conversation (The Right Way)
“’He who speaks, controls’. . . I had always believed that statement to be true. We see it all the time — at networking events, bars, and especially now in political debates. Whoever is louder, more verbose, and more theatrical dominates. Points are given to those who put on a show.”Dave Schools
Have you ever tried to have a two-way conversation with a boss who talks too much? Or maybe you’ve spoken with a coworker or employee who takes every opportunity to go off on tangents about how previous managers have done things in the past. Sometimes problematic conversations devolve into tit-for-tat finger pointing and blame assignment or contests in which the participants try to one-up each other with sob stories.
None of that is helpful or to the point but how to you break in?
With a technique called cognitive incision. The basic premise is that if you tactfully insert a strategic question, the speaker has to shift his thought pattern and what he’s talking about to answer that question. This helps you steer the talk away from harmful or wasteful topics back to where it should be. Often the question needs to be either shocking, comedic, or witty because it has to be big enough that it takes a moment for the respondent to think about their answer. This beat is important–it’s the “incision” from which the tactic got it’s name.
To use cognitive incision, you must listen closely to the speaker, track their statements, and predict where they are going. The sharpness of your question is absolutely crucial. It cannot be simplistic, easily dismissed, or nominal. It should be relevant and well-timed. Maybe humorous. It should go off like a curiosity detonator in people’s minds.Dave Schools
Dave Schools, Founder of Entrepreneur’s Handbook and Crypto Handbook, uses the clip from Downton Abbey below to illustrate how the question of “what is a week-end?” completely shifts the tone, the topic, and the destination of a conversation.
But sometimes it’s not enough just to shift the conversation. Sometimes you need to control it. In those cases, you have to stop the intended listener from ranting, reminiscing, or waxing poetic and get to the point you need to discuss. Derek Borthwick, author of How to Talk to Anybody, has identified an easy way to do just that with one simple word.
Pick a strategic point in the other person’s soliloquy and insert “and.” Follow that “and” immediately with what you intended to say.
The word “and” is important here because it allows the other person to assume you agree with the point they just made without you actually having to agree with it. It also breaks their tirade and allows you the opportunity to insert your thoughts into the conversation.
Practice Makes Perfect–find Your Guinea Pigs
Instead of jumping in feet-first and hijacking the Monday staff meeting, practice on a more receptive audience first. Look for conversations with friends and family in which you can use these techniques to subtly shift conversations, insert your thoughts, and really control the outcome of the interaction. Once you’ve built up some skill and confidence, attacking those big interaction (with your boss, a potential employer, a problem coworker) will seem a lot easier.