Can we change anyone’s mind? Regardless of your occupation, persuading someone to your line of thinking can be incredibly helpful. We dig into the science of persuasion and look at techniques that have worked (and failed) for us in the past.
In this episode:
- Helping customers change their mind after they said no
- Getting an executive to approve your idea by convincing them it was theirs
- Letting someone fail their way into changing their mind
- The role of resilience in persuasion
- The assumptive close
- Giving up control to a stubborn person
- Using praise with a narcissist
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
How To Change Anyone’s Mind
Ian, you son of a bitch.
How’s it going?
I’m good. How are you?
I am stubbornly focused on getting this agenda knocked out the way I would like to do it. I hope you’re not in the mood to disagree with me.
Ian, when was the last time I disagreed with you?
You’re quite agreeable, quite a lot. We have trouble coming up with any examples between the two of us on this when we had to change each other’s minds because we agree on everything.
I got one. I didn’t tell you about it.You're frustrating somebody no matter what you're doing. You have to be mindful of it. Click To Tweet
Are you bringing it up?
Yeah, I’ll bring it up.
Are you going to bringing up the time where you used your Jedi mind tricks on me?
Exactly. For those of you that are reading, I have on a floral shirt. Ian asked me before we were about to hit record, he goes, “Do you want to comb your hair? Do you want to change your shirt?”
We still got time. I can always hit pause.
I can go back to the wife–beater I’m wearing underneath this thing.
The title of this episode is How To Change Anyone’s Mind. For most of this episode, we’re probably going to focus on managing up because it’s a little bit easier to change someone’s mind who reports to you. You have power. You have authority. At some point, you can get frustrated and say, “Do it the way I said it.” I don’t think either of us would recommend getting to that point but the truth is, when you’re the boss, at some point, your way does stick.
We’re talking a little bit more about folks where we don’t have any direct authority, bosses, executives, maybe customers, maybe other stubborn people in our lives. What got Frank and I talking about this is there’s a myth about Steve Jobs when you read enough about Jobs. We both read Isaacson’s book. We’ve read plenty on him. The myth about Jobs is that he has these flashbulb moments all the time and comes up with these amazing innovations. He convinces his team that this is exactly what we have to do. His sheer force of will is persuasive enough to get his whole team to buy–in and go invent things.
The truth underneath that is that there are times where he is ahead of everyone else. Most of the innovations at Apple started with his engineers. They started with his engineers convincing him to go completely different routes than the company was going at the time. Case in point, for years, Jobs vowed never to make a phone. There’s an infamous list that he built. He built a top twenty list of reasons why we’ll never build a phone. His mindset with the phone was that’s for the pocket–protector crowd. That’s for nerds. Smartphones are not impressive. He initially banned apps from outside developers when he did create the iPhone. He wanted a closed system, “We’ll build every app.” That was a miraculously stupid idea. The App Store has become one of the main reasons why people won’t get rid of an iPhone.
He hated Bill Gates so much that he pledged that Microsoft software would never run on a Mac. That was not a great idea. That was customer–friendly. The TV business, he said he would never get into. Hundreds of ideas that he vowed we would never do at Apple that people convinced him to do things differently. A big part of this episode is looking into those stories at Apple and how he was convinced to do things differently. If you can convince Steve Jobs to do something different, one of the most legendarily stubborn CEOs of all time, you should probably be able to convince any manager of anything.
As we were preparing for this and thinking through it, there’s a couple of top-level takeaways that I immediately think of. Some of this feels bureaucratic. I run a smaller business so I feel like a lot of the bureaucracy that we’re talking about with convincing stubborn people and examples that we’re going to talk about is in a lot of ways a part of a bloated, big, red–tape bureaucratic place. Apple, a lot of egos. We’re talking about the second coming of Jobs. It was already a publicly-traded company. This is way past the Wozniak garage days. This is a bigger organization that we’re going to be talking about. A lot of our examples are from that.
Let’s say you’re reading this and you’re in middle management with a publicly-traded company or you’re on the other side of it and you’re me. You run a small business. You work at a small business with someone like me in the corner office. The thing to think about is these are human tendencies. Everyone has struggled with them and deals with them. They’re real in every facet of life. I struggled in preparing for this episode and coming up with a lot of relevant examples because I don’t deal with a lot of people who are stubborn or hard–nosed or these things. It dawned on me that maybe I’m that person to other people.
In thinking through this, you have to realize what side of the fence are you on. You’re frustrating somebody no matter what you’re doing. You have to be mindful of it. If you use the lessons that we’re going to talk about with Jobs and our examples and you think of it as, “People feel this way about me.” It could potentially open you up to be a better leader, a better manager, run a more diverse business. Innovate quicker than some of your competitors because you’re stubborn and stuck in the mud with certain things. There’s a lot of this. It’s going to be a fun topic to debate because of all of those factors. It could be swinging with a manager or you’re the one who needs to take the punches.
Frank, you have higher emotional intelligence than the average bear. Frank and I are doing something with his management team where we get together weekly and talk about different topics. When you’re the boss, it’s easy for you to say, “I’m a small company. We don’t have that.” Let me go post the 29 people that report to you and see if they feel like they don’t have any of that to worry about. The truth is, every week, we come up with 2 or 3 things where people start grinning and I say, “Do we want to start sharing? The elephants in the room, he’ll take it.” You’re great at taking it. You know this. In every weekly call, they’re like, “Frank, we got to tell you something.” You understand that. We’re going to use Jobs because he’s famous and there are some cool examples.
This stuff all applies to small startups. I was in Atlanta, with a group of engineers who were all intelligent. They’re all adding in their ways but we all have different opinions of what this tech product is going to look like and it’s an invention. People have strong views on components that we use or the way the system should operate, generally, the specs. We have a startup owner who it’s his baby. He’s been my friend for over 25 years. There are times where he stubbornly hangs to something that I have to convince him differently. There are things that I’m stuck on that he is having trouble getting me to look at differently. When I was putting this agenda together, I thought about big companies. My experience with all of this was with a tech startup with less than ten employees.
No matter where you are, there should be something you can glean from this, relate to, hopefully, take back, and implement. That’s the whole reason we do this.
One of the first topics, it’s good to start with the study. Yale had a study where they asked students to rate their particular knowledge of how everyday objects worked, televisions, radios, things of that nature. This group of students rated themselves incredibly high in all of these different items. What the researchers went on was they asked these kids to go right out step-by-step explanations as if they were telling someone who had never seen these products before how they worked. They struggled with that exercise. They struggled to be able to articulate what was going on. After the exercise, they went back and asked them to re-rate their knowledge. The scores came way low. All of that was by a simple exercise of asking them to explain how something works.
One of the first things we’re going to talk about is if you’re struggling to get a high intelligence, high ego–personality to explain how something works, it’s much easier to then convince them how to change something because they can’t always articulate. Even though they might have a strong opinion, they can’t always articulate how it works in the first place. In all of these, we’re going to use a Jobs example. The example we’re going to use is the iPhone when they were first in development mode, prototyping, all of the Apple engineers were frustrated with the glass they were getting from Corning because it scratched easily. Anyone who had an initial iPhone would know this.
Jobs had a famous conversation he had with the CEO of Corning, his name was Weeks. He told them, “My team is disappointed in your glass. You don’t know what you’re doing.” Weeks calmly said, “If your folks have some knowledge and competency that we don’t have, we’d love to meet with them and hear what their views are on how to make it.” Jobs bluster back, “I’m technical enough to explain it to your people.” Weeks flew to Cupertino with some of those folks to hear it out. In that meeting, what Weeks did was he gave him a marker and he said, “Here’s a whiteboard. Explain to me the process of building scratch–proof glass. I would love it.”
It quickly became clear that Jobs had no idea how glass worked or how it was manufactured. Weeks asked, “Can I show you the science behind this? Do you mind if I show some of my competency here?” He started getting to molecules and sodium–potassium, a bunch of stuff that Frank and I know nothing about. After that meeting, Jobs realized, “You are the experts.” He gave them full control to go design the glass their way. The rest is history. Corning came up with scratch–proof glass. When the iPhone launched, Jobs sent him a note. Weeks still has that frame of, “We couldn’t have done this without you.”
We’ve all been in that situation where you’re banging your head up against the wall with someone who is stubborn or we’ve been the ones who’ve been stubborn. Ian, why don’t you tell the example about what you dealt with when you moved to NVR. Talk that through and I’ll close the section with a funny story.
My president was the founder of the company. He’d been with the company for over 30–some years. He’s a great guy but disconnected from what everything looked like. He would regularly rail about the salesforce, “What the hell are they doing? Why are these applications taking so long? Why can’t we get people locked earlier?” He would say things that would date him. He would say things where you would hear and be like, “We haven’t done that.” You’d bring up using these APR calculators, which no one had APR calculators in any branch. No one even knew what they were when I would ask about them because our software had been calculating it for a decade.
He’d be like, “They use their APR calculator.” I didn’t know any better so I would have to go ask my team because I was new to the industry. I’d be like, “Do we have APR calculators?” People would laugh and be like, “What is that?” I’d be like, “Someone needs to tell him that.” Instead of saying you’re disconnected in front of a group of people, which you know who I’m talking about. He would have lost his mind. He would be bombastic. I said, “I’m going to go sit in on a loan application next week. It’s going to be local. It’s close to here. Do you want to come to it with me?” He said no the first time.
I came back and I’m like, “I learned so much stuff.” I purposely said something I knew he didn’t know. I said, “You should come to sit in one of these. It was fun for me to learn what these guys are going through.” I convinced him to come to a sales appointment that he had not been in one in two decades. It opened his eyes to a lot of bullshit we were putting people through. The appointments took two hours. A lot of it was our making. We had all these extra checklists. We had all these extra things that we were making people do. It opened his eyes. He said, “Ian, you got to make that shorter for customers.”
The best part about this is he’s a guy with no patience. He would get up and leave a restaurant after 25 minutes if the check hadn’t come and be like, “Pay the check. I’ll get you later.” He could not stay somewhere. He had timeframes. He thought this meeting would be in and out in 30 minutes. It took two hours and he couldn’t get out of it because how do you tell the customer, “I’m leaving.” He’s like, “That’s awful. You’ve got to cut that.” Before that, he had no interest in doing anything to change. Cutting it wasn’t, “Salesperson, go faster.” It was, “We got to take this form out that’s no longer required by the government. We got to take this checklist down.”
Audit the process and chop it.
We did a lot of that where we cut that appointment in half. He only did it after I convinced him to go sit in on something he hadn’t watched in forever.
I had a famous meeting with this guy and I was a new manager. We were struggling with something. Ian and I were becoming friends. This guy was legendary. I don’t have a lot of exposure to this guy. He blew up in a sales group that we were in a couple of years earlier. This guy was intimidating as hell. I was going to be the sacrificial lamb. I was going to lead it with a couple of examples about someone who he’d picked as one of his sacred cows from years earlier. I had to use a couple of examples. We’re going to use a senior leader who is way more respected than me to drive the point home.
As we started to get into this, he knew he could challenge my authority. I was a young manager in this room. All I remember is he kept screaming the word attaché, “Are saying that you’re going to pick that out of his attaché?” We were all looking at each other and we’re like, “What the hell is an attaché?” It’s a precursor of a briefcase. It was hysterical. We’ve documented this incredibly well. There are two sides to this. In a lot of instances with business or partnerships or with things that are larger scale, ego comes along with success, smarts, and privilege. If you make high 6 or 7 figures a year, you earn it by being good but also there’s also ego that comes with it.
There are two different things to unpack here that are interesting. I’m working on a real estate deal in Florida. Long story, I got brought into this deal. The person who’s in the deal with me is significantly senior to me in age. He’s someone I’ve always looked up to. When I talk to him, I microwave details. He’s like, “No. Slow down.” I feel like there’s like a rub back and forth. In a humble way, I learned that I’m better at this than he is. In my head, there’s no possible way that this guy isn’t superior to me. This guy’s made all of his money through restaurants and real estate deals but he’s not a technician with real estate the way that I am. Because of that, we would rub heads.Ego comes along with success. Click To Tweet
I was coming from a place of deferential. I did not want to step on this guy’s toes or overtalk him because I have such a level of respect for him. I assumed he knew it. This happened and I was like, “I’m sorry. Let me go backward and I’ll come forward and I’ll explain it.” He goes, “Perfect. Great.” I’m like, “I’m sorry. I assumed I was wasting your time by going through the details.” He’s like, “No. I need the details.” That takes me to a deal that Ian and I did. Ian and I are getting into a deal. He’s stuck on something fundamental for me.
I have left our shared world of Ryan Homes, NVR. I’ve been doing this for years and to me, it’s something that is absolutely part of my every day was tripping him up. I have a high level of respect for Ian. I couldn’t understand there’s any way in hell that Ian didn’t get this. It didn’t make any sense to me. I had forgotten that I didn’t know this at one point in my life. I said, “Let’s unpack this deal. Let’s go back through it.” Ian did all the math and the math was upside down. There was a $2 million deficit. I’m like, “No. Okay. I got it.” I started to ask questions in the way that Ian was calculating a wholesale fee. We were double–doing the math. Because of it, it caused there to be an issue. Ian and I both have egos but it was less about ego and more about miscommunicating. What we did is I made him explain it to me. I took notes. As the subject matter expert, I go, “That’s our problem.”
You had me sit in writing. You said, “I want you to calculate the numbers that you think are your investors, the debt, the equity, and what we’re paying for everything. I want you to calculate everything.” I was missing something. It was on the fee. You looked at it and you called me right away, you’re like, “I know why you’re frustrated. I haven’t explained this. Let me explain it a little bit better. I hadn’t thought through it.” That helped me because I thought I understood the deal and I didn’t like it. When I went to explain it to you, I didn’t understand the deal.
It was one of those things where neither of us has Jobs-size ego but we both know when we read something, we’re pretty convinced, “I know what I’m doing.” It’s hard for us to admit that we don’t know something. It’s not where we find ourselves in a default. By mistake, by talking this through you and by chance, it called out the same thing with got Jobs with the glass. It made it, “I get it,” and then we talked through it.
It’s worth staying on this because, at that point in the deal, I was going to take it or leave this deal. I had a lot of other things going on. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. I certainly wasn’t convinced of calling all my friends and getting into something that I wasn’t completely bought into yet. The way you handled me was right on that. If you would have called and said, “Dumbass, you’ve never seen this fee on a deal structure?” If you’d have taken that approach to me, I would have been like, “Go find someone else to do this.” I wouldn’t have been in the mood. You handled my ego well. You were like, “This is on me. You would have never seen something like this in the real estate business. It doesn’t happen in a commercial.”
You told me a story about how the first time someone proposed it to you and you asked if it was legal. You’re like, “The first time someone ever proposed this, I had to call a lawyer and say, ‘Is this legal?’ What’s going on here?” Remember, you told me that story. It was like me. The first time I saw it, I didn’t get it either. Once you explain that to me, it was like, “I’m not the only asshole that doesn’t know this terminology in the world.” At that point, I could have easily said, “I don’t understand at all. I’m out. It’s not for me.”
The takeaway from this segment is, if you’re dealing with someone with a good Jobs-size ego, he’s going to think he knows more about glass manufacturing than a glass manufacturer. As normal human beings, we all have egos. With a normal human being, it’s probably a misunderstanding. You’re not going to have to fight to control the frame. The thing to do is the same thing he did with the glass, “We’re at a disconnect. Can you please explain to me the way that you understand this?”
If you’re the expert on the subject and the person’s explaining it back to you, you’re going to see, “Those things don’t connect. Now I can solve the problem.” You’re getting involvement. You’re getting that person to tell you. You’re honoring the fact that you value their opinion and you’re getting them to talk. By having all those things happen, then you say, “I understand the problem. Can we talk this through?” That is a repeatable method of problem–solving. It’s a common problem. You bump heads with people. I can tell you tons of examples of it happening.
The last piece I’ll say in this because we did talk about this from a sales perspective, if you’re running into someone who has definitively said, “No. I do not want to purchase. I don’t want to do this.” You’re not only dealing with the rational side of what they’ve done, the calculus and doesn’t work for them and they don’t want to buy, but you’re also dealing with their ego of having to go back on their word, which is powerful for people. The only way that I like to get over that is I like to call with new information. I’ll call by being self–deprecating myself.
I’ll call him and say, “I screwed up. You didn’t have all the information to make a good decision here. I should have provided you this bit of information and I didn’t. I want to share this with you because if I were you, not knowing that information, I might have said no. This is the information you’d like to have.” Now, they don’t have to go back on their word. They’re not changing their mind because no one likes to be seen as wishy–washy. If they were on the fence and you can give them new information whether it’s someone in your company or a customer, you’ve saved their ego. They’re not going back on a decision. They’re saying, “That does change things.” Now, I’m making a new decision. I’m not going back on an old one.
We’ve talked about this before. There’s a bunch of ways to articulate this but the way that I’m going to articulate it is like this. You need to know where you want to get. The glass manufacturer with Jobs probably understood, “I can solve this problem. It’s going to make the product incredible. I’ve got a stubborn world–class asshole on my hands that I have to deal with.” He handled himself in a way that didn’t escalate the situation. When I was talking to Ian, I wanted this deal to get done. I wanted to do the deal with Ian. I could have been a dick but that wouldn’t get me anywhere. What I needed to do at that moment was be egoless, talk, and listen.
I manage a sales team. I manage people who manage a sales team. We do this all the time. Ian’s point of presenting new information and apologizing and not making people retread on sacred ground is important. That’s how you frame things in a way, “I want to get this deal done. Let me think of how I do it.” I’ll end it with this. A two-year-old doesn’t have an ego but they’re certain–minded. I’m struggling with my kid to do a bunch of stuff. We have a lady that helps us in the afternoons. She walked over to Max and goes, “Max, is this water hot or cold?” The goal was to get him to wash his hands. She asked an incredible question about the temperature of the water. He got his little ladder and he stuck his hands in and he’s washing his hands. It’s awesome stuff. It’s a little bit of a shift.
That’s a next–level ninja trick with kids.
It was awesome. Instead of saying, “Do you think you can go take a shower?” Now it’s like, “Do you think we can make your hair into a mohawk?” I showed him pictures on my phone. It was awesome.
It got me thinking about all stuff, like, “Is this carrot hot or cold? Would you try it?” The second thing that we want to talk about is I’ll start with another Jobs story. In the late ‘90s, an engineer at Apple is frustrated having to lug his Mac back and forth from different rooms because he wanted to listen to music in different rooms. He only had one computer. He came up with the idea of a streaming box, an additional box.
Before you get too far into this, I have to say something. These are Apple employees. I had no idea how to play music through my computer in the ‘90s. I had no clue.
This guy was way next level on us. He came up with an idea of how to stream that audio and have one central brain. To all of us, it’s the Cloud now. This is simple. In typical Jobs’ fashion, he came back to him and said, “Who the fuck would ever want to stream audio and video?” The engineer knew enough to leave it alone. That’s the way Jobs would react to things. He thought it was dumb. He came back to another time and he had some new ideas. He asked Jobs, “What if you could see everything on your computer, on a TV in the basement through a little small device? How would you go about thinking about the technology of that idea?” Jobs has an engineering mind and a design mind. It got him thinking and nothing came of it.
The next time this engineer saw Jobs, he had a whole bunch of thoughts. He had been planning it a couple of times. It got to the place where Jobs started bringing it up so much that he was taking ownership. The engineer was fine with Jobs all of a sudden saying, “I have this idea.” What ended up coming out of it was the Apple TV. Jobs gave him a whole bunch of resources, “Go build a team. Build me the Apple TV.” What this engineer did was he gave up control by asking, “What if you could see? What if you could do it?”
There’s a study that was done on Hollywood screenwriters and those whose pitches won versus those whose pitches lost. What they found were those screenwriters who came pitched a fully formed concept out of the gate. Everything is rigid, tight, this is exactly the way it’s going to look, they struggled to gain traction with high ego executives in the Hollywood world. The successful ones treated the pitch more like an opening argument, an opening stance. It was incomplete. It wasn’t full. They started with, “Here are some of the ideas. I would love to hear some of your thoughts on how we might finish this off.” Those were the ideas that won because they brought the ego in and they gave control to the decision–maker rather than saying, “Here’s a wrapped up package. Take it or leave it.”
I had something else written down but I want to talk about it this way. I’ve used this example on the podcast before but it’s the best example for me, in my life. I had an interview with someone with a big ego and a stubborn person. In the interview, I allowed the person to finish off the questions. He would ask me a question and I would ask, “This, this and this.” My answer is, “What do you think?” That person would talk and talk. What ended up happening is I got a huge promotion. I was told through ways I shouldn’t have known that I was the best interviewee he’s ever had in that role. What I did is I manipulated the situation because it was someone who was stuck in the ways that they thought. I put the conversation back into their mouth and allowed them to take it out. It works. This does work.
I own a business. My money’s on the line. What happens in a lot of instances, if people want me to do things, they drag me out to a meeting, “Come walk this with us.” I don’t initially see it. “Come walk this with us. Come look at it. What do you think of it? We should get in the car. There’s a new market.” I’m a little skeptical. “I’ll take you down there. I know a restaurant.” Those are the things that people in my office do to me. I don’t want to lose money. I don’t necessarily want to try that. It’s out of the realm. They’ll show me, “I’m going to demo this new piece of software for you. I would love you to look at it.” Those are the ways that people can nudge me along to do something else. These are repetitive patterns, our wives probably do it to us. We talked about doing it to our kids. This stuff works but that’s how you can get someone who’s in their way to move forward.
There’s an approach that I use often when I wanted to get something done that I knew was going to create a little bit of friction. This is in dealing with people that are stuck in their ways of doing things, CEOs, presidents and high–level executives. I would have my thoughts that I have something I want to change and I would casually in a conversation say, “I’m forming some thoughts around an approach I want to take on something that’s not working in our business but I’m having trouble finishing it. Can I get an hour of your time to present what I’ve come up with so far? Maybe your experience can help me fill in the dots.” First off, I’ve never had anyone at any level say no to that. It plays to an ego unbelievably nor have I ever said no to anyone who’s tried that approach with me. I never said no. “Maybe my expertise could help you. I’m sure it could.”
“We’re having this meeting and this is going to happen. We’d love your insight for the end of it. Do you think you can come?” “Let me move my schedule.”
If you’re reading this and you want to try this, the “I’m stuck” part is important. You’re saying, “I can’t do this without you. I’m stuck.” What it assumes is your boss is already on board with whatever changes you’re about to do. He just needs to sign it. That’s what I was trying to get. What I would do is I wouldn’t even come with an incomplete process. I would come with a whole proposal of what we should do to change something in the business. I would frame it in a way that they were going to stamp it and I needed them to finish it off when I probably didn’t.
They would tweak some things and change some things but, 9 times out of 10, I would get everything I wanted. I could say, “This was Bill’s idea. He came up with this.” I would give him all the credit but I was getting what I wanted and he felt in control. I gave up that control of, “This is Ian’s idea. This is going to be yours by the time we’re done talking because I’m not good enough to finish it. I need you to put that final concept and thoughts into it.” It works when you give up control to a stubborn person.
Stated in another way, it’s an assumptive close. You’re presenting the whole thing, “What do you think? Change this and this.” You’ve taken something that was a concept, you’ve laid it out, and you’ve sold it. You didn’t ask, “How do I connect B to C, C to D, E to F?” You’re like, “How does X, Y, and Z come together?” By doing that, you’re taking the stance of, “We’ve all agreed that the first 23 alphabets of the letter are good.” It’s a strong close.
This has been floating around on YouTube forever. You can go find it if you want. Shortly after coming back to Apple in ‘97, Jobs was a keynote speaker at a tech conference. He’s up on a stage getting interviewed. They come to the Q&A portion and some dude gets the microphone and he leads with, “Mr. Jobs, you’re a bright and influential man.” Jobs doesn’t let him get any farther. He quips and he says, “Here it comes.” Whenever someone says something like that, you’re ready for the but. This guy goes on and lights him on fire. He’s like, “It’s sad and clear that on many accounts, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”If you're dealing with a narcissist, lead in with a little bit of praise. Click To Tweet
When I watched this video the first time, you’re ready for Jobs to light him up because Jobs had that temper and he was bombastic and could yell and scream. The audience expected it. Jobs didn’t fight him. He said, “I readily admit that I’m many things in life. I don’t have the faintest idea what I’m talking about. I apologize. We’ll find the mistakes and we’ll fix them.” The crowd went nuts because it was such a humble approach. I’ve always seen that video and looked at it. I wonder how that would have gone if he hadn’t have started with the compliment, “You’re a bright and influential man.” He concedes to his ego first but then goes into what he wants to say. I’ve always thought that Jobs would’ve handled it the same way if he wouldn’t have led with a softer approach.
It’s the perfect volley. It’s a smart way to attack someone richer and probably more talented and successful than you since you’re in the audience and that person is on the stage. It smacks humility and awareness. It sets it off the right way. What I immediately think of with this is where have I handled situations like the similarly and well and where have I not handled it well? What was it? Is it a frame of mind? Is it how someone brought it to me? Where was it? Maybe it was the perfect storm of things that worked great. Maybe it was part of the delivery. Those are the things you start to look at. It’s like, “This one worked.” This was the right volley over the net. He did great and it worked out to be tremendous from both accounts.
Psychologists have studied narcissists. We all have different identities. I might be the most confident guy in the realm of sales and not confident when it comes to financing or something else. We all feel different, insecure in some areas and insecure in other areas. What psychologists have found is that a narcissist, if you can lead by bolstering them in an area where they already feel secure, they are more open to feedback and less aggressive. One famous study of a psychologist is they split narcissists into two groups. One group would approach them by leading off, reminding them that they are athletic or funny, and the other didn’t do anything. They found that narcissists were way less aggressive if you led with a little bit of honey. If you led with a little bit of praise in an area where they already felt that way, they were open to feedback somewhere else. To me, if you’re dealing with a narcissist, lead in with a little bit of praise.
I worked for a president who was good with the process, good with finance. I didn’t find him great with people or sales. I would lead a lot of conversations with, “I don’t have your skills and process mindset or finance,” but then I would pivot, “The truth is the sales team is losing confidence in some of the things that we’re doing.” Rather than leading with, “The sales team is not confident in you as a leader,” which was the truth, I would lead with, “A lot of the things that you’ve done have impressed the sales team in the field and they appreciate it but they’re losing confidence in us as a leadership team and understanding what they’re going through.” I still got to say what I wanted but I led by saying, “Here are the things you’ve done well and your competencies.” I subtly reminded him, “You don’t know sales well and you certainly don’t know people in sales.”
The mistake you see with this is people who don’t do this well compliment the person on the same thing they’re trying to correct. You’ll see like, “You help the sales team.” It’s hard for them to say, “You can’t relate to the sales team.” I’ve seen this a lot. I work in an outside organization. We had someone that was on our leadership team for a while. We’d always compliment him on leadership but his leadership sucked. His concepts were good. His thoughts were good but he wasn’t a good leader. He wasn’t doing any of the nuts and bolts stuff you needed to do. It was hard to tear him down because you were building them up in the same lane.
What you want to say is, “You’re strategic. You’ve got good strategic ideas. Your execution is not good.” When you compliment him on leadership, now he’s bolstered to be like, “What do you mean?”
You couldn’t. Part of the argument that I had was, “We have to separate these things into different categories.” We need to categorically say, “You’re strong here but your weaknesses here are bringing down those strengths.” Instead of bolstering them, they’re eroding them. That’s what you see in a lot of instances with people that aren’t tactical or skilled managers. In giving feedback, sometimes you’re inadvertently giving someone more encouragement when you don’t want to do that. The way that you did it like, “You’re strong on these three things.” It’s very much away from the areas where you needed to help. You have to have some strategy and how you deliver this.
Another approach is if someone is dug in. It’s pretty famous that Jobs hated Bill Gates. He hated Microsoft for a long time, “Microsoft software will never be on any of our devices, period.” If you were trying to argue with him about that in 1985, you weren’t getting anywhere. It was a non–starter. It was a waste of time even though a lot of the engineers knew this is pretty stupid. Microsoft owns the world. Most people know that software. There’s got to be times where you choose not to try to persuade someone and let the consequences of their decision show them.
Mac’s failed to gain traction with market share forever with Safari and their iOS. They made a lot more traction when they started allowing you to download Microsoft software so people could have a nicer, sleeker, more beautiful device but use the software was more inherently comfortable with. They used it at work. There have been many times where I have known without a shadow of a doubt that an executive was going down a path that was going to lead to major ramifications that would hurt. I made my argument in multiple ways but I could sense they’ve dug in. In those cases, you have to be a good soldier and say, “I’m going to try as hard as I can your way. I’ve had my disagreement but don’t think when I leave this office, I’m not on board with you. I’m going to go try your way as hard as I can.”
There are times where you need to let Rome burn a little bit for that person that comes to you and says, “It’s not working, is it?” and they’ll come back. They’re not always going to come to you and say, “I was wrong.” Most of the time they won’t. What they’ll do is they’ll say, “How can we tweak this? How can we modify it? How can we change it?” They’ll make small changes to their initial dug–in approach. That’s okay. Sometimes you need to let it burn a little bit and let them see the consequences of their decisions.
In a small business, there are things you can allow this strategy to manifest, to take shape, and there are some things you can’t. What I’m driving out with this is I’ve had people that were an admin or on the sale side, and they were dug-in. It’s going to cost us hundreds, if not a couple thousand, maybe tens of thousands of dollars. It was capped. I’ve had people in larger roles who were dug in and we’re certain that something was right. It was bankrupting us. It was causing us to not be fiscally responsible as a business. They weren’t converting in certain ways or something got outside of the parameters with which they could make risk and I had to fire them.
High–level people inside of the business fundamentally were disconnected from what I thought we needed to do. I had someone who worked here that was at a high level. We could not get linked. I let it go a couple of times but I couldn’t let it burn anymore because it would have burned us down. You have to understand. If you’re the one doing the burning, you need to make sure you’re pruning the outer part of the forest to make the inside stronger and you’re not burning down the core. As the leader, you need to understand that stuff. You need to say, “Nope. This has got to go.”
When I first started, right after I developed my first leadership program, Leadership Essentials, I hired a marketing firm to help me out. We were having a conversation and I knew what I wanted my marketing campaign to look like. He’s an expert. This guy has 100 companies that his team works for. All they do is digital marketing campaigns and social media stuff. I have a presence on LinkedIn. I said, “I want this ad campaign to be on LinkedIn.” He said, “Okay. I understand that you’re on LinkedIn. I tend to start with Facebook because their algorithm is a little stronger. It kicks in a little faster. You get better feedback. It’s much less expensive on all of the different metrics, per click, per view, per impression and all those different things.”
Knowing nothing about social media and knowing nothing about digital marketing, I disagreed with him. I said, “Nope. We’re doing LinkedIn.” He said, “You’re the boss. You’re paying me one way or another. We’ll run the campaigns.” We ran it for months and it didn’t do shit. It was terrible. In one of our weekly calls, he got on and he said, “How long do we want to do this? I’ll do it as long as you want.” He summarized it all. He showed me we’re getting no sales, “This isn’t working. It’s expensive, the way we’re doing it. Can we try it a different way?” What was great was he didn’t dig his heels in and say, “I’m the expert. You’re paying me. I disagree with you.” He let me feel it in my wallet because I was paying money and getting nothing in return.
Frank, the first month that we turned on our Facebook ads, we got three $1,000 programs for Leadership Essentials. He didn’t go out. We got on there. We got a couple of sales. He didn’t gloat. He was nice about it. The way he handled it was great. He let me go down a path that he knew was going to fail. That’s not to say LinkedIn’s not going to work at some point. It wasn’t the right time. He told me why it wasn’t and I disagreed. It cost me probably $9,000. It was an expensive, ego–driven, stupid decision on my part to fight him over three months over it.Sometimes you just need to let Rome burn a little bit to let narcissists see the consequences of their decisions. Click To Tweet
What you learned in management is sometimes you got to let people do it. That’s the thing. As the owner of a business, you have to pick and choose, “I’m willing to let this person learn. I’m no longer willing to fund it.” This is your own business. You came to your conclusion smartly. You burned a little bit of money to get there. You can’t just tell people things. You got to let them experience. It’s like your kids. You can’t sit there with a book and teach them how life is going to work. You have to put them out there in the field and let them test what you’ve taught them and then adjust.
The last thing we’re going to talk about is tenacity. There’s no substitute. We’re finishing with this because the truth is we’re making the same simple. It’s never one discussion when you’re trying to overcome something serious. When someone’s made their mind up and you have to overcome it, sometimes dozens of conversations get them to where you need to be. A couple of examples of this is in the ‘80s, the executives in the Mac team used to give out an annual award to the person who had the temerity to challenge Jobs most often. Who’s the person that fights with Steve most often? It didn’t matter whether they came out ahead or not. Who’s most willing to raise their hand and argue with him in meetings because he can be such a bully?
What’s fascinating about all that is he eventually promoted all of the winners of that annual award to run their division. You might think that arguing with the boss is a dumb idea, it’s career–limiting. The way Jobs saw it, even though he argued with him, he ended up respecting them a lot more than it did. The other Apple story is Jobs hated the idea of a phone. He made his list of reasons why he hated it. It took them months and years to get him chipping away. What they would do is they would go run little secret prototypes. They would go and use a chunk. They would save the budget in one area and go build a little prototype on their own time. They built demos. They created new designs and they would leave them on his desk, get him thinking about it, propose things and leave little articles.
The story of how they chipped away at his resistance to designing a phone is fascinating. It’s dozens and dozens of little approaches, little conversations that finally got him turned around. Researchers did a big study on CEOs and who they nominated for board seats at other companies. What they found was the candidates who had a habit of arguing before agreeing with the boss were much more likely to get the nod than the yes men and the yes women. Most people would think that’s counter. In my experience, at least, Frank, there are many more yes men and yes women than those who always seem to argue. They would drive me nuts in some meetings because sometimes I was not in the mood to be challenged. I didn’t feel like having my authority challenged in front of a group. Over time, when I think about the people I promoted, they were the ones that weren’t afraid to tell me I was wrong.
There are two things I’ll unpack. I’ll start with the board seats and the argumentative people. I was raised by a school teacher, my mom. I was under the impression for a large period of my time in my life that likable people are the ones that got good things to happen to them. My mom is a likable person. That’s what she believes in. What I learned is likability is part of it. I’m a contrarian. I’m not easy to get along with sometimes but I know my shit. If I’m arguing with you with something, it’s because I’ve put in two decades of work and this is the thing I know the best. I don’t think it’s right so I’ll argue or I’ll fight back. I can get away with it.
In the episode we did about humor, the guy that we talked about a lot was our friend, Ken. The reason that Ken can get away with humor so much is that he was likable but more than anything, he was confident. If you’re going to fight back and you’re going to push, the people who do it are typically people who have a slightly different mindset. If you look at US history as an example, there’s the book, which most of us didn’t read, because it was huge. If you watch the series on John Adams, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had a lot of similarities but they butted heads a lot. The two of them were banging back and forth and forging metal, each one of them with a different hammer. It was a lot of fighting and a lot of turmoil. Ultimately, they got where they needed to go and our country got where it got because the two of them were fighting back and forth to come up with something that made sense. That’s what gets you on a board seat. It has a lot to do with competence and less to do with the fact that you’re going to confront someone.
Anything meaningful that I’ve done in my career, anything that I’m proud of that look back on that was big almost never got sold on the first try. It was back over and over. I know you said, “No. Here’s some more information. Let me approach this a different way. We’ve had some time since that last decision. Here’s how things have gotten worse. Can we talk about it again? Is there a different approach we could take slightly from what I presented? How can I show you what I’m feeling?” Over and over, it’s rare that you sell something big on a first try.
Furthering that, the Apple thing, he’s promoted these people that are the ones who had the best idea that was fought. There’s a lot of people who had ideas that were fought that didn’t get the best idea and a lot of those people got fired. If you are going to be a pioneer, you’re going to take arrows. Sometimes you die because of it. I would think that the people who won were persuasive. They knew how to take shit upfront, give a compliment, use some of the skills that we talked about to persuade but the ones that didn’t do it properly and didn’t execute the skills the right way or at the right time at the right moments, those are the ones that ultimately took the arrows and perished. You’ve got to think about those things.
Not getting through the barrier the first time, Ian, to your point about selling something and being rebuffed, not going full napalm, going fully nuclear. You could have gone nuclear, “You’re an asshole. How do you not see this?” That’s going to get you shown out. I lost this round. I’m going to regroup. I’m going to come back. We’d always talk on this show about not having just one pitch. I’m going to use my curveball. I’m going to use my slider. I’m going to use my changeup. I wasn’t good enough to get through. It isn’t you, it’s me. Let me come back with a slightly different pitch. It’s the same way that we talked about with the RVA deal. I took it as I haven’t done my job explaining it. Once I did that, you saw the humility in it and we did an incredible deal because we were both on the right footing.
To wrap this up, if you’re a leader, seek out people that are willing to try to change your mind. Find them, promote them and pay them well. There is no Steve Jobs, there is no Apple as we know it if they were all his original ideas. Behind all those ideas were people convincing him to change his mind and get uncomfortable and step out of what his belief system was. If you’re a leader, find more people like this and cultivate them around you. Try to get as many people disagreeing with you regularly. If you’re going a long period, as a manager or a business owner without any disagreement whatsoever, there’s a good chance you’re going on the wrong path.
You can’t innovate, you can’t grow without some failure, without swinging and missing. You can’t. In my business, ultimately, I’m responsible. If payroll is made or not is my responsibility. If we go bankrupt, if we don’t pay a debt, ultimately, it’s my responsibility. I have to make sure the ship doesn’t sink. Along the way, we have to have the ability to take some shots and give people a shot at taking chances and trying new things. Because you can‘t continually innovate if you don’t try it.Narcissists are less aggressive if you lead with a little bit of honey. Click To Tweet
It is a fantastic episode by you. I am not going to be disagreeable with you. You should go comb your hair though. You should do something about that. You’re in front of your employees. We’re not at home. We’re not in pajamas. Let’s tighten up.
My barber tells me that the unstructured on top is in.
I saw the picture of you and Max in the bathtub making Mohawks and it feels like you haven’t comb it since.
See you, Frankie.
See you, Ian.
- Episode – Is Humor A Business Skill?