There seems to be a kind of response to stress that says we need to work harder, force ourselves to give more, make it happen, cajole others into complying with our needs. I’ve noticed this urge in myself and travelled alongside clients as they’ve wrestled with this one.
Jess was starting a small business providing home-cooked pies for sale through local retailers. But things were not going well. She had advertised in the local press, approached retailers in person with her ideas and leafleted others, but only a few had agreed to take some samples to sell and of those, only one had placed a follow up order with her. Jess was at the end of her tether and on the point of quitting.
Why is it that things just insist on not working out right sometimes? Why don’t people just do what we want them to do? Just for once!…If that resonates with you, maybe you can relate to the feelings of disappointment, resentment, anger and frustration that result from talking to ourselves in this way and attempting to coerce ourselves and others into particular courses of action.
As if to add insult to injury, all that pressure, force and coercion that we put ourselves through in order to find a way out of our stressful situation only leads to yet more stress! Obviously this is not what you’d call an easy solution. So, what is?
Yes, stop right there. Stop pushing, stop forcing. Forcing and coercion are approaches that do not support sustainability or simplicity. I think the saying goes: “When you’re already in a hole, stop digging.” Now breathe, let out a big sigh and stand back to examine:
Who is it you’re trying to persuade? (Your partner, your child, your business colleague, your friend?)
What would you like them to do?
Whatever your answers to these questions, there’s a simpler, easier solution than persuasion and it’s a lower stress alternative too. It’s called the Art of Gentle Non-Persuasion and it leads to more harmonious and sustainable relationships all round.
A Need for Understanding. Firstly, see what you can do to understand the situation from the other person’s point of view. You will need to talk with them, ask plenty of questions and listen carefully to their responses. What are their needs in this instance? What would they like to happen? Where are the opportunities for them? Observe them too, their body language, their tone of voice and their willingness to chat. If it’s a child, the non-verbal clues could be particularly informative.
Then ask yourself the same questions: “What are my needs?”, “What would I like to happen?” “Where are the opportunities for me here?”
This is not about preparing yourself for a negotiation or about judging the information you receive as material you can use to persuade. All you’re aiming to do at this stage is to build up a picture of what the situation is all about, underneath any miscommunications or strong emotional reactions.
When Jess stopped and took a broader view of her unhappy situation, she realised that she needed to go back to the food retailers and have quite a different kind of conversation with them in order to understand what might work for them. As a result of this she understood that most of them wanted different terms of trading to those she had assumed would work. They loved her product. She had just been making it difficult for them to do business with her. As a result of her being willing to listen carefully to one particular retailer, she was offered the opportunity to run a cookery course on their premises, an idea that she welcomed and that led to some excellent publicity and continued sales of her pies.
Who’s ready to listen?
An important lesson for Jess was to accept that some retailers were not willing to speak with her or listen to what she had to offer. Whilst she had been angry and disheartened by this situation initially, she came to understand that she could let go of wanting those situations to be different and concentrate on those people she knew were ready to listen to her.
Who’s ready to act?
Even out of those who were willing to listen and found Jess’s ideas interesting, only a handful were willing to take some samples from Jess on a trial basis. However, she began to believe that, by keeping in contact with these people and building friendships with those who were willing to listen but not act, she would secure further clients with time.
Putting Relationship and Mutuality first.
I remember reading a very useful book on parenting teenagers where it described the challenges of dealing with some aspects of teenage behaviour. I liked the approach of the book (details below!) because it suggested alternative approaches to doing battle with my teenage children. The author asked “What is more important for you, that you prove yourself to be right on this particular issue, or that you foster a healthy relationship with your teen?” You might also have heard the expression “Make yourself happy, rather than right.” Whether you are focussing on communicating with your partner, your children or your clients, the principles of simplicity and sustainability would support you in putting:
i) the relationship and
ii) finding mutually beneficial solutions
first over and above persuading anyone else of your point of view. This approach involves letting go of being attached to particular outcomes i.e. that you’ll be able to prove your point or that you’ll be able to persuade another to your way of thinking.
The Gentle Art of Non-Persuasion involves:
□ knowing when to act and when to let go of the outcome and
□ making your connection with others a higher priority than having power over them.
Sugggested Reading (even if you don’t have teens!):
Parent-Teen Breakthrough. The Relationship Approach. Mira Kirshenbaum