This past weekend, I gave a presentation to a group of Navy SEAL officer candidates on how to prepare for their upcoming interviews with recruiters.
Obviously, with all the hours of fitness training and time they’re dedicating (some of them drive four or five hours each way to the gatherings), they all want very much to be offered a SEAL contract. They also want to avoid the fate of an earlier candidate who told the board, with sincere intention and intensity, how much he wanted to be a SEAL and the extreme sacrifices he had made to get there – and who, ultimately, was declined.
He made the mistake that many people make when they are asking for something, whether it’s an introduction, an interview, a job or a raise. They state their case from the least compelling point of view possible: their own.
“Going to business school will help me transition from consulting to finance.”
“I need this raise because we’re having another baby.”
“I want to pick your brain so I can get my book published.”
No matter how sincere or earnest the reason, guess what the listener (at least subliminally) is thinking: “Yeah, so what? Why should I care?”
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD
So that’s the paradox: to get what you want, you have to momentarily set aside your own desire and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Because the most effective way to get someone’s attention is to position your request from their point of view. (Isn’t that what works with you?) Show someone that helping you get what you want is somehow relevant to them and they will be much more receptive to listening to what you have to say. (Savvy parents get this when they say to their children: “If you are dressed and ready to go in 10 minutes then you’ll have time to get an ice cream cone before we run errands.”)
To be able to empathize with and understand what’s important to another person even as you have your own urgent wants — now that is a useful and powerful skill.
First, put aside your attachment to what you want. (Go ahead, just put it right over there.)
Now look at the situation from their point of view: try to understand what they want, why they want it and how they feel about things. It takes ingenuity and patience to think it through (especially if you don’t know them well) but a little strategic forethought does wonders to remove obstacles.
Here’s what presenting your case from the other person’s point of view looks like:
- Want the job? Explain how hiring you will make their life easier and make them look good — not why you want to leave your current job. (In the case of the Navy recruiting board, yes, they want men who are dedicated to becoming a SEAL, but more importantly they want someone who has a balanced outlook and will be a good fit with the SEAL community.)
- Want someone to take your cold call? Acknowledge that their time is valuable: “I know you’re busy so I’ll make this brief. I’m calling to see if I might be able to help you save money on your company’s health insurance.”
- Want more time to produce a deliverable? Instead of telling the client you’re backed up until Friday (your POV), tell them it’s in their best interest that you take the time to thoroughly research the case in order to deliver the most informed advice possible and avoid issues down the line.
- Want to ask a favor via email? Start by talking about the person you’re writing to: thank them (for inspiration, insights or information – it doesn’t have to be earth-shaking to be gratifying) or comment on a recent accomplishment (check their Linkedin account, blog or Google). No-one — no matter how famous or busy — is going to stop reading about how great they are! Once you’ve established a relevant connection, they’ll be much more receptive to helping you.
Of course, this all presumes that there is overlap between what you want and what they want, that there are mutual benefits to be had. Taking some time to think strategically from the other person’s point of view will help them see the connection and smooth your path to getting what you want.