How to Be Persuasive and Always Get What You Want

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Fierce Conversations" by Susan Scott. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you have an issue that needs to be resolved? How should you prepare to talk about problems?

Whether the problem is with yourself or others, preparing for the discussion is a great way to get organized. No matter who you’re talking to, Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott says you should clarify all the important details so you can contextualize and clearly explain the topic to others.

Here are easy steps for talking about problems.

Step #1: Define the Issue and Its Importance

First, concisely describe the issue and why it’s important—what’s happening, when it started, what the impact is, how severe the issue is, and what could happen if it continues. For example “employee satisfaction has decreased by 20% in the last year. This has the potential to decrease our company output and indicates there are issues within our organization. If this continues, we could lose business.”

When talking about problems involving interpersonal relationships, like your friend’s mental health, you’ll want to include additional personal details like the impact the issue is having on relationships and emotions (yours and/or theirs) and any role you might have played in creating or perpetuating the issue. 

Uncover the Type of Issue You’re Facing

The authors of Crucial Accountability recommend going through a similar process to define key issues. However, they add further detail to help you more specifically define the issue and its importance, which may help you perform the following steps in this guide more effectively.

First, the authors explain that you must categorize the issue (or determine what’s happening) by considering not only when it started, as Scott recommends, but how many times it’s occurred. If the situation happened once, the issue is probably someone’s behavior. If it’s occurred more than once, the issue is likely a problematic pattern. If it’s an issue that persists after you’ve previously addressed it, you’re probably experiencing a relationship issue.

Further, you must identify what’s bothering you the most—are the consequences of the issue inconveniencing you or others, or are you upset by what you think the other person’s intent was?

Finally, the authors recommend using this insight to determine what could happen if the issue continues—especially the impact on your well-being and relationship with the other person. However, they recommend doing so not just so you can explain it during the discussion, as Scott does, but so you can preemptively decide if the issue is worth addressing in the first place. For example, if the issue was a one-time occurrence that won’t impact you again, you probably don’t need to discuss it. Or, if the issue occurred with someone you’ll never see again, having a conversation with them probably isn’t worth it.

Step #2: Identify What You Want to Happen

Next, Scott says to record what your ideal situation will be when the issue is solved—this will narrow down your goal. For example, “I want to create a company culture where employees enjoy their job, are productive, and feel supported by management. This will increase the company’s overall productivity, and revenue, and give us an edge over competitors.”

(Shortform note: The authors of Crucial Accountability reiterate the importance of identifying your ideal outcome. However, they suggest also defining what you don’t want to happen. For example, “I want a company culture where employees enjoy their job, but I don’t want the workplace to lack discipline.” Further, the authors recommend completing this task during your assessment of the issue because it may help you narrow down the key issue. For example, listing your dos and don’ts might help you realize that the key issue with your company is that you struggle to find a healthy balance between support and discipline.)

Step #3: Identify What Has Been Done and What Can Be Done

Scott’s recommendations for following this guideline differ depending on whether your topic is being discussed with a large group in a corporate setting (like the issue of employee satisfaction), or with a more intimate group (like the issue of your friend’s mental health.)

In larger corporate settings, list relevant information pertaining to the topic, any attempts that have been made to solve the issue, and any solutions you’re currently considering. For example, “Satisfaction began decreasing in October of last year. We also removed certain employee amenities around this time like free breakfast, reduced-cost childcare, and unlimited PTO. Reintroducing reduced-cost childcare two months ago increased satisfaction rates by 5%. I’m currently considering reinstating other amenities we previously removed.”

(Shortform note: The process Scott lays out is what many experts refer to as contextualizing a meeting. They add that during this process, you should not only identify the circumstances of the issue, as Scott recommends, but also the time, place, background, and environment in which the circumstances took place. This will ensure you and the attendees have the full picture.)

Then, identify what role you want the group to play in the discussion. For example, you might want them to help propose new ideas, provide you with additional information, give you feedback on your ideas, and so on.

(Shortform note: An important step in identifying the group’s role is figuring out which type of meeting you’re conducting. There are three main meeting types—meetings to share information, to seek input for a decision, or to make a decision. The group’s role will vary depending on the meeting’s purpose.)

In more intimate settings—conversations with one or a few people—determine the most important thing you can do to solve the issue and when you can do it. During this process, brainstorm any potential barriers in your way, and how you can avoid or overcome them. For example “the most important thing I can do right now is let my friend know that I care about her and am willing to do whatever I can to help. I can do this today. She might resist my help at first, but I can overcome this by regularly reminding her that I’m here whenever she needs me.”

Determine Whether the Issue is Ability- or Motivation-Based

The authors of Crucial Accountability provide advice to help you identify the best action to take and any barriers. They explain that most issues arise because someone is either unmotivated or unable to do what’s necessary or expected. So, first, determine whether you’re dealing with a motivation or ability issue. Then, identify which factors are causing the barrier: Is the person inherently unmotivated or lacking ability, are others influencing them, or is the external environment impacting their motivation or ability? Once you understand why the issue is happening and the factors contributing to it, you can make an informed decision about when and how to act.

For example, maybe your friend’s mental health decline is a result of her having to move back in with her quarreling parents where she’s unable to have the peace necessary to focus on herself. This would be an ability issue caused by others and her external environment. With this knowledge, you may determine that the best action you can take is to suggest that she move in with you for a while, or that you take a weekend trip to give her time away from that environment.

Step #4: In Large Meetings, Reconsider Who to Involve

Scott emphasizes that for topics that have a wide scope and require larger meetings, you should reconsider who to involve in the discussion. Once you’ve completed your topic preparation, you might realize you need additional information and perspectives that the current group can’t provide. For example, after identifying that your ideal outcome is to change your company culture, you might realize you need a professional consultant in the conversation who can help you identify what you need to change and how you can do it.

(Shortform note: While many experts agree that it’s crucial to have the right people in your meetings to gain a full understanding of an issue, they suggest that it might also help to reconsider who shouldn’t be invited. People who tend to dominate conversations, are highly negative, put their perspective above others’, and get easily distracted are likely to disrupt the productivity and effectiveness of your discussion. It’s best to remove anyone who meets any of these descriptions from your attendance list.)

How to Talk About Your Problems: 4 Steps for Opening Up

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  • Why you must have uncomfortable discussions about feelings
  • How to uncover the most critical issues that must be addressed
  • How to ensure you stay aligned with your life goals

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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