We've been exploring the Four Rules of Engagement, which I introduced in part three of our six-part Education Market Leadership Series titled How Does Your Company Adapt When Markets Are in Rapid Flux. In previous articles, I covered the first two rules of engagement as they apply to leadership and sales in a K-12 business setting. If you haven't already done so, I suggest you read the series introduction and parts two, three, and four, and also listen to the companion podcasts on STS radio with host Glen McCandless. This article, the fifth in the series, will focus on Rule #3: “You can’t change another person’s mind.”
You might be amazed by how many salespeople and managers in the education market ignore this fundamental fact in their efforts to persuade others. Let me unpack this rule. When it comes to influencing, persuading, or selling to educators, or those you work with, there are many tools within your grasp: You can lead thought processes, you can shift contextual foundation, you can inform, you can cajole, and you can entice. If you do any or all of these effectively (I describe some of these techniques in my other STS articles), the person or people you hope to sway might choose to change their minds. Take note: They control what and how they think; if you believe you can change their minds, more than likely you will be hindering your ability to persuade them. Rules 1 and 2 pertain to the fundamental aspects of how the human mind works. The minute a buyer, an employee you manage, or others you are trying to influence realize you want to change their mind, their natural tendency is to strengthen their defensive position about what they think and believe. It’s like trying to convert a hard-core Republican or Democrat to the other side. If that sounds too dangerous for your tastes, try converting a Mac devotee to a Windows PC!
Show me a salesperson who is convinced he can change a district administrator's mind and I'll show you a salesperson who has a tendency to get in his own way. Show me a salesperson who wants to overcome the objections of a high-school principal during the K-12 sales process, and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t understand how educators think. When we operate with Rules 1 and 2, we discover that the best way to influence or persuade potential buyers to change their opinion is to prioritize style over information. In other words, the more the prospect feels validated, the more likely he or she is to consider what you say. The way you deliver the information is more important than the specifics of the information you deliver. I'll expand on this concept in my next article, in which I’ll address the fourth rule of engagement.
Whether you are persuading a colleague, an employee, or a buyer, never forget that you can’t change their minds. When salespeople are driven to overcome objections, they tend to think about facts and figures before they think about the prospect's feelings—if they consider those feelings at all. The buyer may feel under attack. When company leaders use information (over style) to sell their subordinates on a new strategy in a changing market, their team could react just as strongly. When we feel under attack, what do we do? We either retreat from the conversation or we strengthen our defenses and counterattack. On the other hand, when we feel validated and respected, we are more likely to drop our defenses and become more considerate. By "considerate," I mean we will be more apt to consider something. As I explained in the third article of this series, when I introduced the Four Rules of Engagement, these rules are always at work whenever one or more people are in communication. The trick is that they’re working either for you or against you. To really master how to persuade someone else, surrender to Rules 1 through 3. Only then will you be in the best position to achieve Rule #4, the final topic in this series: understanding and mastering the techniques you can use to shift your prospect's perspective.