“What can I do to help?” This question is the one often asked by professional educator, Joani Altshuler. When? When she walks into a meeting with a parent, after first being warned that “the parents are irate!” (Ms. Altshuler works in a very challenging school situation, which is not the topic of this article. In her role, she is often in the position of dealing with parents who may or may not have a legitimate reason to be angry).
According to Altshuler, “Most of the parents expect to meet someone who is primed to defend themselves. The reason they expect this is because that is what they have always experienced. Instead, in a very friendly, compassionate, but extremely calm measure, I simply ask, ‘What can I do to help?’ In other words, how can we all work together to make this situation right for everyone; most importantly, their child.”
Ms. Altshuler’s method is very similar to a very well known negotiation tactic in which, when dealing with a difficult person, the expert negotiator might ask, “Mr. Thomas, what is it you’d like to have result from our discussion?” The coolness and calmness of the negotiator both diffuses the other person, and lets them know two more things; one, that they (the negotiator) won’t be rattled by a person acting nasty and/or emotionally and, two, that mutual satisfaction can in fact be attained.
Hostage negotiators will also use this tactic. They’ll come right out, whether by bullhorn or telephone, and ask the hostage-taker, “What is it you’d like to have happen?” or “What is it you want to accomplish through this?”
When in the act of positive persuasion, or “Winning Without Intimidation, always keep your cool, present a calm, self-controlled front, and simply ask the other person, “What can I do to help?” Typically, they will be happy to give you the answer, and the conversation will tend to take a much more mutually beneficial direction.
Is there anything else along these lines you’ve found to be helpful in similar situations?