Years ago, at a National Speakers Association conference, I was in the audience while Mark Sanborn, CSP, CPAE, author of bestselling business classics including The Fred Factor, and You Don’t Need A TITLE To Be A Leader, was presenting. He related the time that a man seated next to him on a recent flight asked him his profession. Mark replied that he’s a speaker.
The man suddenly exclaimed, “Oh, motivational speaking doesn’t work!” (Note: very few speakers, with rare exception, refer to themselves/ourselves as “motivational speakers.” That’s a title/description we’ve been given by the general public — sort of like the late Chris Farley’s hysterical portrayal on Saturday Night Live. 🙂
Instead of answering defensively, Mark just smiled. Over the next couple of minutes, the neighbor, while at first continuing his thoughts, started relating times when something a speaker said had, in fact, got him thinking or made a difference; or where a book or audio had inspired him. Finally, he came to his own conclusion that “motivational speaking” does have its positive place in his world.
In my opinion, what persuaded this man to adjust his way of thinking was not the facts…but Mark himself. Had Mark reacted to his statement, argued with him and recited examples and stories regarding lives he’s touched (and Mark could…he’s that good!) the man would, most likely, never have listened for even a second.
Instead, Mark responded with silence, kindness and a sincere, non-judgmental smile. This allowed his neighbor to dig himself out of the hole he’d dug with his reactive statement, and eventually come to a conclusion that resulted in a smooth ride and pleasant conversation.
So, when a similar situation happened with me, I was prepared. Reading a book while sitting alone at a restaurant eating dinner (one of my favorite activities), the waiter eyed the book closely and said, “Oh, is that one of those ‘motivational-type’ books? I don’t believe in those.”
With silence, I simply smiled in acknowledgment. Well, five minutes later he was back and, this time he asked me a question about the book. After briefly explaining what it was about, we discussed the benefits of reading all types of books. I told him I admired his “open-mindedness” and, of course, he was more than happy to agree with my assessment of him.
A person whose mind was already made up was now more open to other possibilities. And not because of anything I said. It was more, as Mark did, just being momentarily silent and smiling non-judgmentally. This allowed him to work his way out of his own ordeal.
Next time you find yourself in a situation where someone expresses an opinion based more on preconceived notions than on logic, remember: Sometimes silence and a smile is the most persuasive thing you can ever do.