Negotiating The Storms Of Objection

Written by David Pullan

Negotiating The Storms Of Objection

McKechnie and I spend a lot of our time working on story telling as a key communication technique for our clients. As you know we do this for the very good reason that it works. Stories create meaning, stories create pictures, stories create feeling, and stories can be retold. All in all they have been the best way to make information stick and go viral since time immemorial.


But we are always looking for ways that people can approach their story telling on both a macro and micro level.


By this I mean that clear examples can prove a point on a micro level, but any act of persuasion needs to find an overarching narrative or macro-story within which those micro-stories can sit.


This is true if you are a team trying to win a competitive tender, a CEO trying to change a culture, or even a frustrated parent trying to get your five year old to eat more green vegetables.


The question is this: how do you find that overarching narrative, and how do you use it?


Earlier this week I came across a great TED talk by Nancy Duarte whose US agency specialises in creating persuasive presentations. In it she talks about how she has analysed great speeches such as Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ and Steve Jobs’ 2007 iPhone launch and has discovered a key pattern that underpins their success.


You can watch the talk here, but I’d like to point out a central message I’ve taken away as it encapsulates everything I believe about finding the narrative.


Before I spill the beans I want you to imagine yourselves on a fully rigged yacht sailing into a fierce gale. Dead ahead lies a beautiful island where lunch will be served. I’m thinking perfectly grilled sea bass, a chilled bottle of Picpoul de Pinet and a hammock in which to sleep off the effects, but feel free to fill in your own details.


Now, as many of you will know, there is no way you can sail straight into that wind. What you will have to do if you want to get to lunch is take a zig zag pattern, or tack into the wind. Then and only then will you reach your goal.


The same is true of any act of persuasion. Your ‘audience’ comes with their own set of objections, preconceptions or ignorance regarding what you are proposing. It is these factors that make up the equivalent of a fierce gale. If you try and sail straight into them you will spend a lot of time standing still, going backwards or getting dashed onto the rocks. But if you can find a way of using the audience’s mental state as your opening impetus, and then add in your proposition for more power, you can tack between these points and reach your goal.


It is this idea of tacking into a fierce wind of objection that stays with me most from Duarte’s talk. It helps you find the narrative and it helps you reach dry land.


So let’s see what this looks like.


Duarte’s research says that all great persuasive arguments work with two main factors: ‘How Things Are’, and ‘How Things Could Be.’


‘How Things Are’ is where your audience is coming from. They may be very happy with their current provider, they may be terrified of change, they may have no idea about your offering…or they may think that spinach is the work of the devil and has no place on a civilised dinner plate.


‘How Things Could Be’ is where you want to take them in terms of what they think, feel and do. In other words they think your idea is fantastic, they feel very confident and they offer you a contract, embrace cultural change or indeed fill their bellies with a rainbow of legumes from all corners of the world.


What you have to do is start with where they are and then introduce how you would like things to be for them. Throughout your presentation, pitch or persuasive journey you alternate between gently pointing out the short comings of  ‘How Things Are’ and emphasizing the wonder of ‘How Things Could Be.’ All the time you introduce new facts and lots of micro-stories as you tack across the fierce winds of objection and gradually approach your goal.


Finally you end on a crescendo of what Duarte calls The New Bliss; a rallying call where you pull out all the stops to point out that what you are proposing is the equivalent of a sun kissed beach with a feast of fish and chilled wine about to be served.


It is these twin forces of ‘How Things Are’ and 'How Things Could Be’ that form the macro-story or narrative arc of any journey of persuasion.


Have a think about how you can use this idea in your life and work, and see if you can adopt the principle of tacking to make headway against any tempest of resistance.


By the way, if you make it to the beach before me make sure the Picpoul is on ice. I’ll see you by the barbecue.







photo credit: <a href="">Zephyr</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>


  • W B Yeats

    'Think like a wise man, but communicate in the language of the people.'