When Can Negative Communication Be Positive?

By Heather Campbell

WIIFMs & WICMsInfluencing the people we work with to do things our way is one of the biggest challenges we face in business. Getting your boss, peers, clients or suppliers to buy into your ideas can be critical to success. But most people we want to influence have their own priorities and ways of doing things, with no desire to change if they don’t have to.

To bring them round to our way of thinking we usually try to sell the benefits of our ideas – but how about starting by communicating the negatives?

Robert Cialdini (www.cialdini.com) points out that human beings are more influenced by fear of loss than by desire for gain. We’re more easily swayed by the downside than we are by the possibilities. Try it for yourself – stop and think about an ambition you have, one that you could achieve but have never done so. Why haven’t you fulfilled this ambition? Chances are that, even if you can see the upside, the potential downside wins the day.

I have observed countless business presentations where a senior manager seeks to persuade others that an idea should be put into practice by focussing on its positive points, only to be shot down in flames as colleagues or bosses list costs that the enthusiastic advocate hadn’t covered. Failing to consider the costs simply sets us up for defeat.

Of course it’s worth pointing out the benefits. But if we really want to sell our ideas, we need to consider the costs to those we wish to influence as well. Reduce the negatives if at all possible, but don’t ignore them or try to put a positive spin on everything.

We call this the WIIFM/WICM balance. What’s In It For Me? vs. What’s It Costing Me? When you seek to influence someone else (or even yourself) remember that everything has a downside – and that it speaks more loudly than the positive!

What are your experiences of influencing colleagues and bosses in your workplace? How do you approach this to maximise chances of success?

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