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To sway them, agree with them

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

When you try to persuade people, prepare for road bumps. They may not listen, behave courteously or even let you finish a sentence without interrupting. Don’t let their negativity defeat you.

Charles Jacobs arrived at a big meeting at Citigroup with the goal of convincing the bank’s executives to hire his consulting firm. He diligently rehearsed his presentation and designed slides to reinforce his expertise.

After making him wait in the reception area for a long time, the hosts called him into their conference room. But be­­fore he could sit down, one of the bankers wondered what experience Jacobs could possibly have that would enable him to understand Citigroup’s complex business.

The other bankers piled on, claiming that Jacobs lacked the skills and knowledge to consult with Citigroup. They kept bashing him—without letting him defend himself.

Whenever Jacobs tried to talk, they interrupted. They didn’t let him start his presentation and ignored the printed copies of his slides.

Finally, they exhausted themselves. It was Jacobs’ turn to talk. They probably figured he would argue with them.

Instead, Jacobs began by saying, “Gen­­tlemen, if you’ll give me a minute, I’ll explain why you’re right and I’m absolutely not the person to do this work for you.”

The bankers instantly changed their tune. They showed sudden interest in hiring him.

Why did Jacobs win them over? He realized that disagreeing with them would have provoked more animosity. So he surprised them by expressing agreement.

By striking a cooperative tone, he threw them off balance. As a result, they viewed him in a different, more positive light. Jacobs wound up establishing a long, lucrative relationship with Citigroup.

— Adapted from Management Rewired, Charles S. Jacobs, Portfolio.

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