Let Them Talk Themselves Into It
We have all had the experience of thinking about a choice, being initially reluctant to do something, and then as we list the reasons why we don't want to do them they don't seem very compelling. Or, the reasons in favor of action seem more so. We haven't been coerced into forming this opinion, but we come to it nonetheless. We say "I talked myself into it."
Too many times, we do the opposite - we try to talk other people into something. Often, this puts the person we are trying to convince into a defensive posture: "Don't tell me what to do!" Why do we so seldom rely on their own powers of persuasion to bring them to our side? There are several cases in which it can be particularly useful.
Dale Carnegie called listening the safety valve in handling complaints. "They won't pay attention to you while they still have a lot of ideas of their own crying for expression." So let them talk it all out. Often, after doing so, you may ask "What can I do to help" and receive no response - they just wanted to get it off their chest. Other times, the answer to the question may be surprisingly easy, and by handling the complaint deftly you can win their loyalty.
Just because the customer doesn't ask for anything does not mean that your job is done. The truly successful are always looking to improve, and will never let a valid complaint go unheard. In my own work, which involves extensive editing and rewriting, I ask people to adhere to the "two reviewer rule." If one reviewer finds fault in a particular paragraph, it might be the reviewer. If two reviewers find fault, it is the paragraph. This doesn't necessarily mean that the reviewer is right about the appropriate corrective action - that is still up to the writer. However, the writer would be foolish to leave such concerns unaddressed.
In his book Pre-Suasion, influence expert Dr. Robert Cialdini offers up a simple question to begin any job interview: "Which of my qualities led you to invite me for this interview?" The implication behind this question is that by listing the favorable attributes you bring to the job, the interviewer reinforces his perception that you have those attributes. Consistency then suggests that the interviewer should make an offer, considering all of the strengths you bring. Carnegie tells a similar story about a salesman who lost his voice. The president of his customer's company offered to play his role, and did so so persuasively that the salesman received his largest ever order.
Listening is a way to earn friendship. It can be effective at handling complaints and solving problems. But when it comes to persuasion its strongest use may be in letting the other person do the talking.
After all, the only way you can truly know what your customer wants is if you listen.