Have you ever been in a sales situation, though you had a customer’s commitment to do something and later discovered that they had reneged on what you thought was an agreement between you?
Or have you ever given feedback to an employee, felt certain that he or she would change behavior only to later discover that nothing had changed?
How do you know when people are committed to doing what you are asking them to do and not just pretending to agree to get you to go away?
There are both verbal and nonverbal clues that will give you a good indication of whether people will, in fact, do what you have asked them to do. Some of these depend on the way you ask, while others depend on the way they answer.
1. Use powerful words when you ask people to do something.
When you make your request ask, “Will you (buy my product, use my service, change your behavior)?” Do not use tentative words like “Could you?” “Would you?” or “Might you?”
A person “could” change, “would” change,” or “might” change, but, in fact, “will” he or she change.
Changing is an act of will. You want to be sure they have the “willpower” to do so.
You may be reluctant to be this direct. Certainly, you want to ask, “Will you?” with a tone of voice that is assertive and not aggressive. However, if you’re not direct when you make your request, don’t expect to get a direct response in return.
2. Listen to the words others use when responding to your question, “Will you (do what I’m asking you to do)?”
Just as you don’t want to use tentative words when making your request, so too you want to listen to hear if others are using tentative words when responding.
If they say, “I think so” or “I’ll try” or “Sounds good” or anything other than “Yes,” you don’t have their full commitment. These tentative words suggest that they still have concerns about what you are asking them to do.
3. Listen to the tone of their voice if they say “yes” in response to your request.
A person’s tone of voice gives a lot of information about whether you have his or her commitment. Does their “yes” sound firm or tentative?
Especially don’t accept a nod of the head that seemingly indicates agreement. Ask if that head nod means “yes,” and listen to their tone of voice when they respond.
4. Watch their eyes when you ask.
If they maintain eye contact with you, you most likely have their commitment. If they look away, you may not.
5. Only “yes” means “yes.”
If you hear anything other than a firm “yes,” ask why they are uncertain. You want to be in the room when people express their doubts so that you can answer them.
The way to confront uncertainty is to say, “Sounds like” (if you notice something in the way they speak) or “Looks like” (if you notice that their nonverbal behavior suggests less than full commitment) “you’re uncertain.” If they respond that they are uncertain, ask, “What concerns do you have?”
Remember that every complaint contains the seed of an unmet need. Bringing concerns into the open will give you a chance to meet that need.
Larry Barkan has been an author, consultant, and speaker since 1984. He works with organizations, teams, and individuals who want to have breakthrough results in their profits, productivity, and interpersonal relationships.