About ten years ago, a salesman used an old trick on me.  He asked a series of questions designed to elicit a ‘yes’ response.  He did this in front of a room of carefully selected prospects.  Gradually, one or two folks started responding to his questions, and finally, by the time his carefully crafted speech was over, he had the whole room nodding and responding.  He snuck about $1,000 our of my wife and I for a bogus travel and vacation plan. 

I saw the same technique this week when a corporate leader stood in front of a room and asked a series of questions.  At first, I felt that they were condescending.  After all, we knew the answers.  It’s not like we needed to be convinced.  But after a few minutes, some folks were answering ‘yes’ and nodding.  It occurred to me that this leader was using the same technique.

Selling?  perhaps.  Selling is just a set of techniques used to get people motivated to do something that you want them to do.  It doesn’t just mean money.  It means support, loyalty, obedience… whatever it is you want people to do.  You can get there through selling.

I don’t know if you can sustain the ‘sell’ but you may not have to.  This leader probably doesn’t have to maintain the sell.  This leader got the support that mattered at the time that mattered.  And perhaps that’s just as important.

So, as much as I admit to feeling a little offended by this person’s choice of speaking technique, I have to also admit that it was effective.  It worked.  This person is a leader for a good reason and is likely to succeed.

Interesting, the things you learn by watching others lead.

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

4 thoughts on “Speaking to "yes"”
  1. No that I’m an expert or anything, but it seems to me a true leader should not have to resort to ‘mind games’ to inspire his staff. Shouldn’t it be about motivating through a shared vision? Or is the point you are making that it’s the end result that matters, not the way you got there?

  2. I shy away from the term ‘true leader’ because it assumes there is such a thing as a false leader.  You will know if someone is a leader if someone else is following them.  The goal doesn’t have to be healthy.  The method for following doesn’t have to be appealing to my personal sensibilities.  

    My preference, in my leadership, is to approach problems from the standpoint of shared goals and mutually agreeable benefits.  That approach works sometimes.  Other times, techniques like the one I describe may be useful as well.

    This leader is leading folks to the right place.  We all agree with the motivations underneath.  It’s the tactic of "yes-selling" that I found interesting enough to call out in my blog post.

  3. “Yes” is another tool in your belt. Just because you have the tool doesnt mean you use it all the time. When it comes time to take it out, you don’t have to be egregious with it either.

    It is also good to be able to recognise the practice when others use it. I saw the Kirby salesman apply this on me and my wife last week. I saw him coming and was ready for it. We didn’t need the vacuum and we didn’t bite.

  4. I can hardly say that I’m an expert at convincing others effectively. However, I am aware of my shortcomings, which seems to indicate to me that I have some idea of what effective communication/convincing is. And I do get the impression that this particular technique involves a certain amount of “manipulation,” a form of deception, and that doesn’t sit well with me. I believe that if an idea is right, it can sell itself without resorting to such tactics. In the short run, yes, it “works,” but people eventually realize what has happened and resent the implied lack of respect. I think there is a fine line somewhere that must be met but not crossed in terms of the debate of ideas. But again, I tend to be too far on the other side of that line!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

five + thirteen =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.