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The D-I-R-E-C-T Approach

How often have you lamented, or heard someone else lament, “It wasn’t what she said as much as the way she said it”? With so much of the communication message dependent on factors other than words, the effective communicator knows how to work a room, so to speak, or work a situation in order to […]

How often have you lamented, or heard someone else lament, “It wasn’t what she said as much as the way she said it”? With so much of the communication message dependent on factors other than words, the effective communicator knows how to work a room, so to speak, or work a situation in order to maximize both input and output. One approach that will help you do just that is the D-I-R-E-C-T approach. Each of the letters represents the first letter in a method that engages and respects each party in a communications exchange.

When the D-I-R-E-C-T approach is applied, neither party attempts to dominate the conversation or the thinking of the other person. There is a parity to be seen and heard, not a monologue. If the other party cannot understand your viewpoint, she will never be persuaded to it. And if you do not comprehend the rationale behind her failure to embrace it, you cannot hope to persuade fully.

D – Dialog. In the most time-honored sense of the word, to dialog is to talk together, to establish harmony through an open exchange of ideas. When we establish common verbal ground, we are simultaneously establishing trust. If our dialog is equal and even, we will be listening at least 50% of the time. (This equation is a difficult one for most of us to remember.)

I – Inquire. Not only does asking questions enlighten you and the question-answerer, but the process demonstrates your interest in the things he is expressing. Inquiry qualifies as much as imitation in being a high form of flattery.

R – Respond. In both physical and verbal ways, you can show the sincerity of your interest in what others are saying. Physically, you can smile, maintain eye contact, jot things down, or show by your posture that you are attentive rather than bored. Verbal gestures include saying “uh huh” while nodding, or “I see” or “Hmmm” to indicate the point is one that makes sense to you.

E – Environ. This verb means to surround or to encircle. It probably makes you think of its noun cognate, “environment.” When you are being direct in your influence efforts, you attend to the surroundings and their impact on the recipient of your influence message. By paralleling or synchronizing your message and its medium, you stand a much better chance of getting your concept across and having it remembered. One way to environ substantially is to match the import of the message to the surroundings. If it is a serious message, for example, you may want to meet in a quiet conference room. If the message contains good tidings, a noisier, people-filled setting may be more suitable.

C – Contact. Make some physical contact at least once during the course of your presentation. If you are addressing an individual or small group, you could shake their hands upon completion of your report. In a one-on-one setting, you could briefly and lightly touch someone’s arm, as if to say, “That’s right!” or “We could do this, too!” As the other person is leaving your office, you might give a pat on the back to signal, “Great. I’m glad this is settled.” Contact also means keeping in contact, as appropriate, once your initial influence overture has been made.

Solicitors know, for example, that if people have displayed a willingness to give to a charity once, they can usually be counted on to continue making a contribution, often in annually increasing increments. But the subsequent contact is an integral part of this influence equation. Salespeople also know that it can take as many as 10 interactions to close a sale.

T – Tie up. Bring closure to each exchange in which you have attempted to influence someone else. This closure could mean thanking him for his time, repeating the agreements that have been reached, telling what the next steps will be, etc. The end of the conversation/speech/pitch/presentation is your last opportunity to assert the authenticity of your request; your final opportunity (at least for that day) to point your listener or reader toward the realm in which possibilities are emerging.

The following anecdotes, one for each word in the D-I-R-E-C-T approach, are provided to reinforce the importance of direct dealing when it comes to influencing with integrity.

Dialog. In a humorous effort to move below the layers of artifice that often characterized conversation at White House affairs, President Franklin Roosevelt sometimes said outrageous things, just to prove his point that meaningful dialog was virtually impossible in such social gatherings. In standing lines, for example, when people made the inevitable query, “How are you today, sir?” he would sometimes reply, “Fine, thank you, I just murdered my grandmother this morning.” No one ever even heard him, or if they did, they no doubt thought they had misheard him and failed to ask for clarification.

One guest, however, whose listening skills were superior to those of most other people, stopped and asked, “What did she do to deserve that, sir?”

Inquire. A request for further information can influence others by revealing our own point of view on a subject. When Winston Churchill was approached by a loud American woman at a reception, she demanded to know, “What are you going to do about those Indians?”

Churchill sought clarification: “To which Indians do you refer? Do you refer to the second greatest nation on earth, which under benign and munificent British rule has multiplied and prospered exceedingly? Or to the unfortunate North American Indians, which under your present administration are almost extinct?”

Respond. Your responses can have great significance, sometimes even when they are misinterpreted. In this historical example, we learn how one man’s response was turned around and used to influence him.

Frederick II, King of Prussia from 1740 to 1786, was a man of firm convictions. One of those was that General von Winterfeldt was not worth his time or attention. The two men happened to meet in Potsdam and the general saluted the monarch, indicating his respect and his willingness to let bygones be bygones. But Frederick used a physical response that clearly showed how little he thought of the general: he turned his back on him.

Von Winterfeldt quickly ran after the king and said with enthusiasm, “I am happy to see that Your Majesty is no longer angry with me.” Frederick could not resist inquiring what led the general to that conclusion. “Your Majesty has never in his life turned his back on an enemy,” was the clever observation, the basis for a reconciliation between the two.

Environ. Samuel Goldwyn was a tough negotiator. Once, in the middle of a heated dispute at his home, one of his colleagues tired of the debate and walked over to look out the window. After spotting a simple happening in the animal kingdom, he called the others to join him. “Here we are fighting,” he commented, “and this marvelous, peaceful event is taking place under our noses.” He then chided his colleagues for being unable to work together, optimizing the scene from nature as a means of making peace.

Goldwyn walked over to see the sight: a mother quail and five tiny offspring. The magic didn’t last long for Goldwyn, though. “They don’t belong here,” he snapped and returned to the battleground.

Contact. In this case, two famous men contacted one another following a misunderstanding. The cleverness of their exchange was probably sufficient for restoring their friendship to its former status. Composer Giacomo Puccini sent his friends cakes at Christmas every year. Just before one particular holiday, however, he fought with the famed conductor Arturo Toscanini. To his dismay, he learned he was too late to cancel his order: the cake had already been delivered to Toscanini. Determined to make certain the gift was not regarded as an attempt at reconciliation, he sent a telegram to Toscanini: “Cake sent by mistake.”

Toscanini was a man of equally few words. His return telegram read: “Cake eaten by mistake.”

Tie Up.  The intention was the right one, to tie up the altercation: It failed in this case, though, because Ernst Lubitsch spoke English as a second language. The acclaimed film director was in the middle of a heated argument with playwright Edward Knoblock. Lubitsch was so angry he walked off the set, but then returned, hoping no doubt to have the last word, albeit not a fluent one. He wanted to make a final, devastating point. Unfortunately for him, the most withering closure he could muster was: “How do you do?”

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