(78) Words that can help Product Managers build influence, persuasion, and impact

Ravi Kumar.
Jul 31, 2019 · 12 min read

The idea of this post was triggered by two separate posts by two different people this week — Nitin Julka, Group Product Manager, LinkedIn and Sachin Rekhi, accomplished product leader and CEO of Notejoy.

Nitin shared these words of influence on a Linkedin comment to someone else’s post that captured my attention:

Sachin Rekhi wrote a blog post yesterday titled, Art of Being Compelling as a Product Manager. In the blog post, he attributes 40% of a PM’s function to style or soft skills. Sachin in his post says, “Unfortunately many product managers often aren’t spending enough time on style. The symptoms of this can be non-obvious. When I hear product managers tell me that their hard work and great ideas aren’t being appreciated, it often comes down to style. When they say too many cooks in the kitchen is hindering their process instead of improving it, it’s another symptom of lack of style. Or when feeling that they live in a consensus-driven organization and decision-making is painfully slow, it’s often related to lack of style. “

Both these instances triggered me to pull my collection of words and phrases from my past notes that I have been saving in Evernote. I do not remember the source of the content but they are of immense value nevertheless.

As Product Managers, we often lead by influence and not by authority. To lead by influence one needs skills of mature communication beyond technical and domain skills.

These words are tried, tested and proven to deliver results when applied properly.

Whatever questions a person asks, in whatever tone of voice, strive to de-personalize it. It’s not about you. Separate the content of the question (which may be logical) from the questioner’s attitude and tone of voice (which are emotional). A person’s anger, hostility, or rudeness reveals more about him than about you. Maintain your emotional composure. Say to yourself: “This is not about me.” Empathize with such questioners. Try to feel what they’re feeling. Within yourself, become curious as to why they’re having this emotional reaction. Rather than becoming defensive and trying to prove you’re right and they’re wrong (which rarely ends well), seek first to understand them. Sometimes, someone who is upset just wants to be heard.

Examples of dealing with it well:

  • I can understand why you’re upset.
  • Thank you, yes, I see your point.
  • Donna, I appreciate your conviction on this issue. It’s a critically important concern.
  • Ralph, you make an interesting point. Please say more about why you believe . . .
  • Your point is clear. I appreciate your sharing your perspective.

Find agreement and establish common ground.

  • “Ted, we both agree that expenses are too high . . .” ?
  • “We both share a common goal to improve customer service . . .” ?
  • “You’re right, Tom. Research has proven . . .” ?
  • “Yes, I see what you mean. My own experience tells me that . . .” ?
  • “Rhonda, I see your point. The data here supports your recommendation.”

Restate the attack in the form of a logical, valid question.

  • For example: “I agree with you, Bill. Timely delivery is a key aspect of customer service. What I believe I hear you asking is, ‘Will this type of delay happen again?’ The answer is no, it won’t.”

Open-ended questions and statements are designed to stimulate dialogue, encourage discussion, share feelings, elicit feedback, spark ideas, and invite opinions. Open-ended questions ensure that you give others a chance to talk more than you do. This practice shows you have genuine interest in them and care enough to want to take the time to listen.

  • “Do you like the new strategy?” (closed-ended)
  • “What do you think about the new strategy?” (open-ended)
  • “Is your team performing well?” (closed-ended)
  • “How would you describe the performance of your team?” (openended)
  • “Aren’t you ready to move forward?” (closed-ended)
  • “Help me understand how you would like to proceed.” (open-ended)

One of the most common reasons I hear from people as to why they fail to introduce their idea, product or service to others is the fact that they are fearful of the rejection they might receive. To make your idea rejection-free, use these words — “I am not sure if its for you, but..”

When introducing a new idea, start with, “How open-minded are you?” This will naturally attract people toward the very thing that you’d like them to support. Everybody wants to be open-minded.

Examples:

  • How open minded would you be about trying this as an alternative?
  • How open minded about giving this a chance?
  • Would you be open-minded about seeing if we could work together?

Examples:

How would you feel if your competition passed you?

How would you feel if you turned this around?

How would you feel if you lost everything?”

“Creating these conditional future scenarios using the words, “How would you feel if…?” gets people excited about their future and gives them a reason to move either toward the good news or away from the bad news.”

  • Just imagine the impact this could have?
  • Just imagine how things will be in six months’ time once you have implemented this.

Creating pictures in the minds of others is done by telling stories. When you hear “Just imagine,” the brain pictures the very scenario you are creating.

“One of the biggest reasons your ideas fail to get heard is that others tell you that they just don’t have the time to consider them.

By using the preface, “When would be a good time to…?” you prompt the other person to subconsciously assume that there will be a good time and that no is not an option. ”

  • “When would be a good time for you to take a proper look at this?
  • When would be a good time to get started?
  • When would be a good time to speak next?”

“When you are fearful that somebody has not done something, instead of asking them how that thing went, you may want to start the conversation slightly differently. “If you ask, “I’m guessing you haven’t got around to speaking to your partner yet?” it now becomes impossible for them to use that excuse. They respond in one of two ways: either they feel proud that they have done what they had promised, or they are embarrassed that they haven’t and make a new promise to put right that fact.”

  • “I’m guessing you haven’t got around to looking over the documents yet?
  • I’m guessing you haven’t got around to setting a date yet?
  • I’m guessing you haven’t got around to making a decision yet?”

“By pushing for the negative scenario, you get people to rise to the positive or to tell you how they are going to fix the thing they said they were going to do.”

Following many a presentation, the question people reach for is, “Do you have any questions?

  • “A simple change of wording puts you in control. Swap the phrase, “Do you have any questions?” with the improved, “What questions do you have for me?”
  • Instead of saying, “Can I have your number?”, say, “What’s the best number to contact you at?”

Changing a couple of words can make all the difference in the results you get from your conversations.

“Don’t worry” is particularly useful in high-stress scenarios, when confronted with someone who is panicked — it puts people at ease.”

  • “Don’t worry. I felt just the way you feel right now before I started, and look at me now.”
  • “Don’t worry, I know you don’t know what to do right now, but that’s what I’m here for. I’m here to help you through this process and overcome all the hurdles as they crop up along the way.”

These words provide you with a tool to spin a negative into a positive using a technique called labeling. “The moment you apply a label to something, it becomes almost impossible for the other person in the conver-sation to shed that label.

“By prefacing things with, “The good news is…,” you cause people to face forward with optimism and zap any negative energy out of the conversation.”

Examples:

  • “What about when somebody is resisting change but says they want more success? You could respond with, “The good news is you already know that what you are doing now is not working, so what is the harm in trying this?”
  • “If somebody is questioning their ability to do something, then you can respond with, “Look, the good news is that we have dozens of people who were in exactly the same situation when they first started, and they have gone on to be successful and are here to support you, too.”

Objections are a common part of everyday life. We face indecision from others in our personal and professional lives and quite often find ourselves having to accept another person’s idea.

Success in negotiating is all about maintaining control in a conversation, and the person in control is always the person who is asking the questions. “By treating every objection you face as nothing more than a question, you can quickly regain control of the conversation by asking a question in return.

Examples:

  • The other person says, “I need to speak to somebody else before I make a decision about this.” You say, “What makes you say that?”
  • The other person says, “Really, I don’t have all the money right now.” You say, “What makes you say that?”
  • The other person says, “I’m really not sure I’ve got the time to fit this in around what I’m doing right now.” You say, “What makes you say that?”

This set of words allows you to create that opportunity on your way out of a conversation. Instead of leaving with nothing, you use these words for a further attempt on a smaller outcome.

  • Just one more thing. Is it possible for you to introduce me to him?
  • Just one more thing. Would you be interested to attend this conference?

This is a simple and powerful set of words that you can use to get somebody to agree to do just about anything before they even know what the thing is. The request of a favor almost always gains a unanimous agreement from the recipient, and the worst response possible is still a conditional yes, like, “Depends what it is.”

People say thank you when they feel they owe you something. This is the best time to ask for someone’s help.

There is one objection that people give in response to a new idea or proposal. This objection is, “I just need some time to think about it.”. It is sometimes a bit frustrating because they are just pushing their decision away to another day. In such situation, many people say things like, “It’s okay, no pressure; we are ready when you are ready,” and walk away from the opportunity hoping that time will fix it.

Instead, try questions like these:

  • “Just out of curiosity, what is it specifically you need some time to think about?”
  • “Just out of curiosity, what needs to happen for you to make a decision about this?
  • Just out of curiosity, what is it that’s stopping you from moving forward with this right now?”

Asking big, brave questions is exactly what you need to do to move from being just like everybody else to becoming a professional mind-maker-upper.

The call to action is the twin sibling of your single clear-cut objective for a meeting or presentation.

Example:

  • “I encourage you to . . .” ?
  • “I urge you to give your unanimous approval to . . .” ?
  • “I ask that you . . .” ?
  • “I request your . . .”

Which of these two statements do you find to be more effective?

“I think you might like this new service we offer.”

Or

“I believe you’re really going to like this new service we offer.”

The difference in wording is fairly subtle, but the influence communicated can be profound. The first one contains two weak words, “think” and “might.” These words make the speaker sound unsure or insecure about the message, and subtly undermine his or her credibility. The second sentence is confident and strong. That’s a statement from someone who believes in what he’s saying.

Example of weak words:

  • Just: I was just calling to see if you want to serve on my committee. ?
  • Wondering: I was wondering if you might want to present at next Monday’s staff meeting. ?
  • Hope: I sure hope we can accomplish this by Friday. ?
  • If: If you close the deal, we’ll celebrate at your favorite restaurant.

Instead, simply eliminate the weak word and transform the tentative sentence into a confident statement:

  • I’m calling to see if you want to serve on my committee.
  • Would you like to present at next Monday’s staff meeting?
  • I’m confident we can accomplish this by Friday.
  • When you close the deal, we’ll celebrate at your favorite restaurant.

A very powerful way to persuade:

  • Now that I understand your side of the story and you understand mine, if I agree to correct the issues that are within my control, will you reconsider your position?

These words do wonders.

Examples:

  • ‘Thank you, I really appreciate your efforts,’
  • ‘We couldn’t have done it without you!’

Equally important to appreciating and acknowledging others is asking for their input.

Eliminate any prefacing phrase that demeans or negates what you’re about to say. For example:

  • I may be wrong, but I think we’re 10 percent over budget.
  • I’m not sure about this, but I’m guessing we need one additional employee.
  • This may be a silly idea, but why don’t we conduct the quarterly meetings online instead.

Instead, simply drop the “but” and get rid of the phrase that belittles the conclusion. For example:

  • Based on my data, we’re 10 percent over budget.
  • We need to hire one additional employee to meet our productivity goal for the year.
  • To save on travel costs and optimize everyone’s time, I recommend we conduct the quarterly meetings online instead.

Imagine your boss says to you, “I need your proposal by 10 AM tomorrow for the customer meeting.” Your reply is, “Okay. I’ll try to get it finished.” The word “try” implies the possibility it may not get finished. It presupposes possible failure. Why not say, “I’ll get it finished” or “I’ll have it on your desk by 9 AM.”

  • Negative: I’m sorry. We can’t do that.
  • Positive: Here’s an alternative we can try.
  • Negative: Our company policy won’t allow that.
  • Positive: Let me check with the legal department to see what our options are.
  • Negative: You shouldn’t have waited so long to tell me about this.
  • Positive: Next time, please feel free to call me right away. I’m here to help.

Most of the time, “and” can be easily substituted for “but,” and with positive results!

Example:

  • “Yes, our implementation process is fast, easy, and economical, but we don’t have a time slot available until June.” The “but” creates a negative that didn’t exist before, offsetting the benefits of fast, easy, and economical. Replace the “but” with “and” and hear the difference: “Yes, our implementation process is fast, easy, and economical, and we have a time slot available for you in June.”

Avoid the habit of evading the issue or seeming overly cautious.

  • If it’s okay with everyone, I sort of thought we might start the meeting now.
  • I kind of wanted to work on that project.
  • Hmmm, I have a little problem with your approach.

Instead, make confident, direct statements with no hedging. For example:

  • Good morning everyone — it’s time to begin the meeting.
  • Bob, I’d like to work on that project. Here’s what I can contribute . . .
  • I don’t understand this decision. Please help me understand the logic.

Once you’ve made your statement or recommendation, simply stop. Avoid tacking on unnecessary words or an approval-seeking question.

  • I think that’s acceptable, don’t you?
  • This is how we’ll proceed, okay?
  • That costs too much, doesn’t it?

Instead, drop the unnecessary discrediting question. Don’t ask permission or seek an approving nod; make the statement confidently. For example:

  • Yes, I believe that’s acceptable.
  • This is how we’ll proceed.
  • That costs too much — it’s not in the budget.

If you sincerely want to solicit the other person’s opinion, use a distinct and separate question, such as:

  1. Yes, I believe that’s acceptable. Tell me what you think.

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