Monday, December 24, 2012

Twelve Ways to Avoid Yes

Over the years I've come to appreciate the skills and expertise of people who, no matter what, avoid coming to agreement. It's an august group of non-compromising individuals who refuse to take "yes" for an answer, who'd rather die trying than win, who untiringly swim against the tide (even when the tide turns their way). They're true individuals who know every conceivable way (and many inconceivable ways) of avoiding the support of others in getting what they want, the dogs who know that you never want to actually catch the bus.

I recognize that I can only present a small sampling of the many, varied (and sometimes alarming) techniques employed by those whose skills far surpass my own,  but that's never stopped me before, so I'll give it a shot. If you're someone who revels in being alone and unsupported in your endeavors, then this may be the post for you.  In no particular order (because that's the way we like it when trying to dodge unanticipated success), the following will virtually guarantee that absolutely no-one (that's N-O-1) will ever buy into nor support your goals or efforts.

1. Move Away From, Not Towards
The primary requirement to failing at motivating others is to never clearly say what you want. Stick to things that you don't want. For example, rather than presenting a workable plan for feeding the poor, lament how terrible it is that the poor are hungry.

The beauty of moving away from what you DON'T want versus moving towards what you DO want is that you avoid the pitfalls of a clearly articulated, implementable and sustainable vision, and you know in your gut that inspirational vision can be disastrous when it comes to avoiding success. 

In the back of your mind, you might be thinking, "What do I do if someone asks me outright, 'So, what would you like us to do?'"

Fear not, outside of meeting people like yours truly, it's highly unlikely that you'll ever encounter anyone who will challenge you in this manner. However, if you do, wave your hands, turn from side to side and spout factoids like a garden sprinkler. Fill the air with disjointed truth that has no relevance whatsoever. Avoid clarity at all costs and remember, ambiguity about what you want is your friend,

2. Never Actually Say What You Require
Let's say that you accidentally screw up and state an affirmative goal. Stop yourself, catch your breath and do anything you can to avoid divulging what you need to achieve it. The last thing you want is to provide someone a clearly delineated shopping list of requirements.

Note that you needn't actually delineate your requirements for this to occur. A would-be supporter might casually jot down required items over the course of your interaction and without your having ever said, "I need these n things", clearly articulate your requirements at the end of your discussion.

Before you know it, some good-doer will have laid out your plan and volunteered to supply it. If you're not quick on your feet, you may be faced with the calamitous challenge of being offered all you need to succeed.

3. Don't Know What You Need
Of course, the easiest way to avoid accidentally spilling your requirements for success is to not know them. Avoid thinking through any method that might lead you to success. Make all plans so dependent upon uncontrollable contingencies that it's impossible to articulate all you'd need to be successful. In fact, if at all possible, avoid thinking all together. Instead, stick with talking about and "sharing" your concerns.

If someone points out that you're not clear or that you don't seem to know what you're talking about, tell them that you do but it's too complex to explain it. The comma-"to someone like you" can be implied.

4. Anti-Goals
Sometimes you have to get a bit stronger in your moving away from and create anti-goals, strongly articulated, bite-sized statements of everything you don't want. Create a list of all that you're fighting against and avoid any thought of what you might be fighting for. Sure, there'll be people who pull a little motivational jujitsu on you and try to articulate your negative goals in the positive, but don't worry. For every negative-to-positive move, there's a counter move.

The most oft-used is: "It's not that simple."

Depending on your audience, you can imply a comma-"stupid"  without incurring any penalties for negativity. Alternatively, you can use the phrase offendedly with a sort of "I'm hurt that you would so trivialize my efforts." True artists feign agreement by saying, "If only it were that simple."

5. Stay On Point
Ignore body language that suggests people are uncomfortable or losing interest in what you have to say. That roll of the eyes, that glance at the watch, that stretch and yawn are all forms of encouragement. Remember that it's your job to get your message OUT, not THROUGH.

6. Timing is Everything
Always schedule interactions at times that are convenient to you and hopefully, inconvenient to your audience. Better yet, don't schedule, just interrupt.

7. Avoid Your Audience's Motivations
The key to not selling your ideas is to stick to reasons that are motivational to you. Kids are great at this. When approaching mom or dad for something they want, they'll say things like, "All the other kids' parents are buying..." or "I really, really, really need this for..." or "Please, please, please. If you do this for me, I'll be sooooo happy."

Sure, parents often succumb to the motivations of their children, but if you try the same thing with others, you'll instantly quell any murmur of support. Tell people how important your cause is (to you.) Show would-be supporters empirical numbers that bear out your claims, but have no relevance to them. Talk about all the benefits to you and others, but absolutely avoid anything that your audience would find personally beneficial.

If you're not sure, simply avoid any mention of benefits.

8. Get Righteous
A simple way to avoid the core motivations of supporters who might actually prove helpful is to use mandates that involve a direct or implied negative judgement. For example, "Anyone one who gives a damn about the environment would be happy to..." or "Only a coldhearted bastard who hates children and puppy dogs would consider doing..."

Sure, your righteous indignation may inadvertently inspire guilt that results in someone wanting to help you, but never fear. Anyone so motivated is unlikely to have the wherewithal to provide any significant benefit.

9. Avoid Getting to the Point
As a manager, one of the rules I've always implemented in meetings is: Start with the so-what.

The reason is simple: 1) If I know what you want, it gives a context that I can use to better understand your explanation of why you want it and, 2) if I know what you want and agree, then there's not need to spend time on explanation.

Starting with the so-what has tumultuous implications when avoiding agreement. In fact, you'd do best to NEVER get to the so-what. Always start your appeal with the assumption that your audience knows absolutely nothing and will require an exhaustive explanation of why you want what you want before you can actually get to what it is you want.

10. Know Your Audience
It's heartbreaking to see how easily an individual can suddenly find himself the recipient of support as a result of a casual encounter. You sit down at the coffee shop and strike up a conversation with the guy at the next table. You stick to the rules and avoid any positive hook that he might latch onto. However, because you weren't diligent in knowing your audience you find yourself complaining to someone who routinely acts upon his desires. Before you know it, he's pulled every jujitsu move you've ever heard of and some you'd haven't.

Never assume that just because someone's in a coffee shop talking with others, he'd rather gripe than act.

11. Sell Past the Close
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, someone will decide that they want to help. If you some agrees with you, just keep selling as if she hadn't.

12. Refuse to Take Yes for an Answer
If all else fails, you can always refuse assistance. You can determine that the would-be supporter is simply not qualified to support you. He doesn't have the right character. She doesn't know what's she's getting into.

You can do it for his benefit asking him to take some time to think about it. Tell her that you'll call her in a week to check in and then lose her phone number.

You Can Do It, Not
Although I can't hold a candle to the expert practitioners I've encountered, I think my little list can still prove useful to novices who have yet to develop a capacity to avoid coming to agreement.  Don't feel that you have to implement all twelve steps to be successful. Any one or two will do.

Happy Monday,

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