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Often it happens that we have meetings in which I'm fairly convinced about one or more point concerning my field (i.e. ICT) and when I've to discuss with non ICT-expert I've to talk a lot and often it is difficult to convince them that what I'm saying is the best solution.

Of course I know I'm not God, so I always try to listen carefully to them.

However in some cases I understood that I've stuck to my point because making compromises would result in a 'monster', that is to say an ICT solution which is eventually not usable by anybody.

So I heard about some techniques to make your:

  1. talk more effective
  2. and some techniques to say in a gently and convincing way that you disagree with their proposal.

About the first one, I think that explaining the reasons of your proposition is always a good way to convince. So if the others see you are very competent then they'll trust you more.

About the second point, I read about the sandwich technique: that is to say 1. you say something you agree with, 2. you say what you don't agree with, 3. you say something positive or something you agree with as a conclusion.

Do you think these techniques are effective?
Which are other working and effective ways to convince the other about what you are saying (supposed that it is something intelligent, of course!).

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what is ICT? Indochina Time time zone? –  gnat Jan 14 '13 at 14:27
    
No it stands for Information and communications technology en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_and_communications_technology –  Daniele B Jan 14 '13 at 14:30
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@gnat - edited to include link to ICT –  Dibstar Jan 14 '13 at 14:30
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closed as not constructive by gnat, Chad, enderland, bytebuster, ChrisF Jan 15 '13 at 10:32

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9 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I think you need to talk to some of the people in charge and find out how they perceive your roll in these discussions. Do you even get a "vote"? Are you there as a courtesy? Are you there to just answer questions as they see fit; otherwise, they expect you to be silent?

Get feedback from people at the meeting if you think you're coming across as too harsh. Some technologiest can get very enthusiastic about their subject-matter. Your passion may be confused with agression.

You'd be shocked at how many people will take the attitude that you think you are a know-it-all who doesn't consider the opinions of others when you are just confdently voicing your opinion.

  • avoid technical jargon
  • prepare your statements so they are as brief as possible
  • find out what motivates others: costs, risks, control, office politics (it has to by their idea, etc.).
  • being harder on the IT department can't always be an arguement. It just makes you look like you don't want to work hard.

There are many things that influence a business. Saving money in the long-run is not a solution to a problem for a company that is short on cash flow. Efficiencies are great, but it's secondary to the people who are responsible for accuracy (the numbers have to tie out).

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+1 about being very enthusiastic and it coming off as aggression. I'm one of those people :( It's hard when you're passionate about something to step back and see that there are other things at play besides what the expert wants. –  Randy E Jan 14 '13 at 16:19
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It is interesting you mentioned you are talking with a "non ICT expert." So in your head you have established a hierarchy of opinion. You minimized in many real ways any contribution by this person whom you labeled as a non expert. My guess is, that during any discussion about alternatives, you communicate this with crystal clear articulation--remember, communication is like 80% non verbal.

Philosophically speaking, there rarely is only one way to solve a problem. With complex issues, there are likely many alternatives with competing benefits, costs, penalties, and risks at play. And with complex issues, there likely needs a multi-modality team of experts.

So while these techniques that you wrote about might be helpful for you, I would suggest you take a look at how you contribute to the dynamic from an attitude perspective. You may be contributing to polarizing the discussion unintentionally by covertly dismissing their contribution based on YOUR perceived expertise hierarchy.

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Thanks for your answer, it really helped me. Unfortunately I could just +1 because I could not mark all the questions as correct, and had to choose one...sadly :-) –  Daniele B Jan 14 '13 at 14:10
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@DanieleB don't worry, I gave him an extra upvote :) –  Randy E Jan 14 '13 at 16:19
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You can't win an argument by arguing only from your perspective. You must have an argument in your favor that is meaningful to the decion maker. So you need to reframe your arguments in buiness terms such as cost, failure to meet client expectations, impossiblity to deliver on time, etc.

When they havea a suggestion that you don't agree with, it is sometimes best to quantify the problem for them. Do a formal cost benefit or decision analysis. Show how many hours it would take to do things the way they suggest vice the way you suggest. Often the poor suggestions cost twice or more money to implement, that will get their attention I assure you.

If the issue won't take more time (and thus cost significantly more) then a decision analysis is the best tool: start by listing the factors important in solving the problem including such things as cost to develop, security of the solution, maintainability, etc. Have the decision maker assign a weight to each factor. It is a critical step that the decision maker assigns the weighting factors as they will find it harder to argue the results later. Then assign a numeric value to your suggestions and their idea for each factor. Multiply your numeric value by the weighting factor and sum up the numbers. The better option based on the decision maker's own priorities will generally be obvious.

Of course if his suggestion comes out better than maybe you were wrong because you weren't considering the things that are important to the business.

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When persuading individuals who do not have technical expertise on a technical matter, they key thing is to avoid making them appear foolish. It can be very easy to bombard someone with technical knowledge (and terminology), and if someone is trying to defend something they don’t fully understand they will feel threatened and go on the defensive, making rational arguments go out of the window.

The first thing I would do is to break down the jargon / tech side of the benefits into something that is real for them – i.e. saying that certain hardware would allow reduced CPU usage / multi-threading will mean nothing, but saying that by changing hardware you could see a 10% increase in productivity will make them take note. Secondly, make sure that you do (as you’ve suggested), take their consideration seriously – even if (and actually especially if) their suggestion has no merit whatsoever.

There is a fine and difficult line to tread between simplifying the details so that everyone is on a level playing field without trivialising the issue (or making yourself appear less expert), but balancing this is one of the most important skills a techie can develop (as it will be useful throughout your career). I would always start off too simple, and once you have their attention and understanding you can gradually increase the technical detail so that you emerge as the subject matter expert without offending (or patronising) them.

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Thanks for your answer, it really helped me. Unfortunately I could just +1 because I could not mark all the questions as correct, and had to choose one...sadly :-) I got all high quality answers! –  Daniele B Jan 14 '13 at 14:10
    
I agree with this, the biggest way tech people can convince non tech people the benefits of increased performance, ease of maintenance, etc. is to break it down to cost and productivity (in most cases). –  Randy E Jan 14 '13 at 16:18
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From How to Win Friends and Influence People:

Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking

  1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
  2. Show respect for the other person's opinions. Never say "You're Wrong."
  3. If you're wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
  4. Begin in a friendly way.
  5. Start with questions to which the other person will answer yes.
  6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
  7. Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers.
  8. Try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view.
  9. Be sympathetic with the other person's ideas and desires.
  10. Appeal to the nobler motives.
  11. Dramatize your ideas.
  12. Throw down a challenge.

Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

  1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
  2. Call attention to people's mistakes indirectly.
  3. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
  4. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
  5. Let the other person save face.
  6. Praise every improvement.
  7. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  8. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
  9. Make the other person happy about doing what you suggest.

Not all of these will work at the same time of course but it can be handy to know of these ideas at times. Some people may rise to a challenge well and others may prefer ideas be told in a dramatic way so that a concern is expressed in a way that it is seen as a concern rather than as a piece of trivia.

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KISS. Don't overwhelm with quantity of bulletpoints/jargon. Just stick to "I think we should do it this way because it solves X problems while avoiding typical Y issues." If they want details, let them ask for them but keep your premise basic and straightforward so you can come back to it by pointing out how what they want exasperates Y issues or fails to properly solve X problems.

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The fact is people listen to the people they trust and will believe to what you are saying as much as you believe it. That said,

  1. When talking be as passionate as possible. As if life depended on it. Being passionate helps you to touch the emotional side of your listeners.
  2. Try to build personal relationship with the staff, get them to believe you by trying to offer them help even when they haven't asked for it. This helps you not to be doubted by your listeners according to B.F Skinner.

I am a teacher, my staff always have a staff meeting at the beginning of every term to formulate a working plain for that term based on the previous terms observations. I realized that my views were not been taken after every almost all meetings.

After careful consideration, I realized that when ever I was talking I talked as a professional without passion and it seemed to the others that I did not really cared about the student just my self and results and also they thought I "was know it all". So I decided to relate to them on a personal level. And after some time they confessed.

The secrete is passion. Most human decision are subjective. It is "Who you know and how well you can talk not What you know".

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Hi spirit, welcome to the Workplace! We generally are looking for answers which explain more of the "why" of answers - see the FAQ for more details. –  enderland Jan 14 '13 at 16:33
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From the FAQ: Please note that answers should be backed up either with a reference, or experiences that happened to you personally. You should always include in your answer information about why you think your answer is correct. –  enderland Jan 14 '13 at 16:44
    
@spirit interesting situation: you have a score of 1 and you get a -1... How is the SE system handling that.. funny :-) –  Daniele B Jan 14 '13 at 16:46
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@Daniele B i don't know, i thing the system is trying to be wicked to me :-) –  spirit Jan 14 '13 at 16:49
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@spirit how does #1 provide resolution to the questions problem? (I don't know that I necessarily agree with this as a way to solve the, admittedly vague question from the asker) How does #2 also do this? –  enderland Jan 14 '13 at 16:50
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Remember that many people have experiences with experts which do not work out, or with multipe experts in the same field who do not agree with one another. Personally, I have had medical advice that has been unable to solve the problems I was experiencing. Politics provides plenty of examples of "experts" who disagree or even contradict one another. Given such experiences, can you blame people who aren't experts for discounting the opinions of the experts? For me at least, this is especially the case when an expert doesn't explain themself or has been wrong several times in the past.

Something I've not seen mentioned in other answers is to "Pick your battles" as the saying goes. It's not clear from the question how often you're dealing with people not agreeing with your opinion. However, if your colleagues think you are argumentative and (nearly) always insist on getting your way, they are likely to either tune you out or become argumentative themselves, as their perception is (probably) that you aren't taking the time to understand their issues. Thus, one way to deal with this, especially in cases where it doesn't matter much, is to find a compromise solution or simply let the other parties have their way. Often, this will help establish the perception that you pay attention to their problems and are willing to let them have their way when their issues have priority; they then are more likely to respect your opinion when you say it's important.

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The first par of your answer is very personal. In ICT field I seldom saw people not agreeing on basic matters. Of course if you go to the details there might be different views, but in general there is a shared knowledge –  Daniele B Jan 14 '13 at 16:55
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Offer at least two solutions (which are technically the same) and let them pick which one. As long as they feel they made the choice it goes easier.

It is a variation of "Morton's fork" and is used often in negotiation to give the other party a feeling that they are in control.

It is also documented in the book "Get Along with Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere".

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:-) nice workaround... not really fair.. :-) –  Daniele B Jan 14 '13 at 15:46
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Just make sure they don't add option 3: we'll get someone else. –  JeffO Jan 14 '13 at 15:56
    
.... why? Please see the FAQ on how to answer for the types of answers we are looking for on this site. –  enderland Jan 14 '13 at 16:25
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Please note that answers should be backed up either with a reference, or experiences that happened to you personally. You should always include in your answer information about why you think your answer is correct. –  enderland Jan 14 '13 at 16:44
    
I have updated the answer. Happy now? –  Simon O'Doherty Jan 14 '13 at 16:54
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