Shut up to get ahead

Update: This post was also published at Damsels in Success.

We all want things in life. Perhaps it’s joining the Peace Corps or maybe it’s grinding on the dance floor with your date. Whatever it is, you have to persuade and influence others to get what you want. There’s one secret to persuasion:

Shut up.

Simply be quiet. And listen.

People don’t care about your opinion anyway. They care about their own opinions. They care about themselves first and moving their own agenda forward. Your agenda can be the leader of the pack. You start by listening.

Lobbyists are particularly good at the art of persuasion. We should all become lobbyists in our lives, in fact. They “are masters at conversations with outcome wrapped into them.” Lobbyists listen. They sit back and observe a situation. Acutely and actively. They have a slew of tools up their sleeve, but rarely use any, preferring instead to painstakingly craft a new tool for each project. The right tool.

This is because every situation and every person is unique. Lobbyists have been doing for years what the mass consumer market is now clamoring to figure out – customization of an experience or interaction. It’s no secret I want to feel special. You want to feel special. We all do. Someone listening to you or me is the easiest way to get our hearts swelling and smiles spreading.

Lobbyists are stealthy creatures, but they don’t lie. They can’t. There is no negotiating power if you lie. Instead, you have to make the truth as attractive as possible. You must minimize negative or potentially harmful situations. While your target is becoming warm and fuzzy inside, position yourself for the win. Learn all you can about the other person, and then use it.

Exhibit the strengths of your proposition so the other party feels good about their decision. Make it so that they would be doing more harm than good by disagreeing with you.

The outcome is one in which everyone is happy, the effervescent win-win.

We’re all racing towards the finish line, clutching the books of our opinions and hopes and desires to our chests, eager to claim first prize. Good lobbyists know every crinkle in the paper, every smear of ink. They know the pages you threw away containing the sordid details of your affair. They pick up the sheets that fly out of your tunnel vision, as you rush haphazardly towards the end. They know what you’ve underlined and what you haven’t even written yet. And they use all of this information so that when you cross the line in fifth place, you’re still ecstatic to have been part of the game.

To get what you want, to be a good lobbyist, you have to understand the rules of this game so well that you can manipulate how the race ends, and what it means to win. To get ahead:

1) First, listen.
2) Observe.
3) Use it.
4) Everyone wins.

All ears, baby.