Candid conversations can move the needle in advancing progress, particularly if you’re speaking with someone who controls resources or shapes policy, or perhaps the listener can influence someone who does. If you’re feeling brave, here are a few tips for being upfront in conversations that can sway opinions:
- Be clear about what bugs you and why it does. Women often have passion about an issue because of something they’ve experienced (or a co-worker, family member or friend has experienced). However, if the conversation gets hot, they aren’t necessarily prepared to explain the underlying facts that led them to have a particular opinion. Women read non-verbal cues, and if the audience is tuning you out when you stick your neck out, keep your focus on your end game. To ensure you’re not overly emotional or overreacting to a lack of enthusiasm, build your case strategically, piece by piece. Use the Five W’s a journalist must ask: Who, What, Where, When, and Why (plus How).
- Let’s get real. Stereotypes still persist.
As a result, speakers need to navigate listener’s skepticism about women’s capacity to have a strong opinion. Women’s roles are changing as fast as an iceberg is melting these days. Remember the first time you saw a woman enter the cockpit and realized she was the pilot and not a stewardess? We expect men to be pilots just as we expect men to lead a social, political, or scientific change, but times are changing as women move into decision-making roles.If you want to address a controversial issue, you must have facts at the ready, especially in situations where there is skepticism about women’s capacity to understand a complicated problem in a male-dominated field. Keep these 4 tips in mind to gain credibility as the voice of authority:
- Mention the most current research from reputable neutral sources (e.g., Gallop polls or The Mayo Clinic research).
- Use shocking statistics to shake people up.
- Share a dramatic personal experience that was transformational.
- Present a story ripped from the headlines.
The criteria for deciding how to substantiate your claim or make your argument effective is to consider the listeners’ interests, values, circumstances, and needs. How might they might relate to your examples? You might find each of your examples fascinating, but will they?
- Listen to what other people think about a particular issue.
Consider where your audience is coming from and what might sway them. I changed a police officer’s (closed) mind about EEO legislation in a seminar when I asked him to talk about his daughter’s situation. Turned out she was my age and, like me, a single parent trying to support herself and her kids. We made a personal connection around this as he talked about her desire to advance against the odds, and suddenly the door opened to having a richer conversation about the impact of new legislation he had opposed. You can’t find common ground if you jump into a rant without exploring what you have in common. And most important, you might learn something about the subject at hand from someone with different knowledge and experiences. When people are honest, we can learn from their mistakes as well as our own.
- When you are pitching a new idea, focus on common goals.
Don’t shy away from the opposition. In fact, when you deliver a presentation, give positive public feedback and validation to people who have different points of views. Consider how they contributed to success, including your own. Once you model that kind of graciousness, they will behave in kind. At that point, you (and everyone else) can stop focusing on what divides you to realizing what you have in common. Reach out to people with different backgrounds and opinions and learn who they are beyond the easy stereotyping one can do based on age, gender, background, and even political party.
- Show how every change has consequences, some unintended, and communicate that to the audience.
As a speaker pitching a new idea, you must become sensitive to why people have good reasons to be resistant to your point of view. Let’s face it, people fear change because it will create an uncertain, untested future. Keep in mind that there might be a price to pay for some people if the change you advocate actually does happen. Examples include: people losing private office space if they move into cubicles; learning new software that is time-consuming and humbling. A dose of humility on your part can help here. There must be a few benefits of the change you are proposing that you can articulate in a clear, comprehensible way that everyone can understand, even those most resistant. You can simply say, “I had to be convinced by Millie who had a better idea, but we’re now much more efficient using her system. And (notice that it’s “and” and not “but”) I want to take her good idea a step further…’
In conclusion, the issues we face today are huge and complicated requiring dynamic debates. Women and men of different backgrounds have so much to gain from speaking honestly with one another, airing differences, finding common ground, and taking action together. Speechwriter Peggy Noonan believes that “Candor is a compliment; it implies equality. It’s how true friends talk.” If she’s right, today’s invitation is this: ask the women and men you know what bugs them and what you and they can do about changing things for the better. You might be surprised by what they say.