When you barter on the price for something you’re interested in buying or discuss the terms and conditions of a contract, you are entering into a conversation in which there is a very clear winner and loser. This isn’t always the case however and most of the times when we talk there is no obvious ‘goal’ to the conversation. However, while the winner and loser might not seem obvious, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. In fact, any conversation you have puts you in the position of either the winner or loser and there will always be one party who comes across as more ‘dominant’ and who takes a more assertive and influential role.
While it’s no big deal most of the time, if you are consistently the subordinate party in your interactions, it will ultimately mean that less goes your way and that you make less of an impression on the people you talk to. More to the point, when you are having an argument or trying to negotiate, you’ll be less prepared to swing the tide in your favour and get what you want. Here then, we will look at some simple strategies you can use to make sure that the ball is in your court more often than not when you’re having a conversation.
Silence is an incredibly powerful tool and one that should never be underestimated. The problem is that most of us feel awkward in a silence and are thus compelled by the urge to fill it. Try it, next time you have a conversation with someone, leave a purposeful period of silence and watch how they grasp at things to talk about and start blabbing information (even more effective if you also stare at them during this time).
While this is a fun tool for making your friends squirm, it also puts you more in charge because suddenly you’re not the one making so much effort to drive the conversation forward. By taking a more detached role, it becomes their job to impress. At the same time, this can also be a highly powerful weapon in a negotiation or even when trying to get someone to give you more information. The reason being that when people fill that silence, they will tend to try and fill it with things they think you want to hear.
Disagreeing, or even just looking ‘unimpressed’, is also a powerful tool you can use to put yourself in charge of the situation. Most of us are so eager to be liked that we’ll agree with things and pretend to know things left right and centre. Even when we disagree, we often do it apologetically by saying ‘Yeah of course, the only exception being… ‘.
If you want to gain control of the conversation then, take someone out of their stride by flat out disagreeing with them. When they tell you that ‘Cannabis should be legal’, don’t try to sound cool by agreeing with them if you don’t do the same. You might think that you’ll win respect by agreeing, but actually it takes a lot more guts to call them on it and say ‘I think you’re wrong actually, and you’re doing more damage to yourself than you realise’. Then enjoy watching how much it takes them out of their stride.
If you invite someone to do something you’ll find it’s oddly compelling and that they’ll tend to comply. Don’t tell people what to do or think, because their natural reaction will be to rebel. Instead, invite them in such a way that they know they can say no but feel obligated to follow. ‘I invite you to think about just what an impact that will have on you’, or ‘If you have time, take a look through these documents for a moment’. And of course because you’re telling the other person what to do, and they are following your directions, that puts you very much ‘in charge’ of the situation.
Another way to gain control of the situation is to put the other person into a more agreeable state of mind. You can do this for instance by getting them to verbally agree with you and confirm what you’re thinking. For instance ask them ‘do you understand?’. When they say ‘yes’, they’re basically signing a verbal contract. Likewise you can say to them ‘repeat after me’ – though only if you’re already in a very dominant position (otherwise you’ll just come off as a douche).
Another way to tell who the dominant party in a conversation is is to look for who gets the last touch. Touching sends a strong signal that you are the dominant party and generally body language experts agree that the last touch is the most important. If you want to put a tick in the ‘win column’ after a communication, pat the other person on the back as they go to leave.
Taking the Moral High Ground With Rhetorical Questions
When someone is being aggressive and making a statement in an argument that isn’t entirely justified, a quick way to knock the wind out of them is often to simply get them to justify what they’re saying or to question their morality.
Calling up to complain about a bill? Then ask the person you speak with: I don’t think this is very fair – do you? If someone is trying to push you around at work then tell them – ‘There’s no need to kick and screem, why don’t you settle this like an adult?’. Suddenly they’ll feel about an inch tall…
In haggling and negotiations, the person who wins will often be the person who is happy to walk away from the deal. This way you come from a position of power, so make sure that you invest yourself less in any conversation you have. Be the person who is more able to walk away and let the relationship get damaged. One way to do this is to come up with a contingency plan: if your discussion doesn’t go the way you hope it will, then how will you get by without them so that it doesn’t actually matter?
Charisma seems like a magical and unquantifiable trait that’s hard to define, but in fact it’s very simple to measure what charisma is. Simply, charisma is what happens when you believe passionately in what you’re saying. When you can do this, you will find that your body language reflects what you’re saying, that your voice takes on a stronger tone and that you manage to bring people in and get them behind you as you talk. Make sure that you really believe what you’re saying and speak from the heart and no one will be able to stand in your way.
All this is very good and well, but being purposefully awkward and trying not to care so much won’t come naturally to begin with meaning that you’ll have to learn it over time. If you want to get better at conversation then and ‘win’ more often than you lose, spend some time practicing and trying out the techniques outlined above. Next time you need to call your energy provider to query a gas bill, or next time your food isn’t well cooked in a restaurant, practice being more dominant in the conversation and see how it goes. Over time it will start to come naturally.