In the past two and a half decades, I’ve had really great mentors at different stages of my professional life. One mentor, however, remains my favorite. He was my CEO at a previous job and he had a way of using picturesque turns of phrase to express himself. He also didn’t mince words; you always knew where you stood with him.
While my mentor has since retired from consulting work, his quirky lines still remain with me. In fact, I find myself muttering some of his lines now and again — as recently as last week.
In this post, I share one of his favorite lines and the lesson behind it. Watch for future posts for other lessons.
Lesson #1: “I don’t need to know your life story”
When you want to convince someone to do something, start with your recommendation before explaining your rationale.
In other words, get to the point. Don’t distract your listener or reader with the details of how you got to the conclusion, especially when you’re at the start of the conversation. Always start with the conclusion itself.
Why does it matter?
Consider this fictional conversation between a sales lead and their boss, the Sales Director:
Sales Lead (enters director’s office): Hey, boss. Can I talk to you about something?
Boss (puts a pen down, leans back in chair): Sure.
Sales Lead: So… I was feeling really frustrated on the drive home from work last night because our new hire, Andy, has been having trouble putting together that proposal for client X this week. It was taking him way too much time. And when he finally finished the first draft, it was just all over the place.
Boss (thinking): (Uh-oh. Does this mean I need to fire Andy?)
Sales Lead: Clearly, he has no idea what our proposals should look like. The document needs so much work that I’m thinking of canceling today’s team meeting so I can finish the proposal myself. It’s due 9 am tomorrow and it’s for one of our strategic clients.
Boss (thinking): (Oh. Maybe my Sales Lead just wants me to run this week’s Sales meeting so they can work on the proposal.)
Sales Lead: So anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I want to block off half a day on my schedule next week to hammer out a standard proposal template that all our sales agents should use. I know you prefer that I be out doing calls, but I think this is more important.
Boss (thinking): (Well, ‘doh. Why didn’t you just say so in the first place? I didn’t need to hear your life story.)
Sales Lead: A template will make our sales agents more productive, will be a great way for them to learn how we want things done, and it will let us standardize the structure of our proposals.
Boss (nods): Okay. Makes sense to me. Let’s do that.
Here’s how it could have been so much better
Consider how much more efficiently and professionally the same conversation would have gone if the Sales Lead had started with the key point instead.
Sales Lead: Hey, boss. I’d like to get your approval to block off half a day on my schedule next week to create a standard proposal template that our sales agents should use. I know you prefer that I be out doing calls, but I think the investment in time is worth it. A template will make our sales agents more productive, will be a great way for them to learn how we want things done, and it will let us standardize the structure of our proposals.
Boss: Oh? What brought this on?
Sales Lead: You know that new agent we hired, Andy? I think he’ll be more productive if he were to have a template as a starting point. Plus I know we plan to hire more agents in the coming months so the template I’ll create will also help them ramp up fast.
Boss (nods): Okay. That’s a really good idea. Let’s do that.
Why This Approach Makes a Big Difference
There are many benefits for you and your listener when you start with the conclusion:
- Your listener doesn’t have to guess where you’re taking them. They’re not distracted by inconsequential details.
- Your listener can easily confirm that the rationale behind your recommendation is sound because you established the context first.
- You save your listener the effort of trying to solve the problem while they’re listening to you.
- Your conversation does not waste time.
- You project a more professional image because your listener sees you as solution-focused, not problem-focused.
- You didn’t have to speak ill of your new hire to get the desired outcome.
If you’d like a meaty guide for how to structure your thinking, writing, and presentations, consider reading The Minto Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto. Ameet Ranadive provides a great overview if you want a quick reference to skim.