Monday 23 January 2017

Sometimes you are wrong

I quite often get asked the same type of question in the Q&A sessions at the end of my talks:

"How can I convince my manager that we should be doing test automation?"

"My developer used to be a tester, how can I convince them that my test approach is right?"

"How can I convince my team to allow more time for testing?"

What each of these boils down to is persuasion. How can I persuade someone else to adopt my viewpoint? How can I turn them from a hindrance to a helper? How can I make them see the light?

I think there's value in learning how to construct a persuasive argument. A tool like SPIN selling can help you structure what you're saying, to stop you from jumping straight into solutions or getting mired in explaining problems repetitively.

I think there's value in learning to be mindful of how you're presenting yourself. Being conscious of your tone, body language, eye contact etc. can help you improve how you convey your message. I occasionally make use of a self-assessment worksheet to reflect on conversations that haven't been successful and identify opportunities to improve my delivery:

I think there's value in learning some basic influence techniques: the rule of reciprocation, reject and retreat, social proof, commitment and consistency, etc. [ref] These strategies can help you to position your argument in the best possible environment for success.

But there's another side to persuasion that I think testers don't talk about enough.

Sometimes you are wrong.

If you continually focus on how you can convince another person of your viewpoint, then you might have become blind to that possibility. I'm sure you'll agree that obstinate people are frustrating to work with. Have you become one of them?

Before you ask for help on how to convince someone, consider how long you have been trying to persuade them without success. Is it starting to feel like a never-ending battle? Do you feel like you've presented your position in depth, but it has fallen on deaf ears?

Perhaps its time to stop asking questions about being persuasive. Instead, start asking how you can understand their viewpoint and accept their opinions. Turn the conversation around.

What might this person know that you don't? Are they active in a different layer of the organisation hierarchy that might give them visibility of information that you don't have? Do they come from a different background that might give them skills or perspective that you lack? What questions can you ask to help discover these differences?

Who else is part of making this decision? Perhaps the person who you are trying to persuade isn't the sole decision maker? If they are deciding individually, do you know who else is influencing them? Can you talk with a wider group of people to understand a broader range of perspectives on the matter?

Why is their solution the best? Step into their shoes and look just for the positive outcomes in what they are proposing. How does it address the current problems? What constructive implications does it have, both for your personally and in a wider scope? If you've been stuck in a persuasive argument, you've probably formed a habit of seeking out the holes in what they propose. Switch your mindset to focus on the benefits.

What have you got to lose? We can get bogged down in arguments that, in the greater scheme of things, are not that important. Ask yourself, if you were to accept the other person's position what would you lose? It may not be as great a loss as you imagine, particularly if they're offering to compromise.

Sometimes you are wrong.

Don't forget to question whether now is that time.

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