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Festina Lente: Strategic Patience for Persuasive Communication

Tortoise and rabbitThe first two articles in this series dealt with ways to benefit from exercising patience during persuasive conversations, on the time scale of seconds and minutes. Those time frames require tactical patience, and requires developing new habits, so that you can practice the skills without having to think about them in the moment. In this article, we turn our attention to the times between persuasive conversations, or the power of patience over days, weeks and months.  This is strategic patience, and it may require a change in your attitude and in your thinking processes, as you navigate the intricacies of relationships, decision processes, preparations and negotiations over time.

Relationships take time. Last week, I experienced an example of strategic impatience which will probably be familiar to you. I accepted a LinkedIn connection request from someone I did not know; I was flattered because she said she enjoyed reading my blog. Then, not 24 hours after connecting, she sent me an email aggressively trying to sell her company’s services. In this case, her haste was not only ineffective, it was counterproductive. (It wasn’t a total loss for me; I learned how easy it is to remove a connection on LinkedIn)

My aggressive new friend probably knows that trusting relationships take time, but she let her hunger for immediate results override her common sense. Maybe it’s not her fault: I’m sure she’s under pressure from a sales manager who wants sales now.

We all want a lot of strong relationships at the top of the relationship pyramid, where people who are able to help you take your phone calls. But the problem for most people is that they only pay attention to others in their network when they need something. If they haven’t patiently nurtured their network by staying in touch and by giving instead of taking, that will be too late.

Acceptance time. One of the reasons that you need patience is that persuasion implies change, and change usually takes time. You may think your idea is brilliant, but you’ve forgotten that it took you time to arrive at that conclusion; you’ve forgotten what it’s like not to know what you know, and not to believe what you believe. If it took you time to get to that point, why do you think you can short-cut that process for others?

They will need time to absorb the new information, to think about it, discuss it with others, and quite frankly just to get used to the idea. It’s hard to get someone to change their mind quickly or too far in one jump. You might need patience to nudge the needle, or otherwise your efforts may fail or even backfire. Pushing too far, too fast, will activate their inner two-year-old, and they will assert their independence by shoving back.

Patience is especially critical when you are involved in complex sales. It’s natural to want to rush your customers through their decision process as quickly as possible, especially when your solution will have such an impact on their business that they leave money on the table every day that they don’t implement it. So you step over potential allies to try to get right to the C-Level where decisions are made quicker, you give incentives (i.e. drop your price) to close this quarter, and you save time on your presentations by throwing in stock slides and stale information.

Nemawashi is the Japanese name for the patient preparation of an idea by talking to all the relevant people behind the scenes, long in advance of when you need the decision to be made. It may seem like it takes extra time, but besides improving your chances of gaining agreement, it actually saves time by shaping the conditions for the agreement you want and by enabling much more rapid and focused execution once the decision is taken.

Measure twice, cut once. It’s hard to avoid a cliché on this one, but if you haven’t got time to it right the first time, when will you have time to do it over? The patience to prepare and plan is probably the most obvious – and ignored – application of the concept there is.  Whether you’re preparing for a presentation, meeting, sales call or conversation, a few hours of preparation can save you weeks or months of work and worry. Whether it’s one more tough question you can anticipate, or double-checking your facts, or researching additional attendees, this can be some of the most profitable time you can spend.

Negotiation strength. In negotiations, the side in a hurry will lose, because there is no reason to accept a poor bargain until you have to. When time is on your side, impatience to get a deal closed is a form of unilateral disarmament. Unfortunately, this seems to be the dynamic at work in Afghanistan, as the US has announced a strict timetable for withdrawal by the end of 2014. As our adversaries like to say, “You have the watches, but we have the time.”

It takes patience to build patience. If this series on patience in persuasion has inspired you to work on strengthening your patience, please realize that it will take time. Patience at the tactical level is a skill, and proficiency takes time.

The only impatience you should have is to get started immediately.

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