By Rick Kirschner
Riddle me this: What technique works as well with a negative person as it does with a 2-year-old at home?
Answer: The Polarity Pattern!
What happens when you tell a 2-year-old to go to bed when the older kids are still up?
The conversation descends along these lines. You ask a person to do something. You ask nicely. You are reasonable. And then they say, “I don’t want to (do what you want them to). To which you reply, “But you have to do it.” And it’s straight downhill from there.
Want a better idea? Use the polarity response! It turns out that when people don’t want to do something, they’re having a polarity response, and using what’s there is more likely to work than fighting or withdrawing from it. The good news is this pattern works well with negative people, probably because they are in a polarized position already.
I once had an opportunity to observe a brilliant sales manager use this technique on a poor performer who was doing his best to convince his manager that, no matter how hard he tried, no one was buying. When all else failed, the manager playfully agreed with him, saying, “OK, you win. Of all the salespeople I have known, managed or worked with, you have convinced me that none have ever had it so bad: none of your prospects have any money and no one will ever want to buy anything from you because this is the worst economy anyone has ever seen. There’s no point in trying to help you. You are doomed, completely beyond help.”
The guy looked shocked as he considered that for a long moment, then replied, “Come on. It’s not that bad.” To which the manager replied, “It’s not? You sure?” To which the salesperson replied, “Yes, I’m sure.” And that’s when he was finally able to start working with his manager to change his results.
Another time, I happened to overhear a prospect complaining to a salesperson how all salespeople were hustlers, con artists and scammers whose only real concern was making a buck, no matter that it cost them their soul. The salesperson, with a look of utmost earnestness on her face, suggested, “You’re right. All salespeople are the scum of the earth, not a decent one amongst us; we’re so evil we have our families and friends fooled.” The prospect laughed at this idea, then admitted, “Alright, you’re not all that bad!”
There are two ways to apply this polarity principle when dealing with negative people. The first is to bring up the negatives before they do. If you can anticipate that they are going to attack your idea and point out its flaws anyway, might as well invite them to do it so that they are on your side!
You say, “Here’s my idea, and here’s where I see it has problems. Bill, break it down for us.” The negative person hears that you are approaching your idea realistically, and may actually be satisfied. “No, that’s OK. As long as you’re aware of the shortcomings, I’m onboard.”
A second way to use this is to agree with the hopelessness of the situation and take it one step further. Throw down the gauntlet by insisting that even they would be incapable of finding a solution to this problem. “You’re right. It is hopeless. In fact, not even you could find a way to solve this problem.”
And that’s when you get the polarity response. Because the only way a negative person can stay negative to a person agreeing with them is to go positive. Don’t be surprised to see your negative person go in the opposite direction, telling you that it can be done and how to do it.
Rick Kirschner has helped millions improve their communication skills and have better relationships and careers. His new book, “How to Click With People,” reveals the secret to better relationships in business and in life.