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How to make people believe what you say

January 20, 2012

My brother has a habit of proclaiming dubious ‘facts’ in a very confident voice. Whenever I express my doubts about it, he responds with, ‘you’d be surprised!’.

While I remain cynical, others tend to believe him. He’s just that kind of guy.

I have found, in life and in work, that saying something confidently is often all you need for others believe you.

When I worked in a  pharmacy, customers would put a surprising amount of faith in my recommendations on anything from hair dye to painkillers. I was no older than 21, but hey, I wore a white dress and stood behind a counter. Must be an expert.

In my defence, I only made recommendations if I knew what I was talking about (I did a bunch of training on home hair colouring, thank you very much). Otherwise, I’d defer to the pharmacist.

What does this have to do with PR? Well, our clients and colleagues depend on us for advice. And they’re likely to believe what we say.

Sometimes they’ll believe it and still do the opposite, because it’s easier, cheaper, or head office says so. But a lot of time, they will make decisions based on our point of view.

Which is kind of cool, but kind of scary. How do we know we’re giving them the right advice?

In PR, there is rarely a ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ answer. There is, however, an opportunity to draw on our experience and our ethos.

My ethos is that transparency is better than obfuscation. While bearing in mind commercial imperatives, my advice will always tend towards being upfront and frank. It will favour plain language rather than corporate-speak. It will assume that people aren’t idiots, and if you try and hide something, they will realise.

When I was thrown into a massive crisis management job late last year, this ethos served me well. I had to advise the CEO on major decisions, and I had to do it on the fly.

Of course, I had a team to consult with, but I was on the ground and in the thick of it, so a lot of it rested with me. On balance, I think we gave the right advice.

A.T. Kearney has a quotation from the firm’s founder emblazoned on its reception wall. It talks about believing in the ‘essential rightness’ of their advice.  Whether you’re a management consultant or a PR consultant, it’s a great way to think about it.

Perhaps you’ve never stopped to think about the principles that underpin your advice and inform your strategies. But it’s useful to give it some reflection, and think about why you believe in the essential rightness of what you do.

Seriously, you’d be surprised.  

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  1. Good post! But what have you done when the advice you are giving falls on deaf ears? I’d be interested in your perspective.

    • Or I should say, have you had the experience where your professional PR advice fell on deaf ears? How did you handle it?

  2. Thanks! So, I guess you mean, what do I do other than whinge about it to my colleagues? I try to manage their expecations of what will happen if they don’t follow my advice – which is a bit of a ‘cover your arse’ strategy.

    Sometimes I try and give them a low-cost, low-effort alternative, which is more palatable. Maybe not as effective, but better than nothing.

    And sometimes, you just have to wait it out for the shit to hit the fan. Happened to me this week – a client was insistent on giving a ‘no comment’ response, and then the story ran with inaccuracies. I think they’ll be less intractable next time.

  3. Jep permalink

    Hi Belinda. I believe Tim knows all facts about the simpsons, hence his confidence!

  4. You’re right, I have clients who actually think I am a strategy consultant. Something about being a one-eyed man in the land of the blind, I guess. I even started talking about “brand architecture” the other day.

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