Have you noticed that nagging, whining, complaining, sternly directing, yelling, criticizing and freaking out don’t seem to get you what you want from a partner, family member, friend, colleague or child? In a previous article, "Asking for What You Want," I explained how to ask cleanly and directly for what you want, and that being direct has a better success rate. While that’s true, it isn’t infallible. Sometimes, it’s necessary to use a technique I call "gentle persistence."
At times, no matter how good you are at communication techniques, the other person will still refuse to talk with you about certain topics. This can happen when you're brand new at negotiating, or even after you have had several successful, satisfying discussions. Even people who are used to working on things together can get stuck in stubborn refusal to talk, if they’re anxious, stressed or pressured.
There are a lot of possible reasons why either of you could be reluctant or unwilling to negotiate:
- If teamwork and solving problems together is new to either or both of you,
- If the problem is particularly scary to either of you,
- If one of you is afraid of being manipulated or overpowered,
- If the problem seems insurmountable,
- If one of you is accustomed to being in charge,
- If the problem involves a life change.
- If one of you is in a stressful situation or anxious about something.
If you have tried everything you know and the other person still refuses to talk about it, don't give up! Getting to a mutually workable agreement and the resulting mutual satisfaction and success are worth some extra effort on your part. At this point, gentle persistence is what you need.
Gentle persistence is the art of staying focused on your objective (solving your problem, getting an agreement to negotiate) and repeatedly asking the other person to participate, without sounding critical, impatient, pushy, overbearing or dictatorial. When it comes to opening up a discussion, gentle persistence can be a very effective and valuable skill.
Most of us only know how to persist in a nagging, complaining, whining or angry way. These styles of persistence are based in the belief that the other person won't cooperate, and has to be made unhappy or uncomfortable enough to give in. Gentle persistence, in contrast, is based on a belief that the other person is a reasonable person who wants to cooperate, but somehow (even after all your communicating, "I" messages, and invitations) hasn't heard you, and misinterprets or doesn't understand that's what you want. Such persistence may need to be repeated over a period of days or weeks, if the other person is very reluctant to listen or has a difficult time understanding what you mean, but, if you can resist the impulse to nag or complain, it is very often successful.
When you gently persist: