Think Fast – Persuasive Communication and Life Skills

by Dr. Rick Kirschner on August 31, 2009

RKOntheMoveBecause of my history of teaching conflict resolution and persuasion skills, some of friends love to find ways to test my knowledge.  I recall a birthday party thrown for me by friends in Durango when I turned 50 (gosh, already 10 years ago!)  My parents flew out from Ohio, my wife and daughter were there, along with a good number of friends who either lived there or made the journey, and we were all seated around a long table that dominated the restaurant.

My friends set it up for fun.  There was a poster of me on the wall with something akin to a bright aura of light radiating out from my head.  Beneath this was a lava lamp.

This was at the Cypress Cafe, an incredible restaurant owned by our friend Alison Dance.  Alison really went all out.  The food was fabulous, as usual.  More importantly, we were served the most delicious wine (Alison knows wine like nobody else!), and it went straight to my head.  So there I was, sitting in a crowded restaurant, at a table of 20 people who love me, my head was  in a haze of delicious delerium, and someone at the table asked me to say something.

I began, “Here I am, surrounded by my dearest friends and family, my wife to my left, my daughter to my right…” and that’s as far as I got. My Mom, sitting across the table, let up a plaintive cry that riveted the attention of everyone in the restaurant.  “What about me???”

This was one of those moments in my life where everything seemed to stop, my words and hers were suspended in the air.  It felt a little dangerous, like if I said the wrong thing, Mom’s feelings would be hurt and the party atmosphere would change.  I felt like my friends were looking at me to see what I’d say.  I could almost hear them thinking, “What’s Dr. Communication Skills going to do with this?”

I just picked up where I left off, “…and my Mom and my Dad in front of me…I feel like I’m the most fortunate person in the world.”   As they say, ‘without missing a beat.’  Except the skipped beat of my heart.  And a good time was had by all.

When you have to think fast, try incorporating whatever is happening into what you say or do next.  Rather than fighting or withdrawing from life as it is, embrace the moment, see what it brings, and use it to put some wind in your sails.

I’ve applied this idea in my training programs for years.  I affirmed to myself that “I love the wobbles,” because the wobbles (unexpected occurrences) were commonplace.  Maybe the microphone wouldn’t work.  Or the bulb in the projector would go out.  Or someone might die the night before the program.

That actually happened.   And yet the client determined that the program would go on as scheduled.  Everyone knew the person who had passed, and people were really down in the dumps in that group.  As I was walking in to set up my stuff, I noticed that people seemed in a dark mood as I entered the room.  Then I was informed of the situation by my client.

I had to think fast.  I had to say something to open.  And so I did. I incorporated the idea of unexpected death into my opening, by saying, “There’s no guarantee I’m going to finish this program today, and no guarantee that you are either.  This is the only moment any of us gets to have for sure, and while it may not be as we want it to be, it is what it is.  I hope you’ll join with me in making the most of this moment while we can.”

I was amazed at how quickly the energy improved in the room.  People were looking for a direction and I gave them one.  You can do this too.  It begins by accepting what the moment brings and responding to it creatively and with determination.  Worse case scenario, your quick thinking gets a bad result.  But best case is a great result, and when it comes to thinking fast, you’ll never know until you try.

Now, think fast.  What do you have to say about this?  Your comments are always welcome.
Be well


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