Monday, August 25, 2003

The Art of Persuasion --
Mike Antonellis Channels Pedro Martínez  

"Never pitch the same pitch twice, never the same place twice, never the same speed twice" -- Ed Lopat (Yankee pitcher)

Communication is important daily in management. Being able to transmit your thoughts, to "sell" your ideas above or below you in the hierarchy, to market difficult concepts, all of these acts, according to my buddy Mike Antonellis, require the mentality of a skilled major league pitcher.

Mike, who communicates professionally for a living at Lois Paul & Partners in Red Sox Nation, uses the word "pitch" for both what Pedro Martínez does and for the process of delivering a terse selling rap. So when he goes to a work meeting where he's "pitching" his peers or a journalist, he says,

"You need to get your pitch by them for a strike, so you need to assess the 'hitter's' strengths, the scenario, who's 'on base,' the score, what is the hitter expecting - and work to make the best pitch possible to get their attention.  Sometimes you need the go for the heater, other times, laying back and pitching a changeup and curve. "

I couldn't agree more. The heater, "the old #1" is direct spoken messages. This can work if you know your audience, if you know they know the content as well as you, if you know they are just taking your message at face value. But frequently, users have an axe to grind.

Not so long ago, I worked on a job for a state child welfare agency that was putting all case files into an automated, computerized system. The users are (almost) universally social workers with Master's degrees, and their paper files, their tactile connection to their (many) cases were being phased out. All the little notes they made just for themselves, private reminders to themselves, would either go into the widely-viewable case record or have to be left out.

Now if you don't know many social workers, read this paragraph; if you know a bunch, skip it. Social workers with Masters degrees are not in it for the money -- a senior one is paid less than a programmer with one year of experience or a senior receptionist at Microsoft. Social workers are not in it for the glory (because spending 40+ hours a week with abused children and abusers and the court system) is not going to get you on the cover of Us magazine, unless one of your kid clients gets killed.. Social workers are in it most often for the people, the dealing with human problems. And computers and software and automated casework systems are not human, but the opposite: computers. Most of social workers making this transition believed their time was being torn from working with clients (what they signed up for & have aptitude for) and pushed at doing data entry on computers (which, as people-centric folk, they mostly don't have an aptitude for).

This is a classic case where the fastball, the heater, is just a bad pitch to throw. A straight-ahead informational statement will fall on few ears. Arguing case-files X% cleaner or more accurate is not a sales pitch to a client-centered professional, where the slider...the ways the results of the system would benefit children and families..is a fine pitch.

TIP: Think like a pitcher. Read the hitter and throw, as Mike says, "whatever it takes to get the deal done".

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