Maister’s Exaggeration Ploy
post # 101 — June 8, 2006 — a Careers, Client Relations post
I have noticed something very strange about engaging in discussions (and even disagreements) with people.
The more you disagree with them, taking the other side in an argument, the more vehemently they push their original point of view. However, if you don’t disagree, but restate their point in an exaggerated form, they often back down, or at least tone down their original statement.
This works so well, I’m thinking of copyrighting the idea and calling it “Maister’s Exaggeration Ploy.”
(I know, I know, there’s little new in this world and someone else probably thought of it before me, but I don’t think I stole this from anyone. And if I did, I can’t remember from whom.)
To see how my principle works, imagine a family member, say, a brother, who is upset at how he has been treated by a cousin. Your brother says: “I’m really upset with Jimmy. He had no right to speak to me that way!”
Because you want you brother to calm down and get over it, you might say: “Don’t let it bother you. Perhaps he really didn’t mean to be unkind.”
As valid as your point may be, you can bet your remarks will only serve to annoy your brother. After all, you appear to be defending cousin Jimmy by downplaying his intentions. This will set your brother off on another tirade, and also, probably, cause him to get annoyed with you, too.
But what if you had said: “You’re right! Jimmy’s a louse. He always has been! I think we should have nothing to do with him, ever again! Let’s leave him off the invitation list for all family gatherings from now on!”
Nothing with people is a certainty, but I would bet that your brother’s next remarks will be something like: “Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad. I’m upset, but there’s no point over-reacting.” You have calmed him down by agreeing with him and exaggerating his own point!
The same principle of exaggeration applies in the workplace. If your boss (or client) berates you because you were late in delivering something, don’t fight back, saying it was his or her fault (especially if it was!)
Instead, say: “I realize what a problem this has created for you. I’m really sorry that I caused you such turmoil. Can you help me figure out a way to prevent this in the future?” The boss (or client) will, with high probability, calm down and you’ll survive! Or at least the odds will be more in your favor!
Try my approach out. Let me know if it works for you!