show your work

Show Your Work, Give Reasons

Do you remember elementary school Math? Arithmetic? There were always a few brighter than normal kids who could do those long division questions in their heads and scribble down the correct answer. If your schooling resembled mine, chances are the teacher would pull these kids aside and tell them….”show me your work”. At the time it seemed petty because if someone was bright enough to be able to do the work in their heads, why not let ‘er rip?

Turns out, showing your work and providing reasons is a great tool in persuasive communication. Two examples:

I had the pleasure of co-instructing with David McPhillips for many years at the UBC Sauder School of Business. The course we created together, The Art and Science of Persuasion, grew out of our respective backgrounds: law and journalism. David loved the concept of showing your work, or giving reasons and would cite a research project about people butting into a line-up with (a) no reason (b) a good reason (c) a nonsensical reason and (d) a total fabrication. Turns out we don’t need to hear a GOOD reason to allow someone to cut into line ahead of us; we simply need A reason. He would often tell the story of his “great discovery” at, of all places, an event that included DANCING! (Remember those?) where a gentleman who eschewed the activity, told those who wanted him to give them a spin that he couldn’t dance….because he had a bone in his leg. Good enough!

Recently I was working with a coaching client who was throwing her hat in the ring for a big promotion. She was the internal candidate but there were others, from outside the organization, with more years of operational experience. We worked on all her strong messages about how being internal was an asset and finally came up with a message that turned an asset into a super-power. It’s a variation on the notion of giving reasons.

Turns out her organization is seasonally challenged. Bad things happen at a certain time of year and that time of year is almost upon them. We reframed her experience in the organization as a MUST-HAVE given the impending vulnerability. There’s no time for someone from outside to come up to speed, regardless of their experience, because they don’t know this particular challenge and it’s coming our way! [BTW. Hit it out of the park; got the promotion.]

Now I’m not saying that any bull***t reason will fly in most circumstances, but the concept of supporting your statement with a reason, an example, simply showing your work, is critical to providing the context that people need to say YES to you. This works as well for any type of persuasive conversation, not just job and promotional interviews.

Joanna Piros