Committing to Change


It all begins with trust. Nothing else really matters, nor will any other tactics that are taught really matter, if there isn’t trust. Can the art of creating trust be learned? Yes. Is there a process that can be defined for creating trust? Yes. You want to create trust? Ask questions, and then listen.

My Father-in-Law

I’ll never forget the first time I met my future wife Ronni’s father. I was understandably nervous, but Ronni kept insisting, “You’ll like him. Everyone likes him.” Everyone likes him? Perhaps, but this did little to ease my apprehension.

Then came the big meeting. He warmly shook my hand, and we began to speak. To my surprise, it was one of the easiest conversations I had ever had with a person I had never met. I looked up at the clock and couldn’t believe we had been speaking, freely and effortlessly, for over thirty minutes. I was elated, and told Ronni, “Boy, you weren’t kidding, I really like him! He’s so easy to talk with!” She nodded her head and smiled.

A few weeks later, I met Ronni’s father again, and once again was astonished at how easily the conversation seemed to flow. I could spend all day talking to this man! Once again I told Ronni, “I love talking to your dad!” This time I looked a little more carefully at her reaction and saw her slightly roll her eyes when I reacted the way I did. When I questioned her about her reaction she smiled and said, “I know you like my dad; everyone likes my dad. Do you know why you like my dad so much? Because he never speaks. He asks questions, and he listens to the answers.”

That was the first time it dawned on me that throughout our conversations, these conversations I enjoyed so much, he never told me a thing about himself. He dialed his questions into me. Not only did these questions make me like him, they made me trust him.

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The more the people you are communicating with talk, the more they like the person they are talking to.

Think about the last time you were led to believe in a solution because you felt comfortable with the person you were communicating with. Did he or she earn this level of trust by bowling you over with knowledge, or was it by asking questions and listening?

Is It Mean or Is It Merciful?

There’s no sugarcoating it: The most challenging part of influencing is asking the more difficult questions. These are the questions that are sometimes referred to as “pain” questions. In the end, success or failure often comes down to one thing: Can you create pain without creating conflict?

I received an email from a former client I deeply respect. She wrote that she had just asked some of those “pain” questions to a client, successfully. The process of forcing her client to look at the most difficult aspects of his resistance to change, however, made her “feel a little mean.”

Those four words made me stop what I was doing, take a deep breath, and swallow hard. At that moment, I had to accept the fact that I had failed my client. When you force someone to answer a difficult question—a question that makes another person feel the pain of not taking action, you are not being aggressive. You are, in fact, being empathetic.

I’ll go a step further. I firmly believe it’s one of the most sincere acts of kindness you can offer another human being. We’ve all seen people who are struggling at home or at work, and we want to help them. Anyone can come to the rescue with his or her wonderful ideas that dictate what the other person should do. It’s a comfortable conversation, but it never creates change. It’s the tougher road, but ultimately, the one that gets you to your destination.

If you can cross this bridge, and believe, then in the end you’ll get to do what so many cannot: You’ll save things. You get to save both people and businesses, because the path you took required discipline and courage. The results you initiated changed another person’s life. You were the one who helped someone move past his or her fear of change, and into the future. Doing something like that is never mean. It’s quite the contrary. It’s merciful, and it is something to be profoundly proud of.

Encouraging Commitment to Change

So here we are–after methodically creating trust, we earned the right to enter into a conversation–to a guarded area many don’t allow us to enter. Once allowed in, we not only asked questions so as to identify this problem, we carefully, and empathetically, dug deeper. As a result, we allowed those who were feeling this pain to understand the true ramifications of their actions, and thus we created urgency. Take a deep breath, because you’re on the cusp of applying influence and changing another person’s mind.

The most important question that’s never asked

When it comes to asking for committing questions, we’ve heard them all:

·       “What’s it going to take to get you into this car today?”

·       “Is Tuesday good, or is Wednesday better?”

·       “Other than price, what would keep you from buying this toaster today?”

·       “If I could prove that our vacuum cleaner is better than any other on the market, would you buy one


They’re all interesting questions, and each may actually have its own place in a particular conversation, but there’s one question that no one asks. Ironically, if you are trying to commit someone to the change she is contemplating, there could not be a more important question. The question is simply this: “Are you committed to making a change?”

If the answer you receive is no (quite frankly that answer is rather rare when you’ve taken the time and the trouble to ask the more difficult questions that create urgency), we’ll stop right there. However, if the answer to the question is yes, congratulations, you’ve just changed someone’s mind, and psychologically committed him to that change. Something tells me we’ll have a solution that will address the needs that are now appearing.

We’ve finally arrived at the solution. How exciting! Strangely enough, I have little interest in the solution. Imagine that; we’ve finally arrived at a solution, and it’s almost irrelevant to me. Anyone can offer solutions. When you learn how to change minds, you learn that the struggle lies in trying to get another person to commit to solving the problem you want to solve. Ironically, when I conduct two-day workshops, I spend only about fifteen minutes on the actual solution. I spend the rest of the sixteen hours working on teaching the various tactics of influence, on getting people to commit to change, and on what to do after people have made that commitment.

However, when you do discuss a solution, there are two pretty important words I’d like you to remember: you said. Those words were my reminder that we ask questions, listen, and let those we are communicating with paint their own picture. We work meticulously to allow the people we are communicating with to own the conversation we are having. It’s not about us; it’s about them. If we do this, when we get to the solution, we get to use the words “you said.”

The solutions we bring to the table are not coming from left field, and just in case the person sitting across from us needs a reminder, there’s nothing like saying, “Another reason I’m making this recommendation is that you said you were looking for a simple way to accomplish this goal. Let me tell you exactly how simple this is.”

The words “you said” have an amazing way of putting someone right back into the conversation. These words act as a reminder that the solution isn’t for you; it’s for her. Think for a moment about the last time someone was talking to you and you heard the words “you said” inserted into the conversation. Assuming you did say it, that person sure got your attention!

At this point we’ve done an amazing job gaining a commitment to change, and offering a solution that addresses someone’s specific needs, but it’s not time to celebrate just yet. I’ve spent thirty years of my life watching this story unfold, and guess what can often happen next? Nothing. And the reason nothing often happens is that, although we’ve gained a commitment to change, and shown a logical solution, we never really close the deal. Well, let’s fix that right now!

The Summary Commitment

Now prepare yourself for a simple, four-step approach to asking for a commitment. I have chosen this approach because, as you will see, it is a natural fit to finish off the process you have learned, and there is a lot of room for personalization.

Step 1: Confirm benefits

The first step of the summary commitment involves one last check with the person you are trying to persuade. Most people do not understand just how powerful this last check can be. Let me show you what I mean. Read the next statement, stop, and without reading any further, try to anticipate what the next step of this process would be.

Don’t you agree that by doing your homework, you are going to see the results you said you were looking for?

Okay, now what do you think my next question will be if the answer received is yes. I believe most people will assume a question requiring a commitment is sure to follow, and, in my humble opinion, that’s the genius of this first step. No one would dare answer yes to that question if he did not intend to go ahead with a solution.

Uh, yes it does everything I want it to do, but, uh, no, I don’t want to change.

That, my friends, happens to be the biggest strength of the summary commitment. In a sense, confirming benefits provides a trial close to your conversation. If there is an objection, the person you are seeking a commitment from will push back right here. It does not make me happy to hear a “no” at this point of the conversation, but so be it. At least you won’t be battling an ego as well as the objection.

Step 2: Ask for a commitment

Well, what do you know? At last, it’s time to ask for the final commitment. It’s amazing how easy gaining a commitment really is when you’ve earned your right to ask the question. As I mentioned before, your strategy here should be to aim for the highest realistic level of commitment.

But how do you ask for a commitment? What words do you use? My recommendation would be to do it as simply as possible. This is a natural step, and the person you are influencing expects you to ask, so do it!

Step 3: Discuss logistics

With a commitment in hand, you must stay focused and finish strong. The only thing left is to work out the logistics to implement the commitment that has been made. Having conducted seminars for over thirty years, sometimes I feel like I’ve heard just about every question when it comes to teaching audiences how to change minds.

Want to know one of the most frequently asked questions? “What’s the most forgotten step of the process?” That’s an easy one; it’s forgetting to go over what happens after someone agrees to a change. The repercussions are serious because without this conversation, guess what often happens after someone agrees to change? We have good intentions to change, but buyer’s remorse kicks in, a touch of fear of change joins the mix, and nothing happens.

Step 4: Reassure

Gaining a commitment from someone who is truly looking to make a change can be emotional. I have to admit that, although I felt it was a good idea to reassure the people I wanted to influence, I didn’t add the reassure step to the process until years after I began teaching my methods.

I’m not sure if it was that I just assumed most people did it, or that I had a blind spot. However, I’ve seen so many shaky decisions get reversed over the years by people who talked themselves out of commitments that I won’t leave it out again.

The Most Forgotten Step in Closing

After teaching sales to many clients over decades of delivery, I think one of my favorite seminars was the hostage negotiation seminar I conducted in Baltimore twenty-two years ago. It was an exhilarating experience as I connected the world of selling to the world of hostage negotiation. My audience was receptive and engaged, but the presentation turned on a dime when I approached the concept of comforting those we are gaining commitments from.

I casually mentioned reassurance, and that I liked to reassure the person I’ve gained a commitment from. I never before placed that step in my materials, nor had I ever really pushed that hard for others to do this. I could hear my New York Life manager telling me, “Jolles, once you’ve made the sale, get out of the house!” The thinking was, if you had a commitment, any further conversation could only lead to disrupting the agreement you had already achieved. In the situation with the hostage negotiators, however, I felt that the risk of a buyer’s remorse was worth the risk of throwing in a few comforting and reassuring words.

I guess you could say this was a hunch of mine, and the response was clear with one, dramatic story from a participant in the audience. Once I finished throwing out this final idea, a participant walked up to the microphone and began to speak.

“Mr. Jolles, I happen to agree with your suggestion. Two months ago, I was on the phone communicating with an individual for almost forty hours. After twenty hours, I got the children out of the house. It took me ten more hours, and I got the wife out of the house. Ten hours later, I was able to reach an agreement to get the suspect out of the house. His last words to me were this: ”I’m coming out, but not without my gun.” It was the best I could do, and my last words to him were, ”Just go slow.”

The suspect stepped out of the house onto the porch. I moved up the driveway slowly with the SWAT team by my side. The suspect looked out, he looked back, he looked out, he looked back. Then he blew his head off.

I had spent forty hours on the phone with this person, and I can tell you that this was not the kind of person who intended to come out and put on a show. In an instant, he changed his mind. I will always wonder if I could have handled this differently. If the last words out of my mouth had been, ”You are doing the right thing. I will be here every step of the way and everything I promised you will happen, I can assure you,” I wonder if I could have saved his life.

Needless to say, this was an emotional moment for everyone at the seminar. I swallowed hard, finished the seminar, and since that day I have never again referred to this step as optional in the closing process.

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The message is clear: People who have changed their minds will reconsider and wonder about the decisions they’ve made, particularly when these decisions required significant change. People fear change. Rather than hope they don’t reconsider, give them something to think about when they do. Not if, but when, they reconsider, let them hear your voice in their minds telling them they made the right decision.


Rob Jolles draws on more than 30 years of experience in sales and management as he teaches audiences worldwide how to change minds. He is also author of Customer-Centered Selling and How to Run Seminars & Workshops. Rob lives in Great Falls, Virginia.

Excerpted with permission from How to Change Minds: The Art of Influence Without Manipulation by Rob Jolles (c) 2013 Rob Jolles (Berrett-Koehler Publishers,  – See more at:…

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