The $200K Test Drive: How to Frame Conversations to Make Things Go Your Way
I am a sports car fanatic. The Lamborghini Gallardo is my dream car. I’ve wanted to drive one since I totaled my first Fisher-Price pedal car way back when.
Now, the dilemma:
When I decided to make this test drive my goal, I was 23 with no money, no connections and no credentials. I knew I didn’t have the pull to rent one for the day. That takes some pretty killer insurance and about $2,000. I certainly didn’t have any friends I could borrow one from.
My only option was to test drive one at the dealership. But let’s get real here: I was just a kid walking into a room full of cars that all cost more than my parents’ house.
My toolset was slim, but I did have one ace in my pocket. I decided to use something I’d learned in college, of all places. (Gulp.) It’s little technique we Communications majors call “framing.”
What is framing?
Framing is a technique that almost all high-performing negotiators use to control the flow and outcome of a conversation in crucial closing situations. Although you may have never heard of it, you’ve probably used it a time or two in your life. The basic concept is pretty simple, but it can take years to master. Here’s what it looks like:
1. Start with a clear idea of where you want the interaction with the other person to go.
2. Assume a firm rooting in your perception of reality. This becomes your truth. This is where you will act and speak from. You will invite the other person into your domain, not go into theirs.
3. Create the dominant “frame” by identifying and negating objections before the other party even has a chance to raise them.
4. Steer the conversation towards collaboration. Allow the other party to feel important in the conversation, all the while keeping your desired outcome in mind.
Spoiler alert: this technique works. I ended up whipping a neon orange Gallardo all around the city that day after casting my spell.
How did this textbook approach get me from the street into the driver’s seat of a $200,000 car?
Let’s look at the framework in action:
The first step was clarity of purpose. That day, I knew I was going to drive my dream car. Period. There was no other potential outcome in my mind. Surprisingly, knowing exactly where I was going actually made the situation a lot less stressful.
The second step was strong belief. I was firmly rooted in my truth and acted from that position. The moment I walked in the door, I presented myself to the dealers with absolute confidence and announced, quite matter-of-factly, that I was car shopping. There was no tentativeness or hesitance in my voice. I had conviction. They didn’t know who I was, how much I had or what I was capable of. Who were they to question me?
Most people get shy or scared, assuming authority figures will ask for some sort of “proof” of worthiness. Oftentimes, this is not just so. If you firmly believe your identity, so will others. Your proof is the way you carry yourself.
3. Identify objections
Next, I identified the objections the dealership might have with me driving the car and addressed the issues before they even had time to register what was going on. Before the dealer could even muster a “hello, how are you?” I’d already handed him my credit card and my license for safekeeping.
The message: “This is not my first rodeo. I plan on driving a car today.” I now had clear control of the frame, and he was living in my world.
I knew that to pull this off, I needed to make the dealer feel important. Controlling the frame too aggressively at first can lead to hesitance by the other party. I made sure to ask plenty of questions that would make the salesman feel like an expert, but I also remembered to use affirmative language such as “When I’m driving today, should I use the pedal shifters or the stick?” This language assumes I will be driving the car as planned, and now I’m just looking for some last-minute details.
After about 20 minutes, he headed to the back to get the keys, and I had the one of the best days of my life. The major lesson for me here was something that I’d always known, but needed to experience firsthand: the person with the dominant reality controls the framework of the conversation. The person who controls the framework controls the outcome.
It goes without saying that this power should only be used with positive intent. Don’t use it to lie or deceive others. Instead, use it to direct situations that would normally leave you feeling powerless. From the classroom to the boardroom to the showroom, having the ability to assert yourself and control the conversation by framing it properly can help you move swiftly and stand out amongst peers who sway in the tides of everyone else’s opinions.
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