A Better Reply

Next school year, I will be starting the senior capstone project for my major. This project is a big deal. We spend 3 credits for two consecutive semesters on a single project, writing papers and giving presentations along the way. A group member recently announced his intent to leave the group over concerns about our ability to tackle our ambitious project. I attempted to assure him that we had the ability to do an awesome project below:

Hey ____, that’s unfortunate. We certainly have the knowledge, skills, and time to do an awesome project. I’ve budgeted about 30-40 hours per week of senior design time per week for next year. I’m also starting with Dr. Puri during the summer. We will quickly learn all that we need. That said, I understand your concerns and if you wish to leave, I certainly understand and wish you the best of luck on your project.
I know that you would contribute a lot, and I would love for you to stay with the group. I am especially sure that we could do some awesome things if you stayed in Blacksburg and worked on it with me over the summer. Just give it some thought.

My response failed to convince him to stay. How could I have better worded my response to assuage his concerns?

I am currently reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. In it, one of his key suggestions is to talk about what the other person wants rather than what you want. Another is that we should aim to inspire him to achieve. Did I do that here? Let’s do a thorough analysis.

________________________________

Hey ____, that’s unfortunate. We certainly have the knowledge, skills, and time to do an awesome project.

“That’s unfortunate.” This seems, in retrospect, a horrible way to open. Why is it unfortunate for him? I need to show him that staying is an excellent option for him. He wants to do an awesome senior design project, and I need to show him that we will. I should have started by filling him in on my plan to start early, spend a lot of time, and coordinate the group.

_______________________________

We will quickly learn all that we need. That said, I understand your concerns and if you wish to leave, I certainly understand and wish you the best of luck on your project.

I simply stated that we will quickly learn everything we need. I should not expect him to believe in my black box. I should have sympathized (something like “I definitely agree that we have a lot to learn”) and then shown him my rough plan. I could have then asked him for his input. How could we involve the other group members in our new plan? If I could get him to the stage of generating ideas to solve his concerns, I think he would be invested enough to stick with us.

_______________________________

That said, I understand your concerns and if you wish to leave, I certainly understand and wish you the best of luck on your project.

Just give it some thought.

At this point, why even consider the idea that he wants to leave? Asking about his concerns guarantees another reply from him. If at that point it is clear he still wishes to leave, I could have written the above lines. As written, I sound as if I have already accepted his leaving , which is certainly not the message I wish to convey. I want to inspire him to stay by inspiring and involving him. This does the opposite.

_______________________________

So to bring it all together, I think I could have phrased it instead like this:

Hey ____, I definitely agree that we have a ton to learn. I have been thinking a lot about this issue too. For myself, I’ve budgeted about 30-40 hours of senior design time per week for next year. I’m also starting with Dr. Puri during the summer (are you still planning to stay in Blacksburg?).
Do you think these steps will work? What do you think we could do to make sure everyone is prepared?

Which response would sit better with you? How can I make it even better?

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4 thoughts on “A Better Reply

  1. This is a great, great post that’s inspired me to think more carefully about my own communication. It also comes at a very good time. I’m in your debt! Thanks for sharing your thoughts this way.

    All best wishes,
    Dr. C.

  2. There still needs to be a part in there where you talk about how this project and working with your group could benefit him. What aspects of the project would he be interested in that would convince him to be more invested in the ideas of this project? Or, what about you would make you a good partner for him to work with?

    This looks like it came straight out of Carnegie’s book!! Noice! :) :) :)

    • I agree, though I find that a much harder write.

      How about adding something like this:
      “I know you’ve put a lot of thought into doing a great project already. I strongly believe that we can do a lot, but I certainly don’t expect you to just believe me. How about we meet and work on it over the summer? Based on our progress, you could decide to leave or stay at the end of the summer without losing any time. Would that be a suitable test for our investment?”

  3. Email communication – actually most communication – could use a good dose of Dale Carnegie. I bet we would all have better relationships (personal and professional) if we reworded our writings!

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