It’s Optional, Except It’s Not: You’ve Been Voluntold | Kanebridge News
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It’s Optional, Except It’s Not: You’ve Been Voluntold

If you’ve ever had your hand raised for you, we can help

By RACHEL FEINTZEIG
Fri, Apr 28, 2023 8:15amGrey Clock 3 min

Come to my meeting. Plan my bachelorette party. Help with this project that’s totally not in your job description.

Please?

We’ve all been there, trying to persuade people to do things they don’t have to do, and probably don’t want to either. Or, we’re staring down a painful request ourselves.

“Inside, you’re questioning, like, how did I get here?” says Matt Brattin, a software company executive based in Fresno, Calif.

Over the years, he has been talked into everything from taking notes at meetings that had nothing to do with his job to donning a giant gnome costume at an employee event in the Texas summer heat. (He was working for Travelocity—whose mascot was a gnome—at the time.)

“Is this a thing I even have an option to say no to?” he wondered.

Definitely. It’s time to learn the delicate art of ‘voluntelling’: persuading people to help, or, if you’re the one always being voluntold, getting out of it.

The power of silence

Scoring the answer you want starts with asking the right questions, says Jonah Berger, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

You want to pose queries that guide the person down a path that inevitably ends at the destination of your choosing. Aren’t you excited about so-and-so’s new baby? (Yes!) Shouldn’t we have a shower for her? (Of course!) Can you help me plan it?

Make sure to pause frequently as you encourage the person toward your conclusion, says Prof. Berger, the author of a book about the magic words we can use to persuade others. A moment of silence is a cue for the other person to shake their head yes or mutter “uh huh.”

“They are implicitly starting to agree with what you’re saying,” he says. “You’ve given them that space.”

Best to also give the person choices. Would he rather be in charge of finding a venue, or coordinating the food? We all want to feel like we have autonomy, Prof. Berger says. Confronted with specific options, we’re more likely to focus on the possibilities we’ve been given, not declining altogether.

Skip the apologies

Don’t be tentative or apologetic with your request, says Bob Bordone, who coaches executives on negotiation. Saying sorry gives the person an easy window to say no.

“I’d be super grateful if you could help us out with this,” Mr. Bordone recommends saying.

Tap in to the other person’s perspective to make the offer one that they want to say yes to. What’s important to them? What do they care about?

When Wassia Kamon, a finance professional in the Atlanta area, noticed the supply-chain team at a former job was putting wrong data into her accounting system, she knew confronting the team’s leader with accusations and demands wouldn’t get her anywhere. The group didn’t report to her, and the executive had years more experience than she did.

Instead, she explained she wanted the departments to work better together, and help the company run more smoothly. After the pair held a group meeting with both departments, the supply-chain workers stopped making mistakes, and Ms. Kamon’s relationship with the executive got more cordial, not less.

“How can we form little alliances?” she asks herself.

Add some peer pressure

You can build additional momentum by winning support from people who are close to the person you’re ultimately trying to convince, says Allison Shapira, the chief executive of Global Public Speaking, a firm that trains managers to communicate persuasively. Think about who the person you need the yes from trusts. Get them on board first.

“Now all she’s doing is joining her colleagues in this, as opposed to standing out,” Ms. Shapira says.

Giving a specific deadline can also help, making the request feel less nebulous and open-ended.

If you suspect the person is going to be resistant, you can briefly acknowledge the road blocks or pressures she’s facing. You know she has another project on her plate, or that staffing is tight. Then quickly pivot back to potential solutions. Ms. Shapira recommends asking questions like, “What would make it easier for your team to attend this meeting?”

Say no with conviction

Sometimes, we’re on the other side, our hand raised for us.

Even when we feel we’ve already been roped into something, we still have the power to decline, says Vanessa Patrick, a marketing professor at University of Houston and author of a coming book about the science of saying no.

Avoid making excuses, she advises. At some point in the future, the excuse won’t be applicable. Instead, tie your no to your identity, using the word “don’t.” I don’t lend money to family members. I don’t volunteer in my kid’s classroom during the workday.

Research from Prof. Patrick and a colleague finds that using “don’t” instead of “can’t” increases the chances the person will respect your no, and adds to your resolve.

Worried about sounding harsh? Buffer the direct language with nonverbal cues, such as smiling, leaning forward, using your body language to communicate warmth, she says.

If you’re still tempted to go along with the demand, buy yourself some time by saying it’s your policy to take 24 hours to consider requests. Remind yourself of the opportunity cost. What will you miss out on if you begrudgingly agree to do this?

After all, convincing others to say yes is a valuable skill. But so is saying no when the moment calls for it.



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China rocked the auto world twice this year. First, its electric vehicles stunned Western rivals at the Shanghai auto show with their quality, features and price. Then came reports that in the first quarter of 2023 it dethroned Japan as the world’s largest auto exporter.

How is China in contention to lead the world’s most lucrative and prestigious consumer goods market, one long dominated by American, European, Japanese and South Korean nameplates? The answer is a unique combination of industrial policy, protectionism and homegrown competitive dynamism. Western policy makers and business leaders are better prepared for the first two than the third.

Start with industrial policy—the use of government resources to help favoured sectors. China has practiced industrial policy for decades. While it’s finding increased favour even in the U.S., the concept remains controversial. Governments have a poor record of identifying winning technologies and often end up subsidising inferior and wasteful capacity, including in China.

But in the case of EVs, Chinese industrial policy had a couple of things going for it. First, governments around the world saw climate change as an enduring threat that would require decade-long interventions to transition away from fossil fuels. China bet correctly that in transportation, the transition would favour electric vehicles.

In 2009, China started handing out generous subsidies to buyers of EVs. Public procurement of taxis and buses was targeted to electric vehicles, rechargers were subsidised, and provincial governments stumped up capital for lithium mining and refining for EV batteries. In 2020 NIO, at the time an aspiring challenger to Tesla, avoided bankruptcy thanks to a government-led bailout.

While industrial policy guaranteed a demand for EVs, protectionism ensured those EVs would be made in China, by Chinese companies. To qualify for subsidies, cars had to be domestically made, although foreign brands did qualify. They also had to have batteries made by Chinese companies, giving Chinese national champions like Contemporary Amperex Technology and BYD an advantage over then-market leaders from Japan and South Korea.

To sell in China, foreign automakers had to abide by conditions intended to upgrade the local industry’s skills. State-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group developed the manufacturing know-how necessary to become a player in EVs thanks to joint ventures with Toyota and Honda, said Gregor Sebastian, an analyst at Germany’s Mercator Institute for China Studies.

Despite all that government support, sales of EVs remained weak until 2019, when China let Tesla open a wholly owned factory in Shanghai. “It took this catalyst…to boost interest and increase the level of competitiveness of the local Chinese makers,” said Tu Le, managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a research service specialising in the Chinese auto industry.

Back in 2011 Pony Ma, the founder of Tencent, explained what set Chinese capitalism apart from its American counterpart. “In America, when you bring an idea to market you usually have several months before competition pops up, allowing you to capture significant market share,” he said, according to Fast Company, a technology magazine. “In China, you can have hundreds of competitors within the first hours of going live. Ideas are not important in China—execution is.”

Thanks to that competition and focus on execution, the EV industry went from a niche industrial-policy project to a sprawling ecosystem of predominantly private companies. Much of this happened below the Western radar while China was cut off from the world because of Covid-19 restrictions.

When Western auto executives flew in for April’s Shanghai auto show, “they saw a sea of green plates, a sea of Chinese brands,” said Le, referring to the green license plates assigned to clean-energy vehicles in China. “They hear the sounds of the door closing, sit inside and look at the quality of the materials, the fabric or the plastic on the console, that’s the other holy s— moment—they’ve caught up to us.”

Manufacturers of gasoline cars are product-oriented, whereas EV manufacturers, like tech companies, are user-oriented, Le said. Chinese EVs feature at least two, often three, display screens, one suitable for watching movies from the back seat, multiple lidars (laser-based sensors) for driver assistance, and even a microphone for karaoke (quickly copied by Tesla). Meanwhile, Chinese suppliers such as CATL have gone from laggard to leader.

Chinese dominance of EVs isn’t preordained. The low barriers to entry exploited by Chinese brands also open the door to future non-Chinese competitors. Nor does China’s success in EVs necessarily translate to other sectors where industrial policy matters less and creativity, privacy and deeply woven technological capability—such as software, cloud computing and semiconductors—matter more.

Still, the threat to Western auto market share posed by Chinese EVs is one for which Western policy makers have no obvious answer. “You can shut off your own market and to a certain extent that will shield production for your domestic needs,” said Sebastian. “The question really is, what are you going to do for the global south, countries that are still very happily trading with China?”

Western companies themselves are likely to respond by deepening their presence in China—not to sell cars, but for proximity to the most sophisticated customers and suppliers. Jörg Wuttke, the past president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, calls China a “fitness centre.” Even as conditions there become steadily more difficult, Western multinationals “have to be there. It keeps you fit.”

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