“No, Mr. Customer, you’re absolutely wrong!” How to contradict the people you need in business

“No, Mr. Customer, you’re absolutely wrong!” How to contradict the people you need in business

I’d just finished a leadership session for a mid-size construction company. Afterward, Bill, the managing partner, had gone on at some length about my alleged wonderfulness and about just how helpful the session had been to himself and his entire management team.

After inscribing books and answering some additional post-session questions, I’d stopped by Bill’s office on the way out to say goodbye. I was just about to knock when I heard yelling and recognized his voice.

“Are you a moron or what, Ted? Approving those cheapo laptops is beyond stupid. It’s so stupid it makes stupid look smart.” From there, the conversation turned into an X-rated shouting match that could be heard all over the building.

OK, so maybe Bill didn’t get quite as much out of my leadership session as I’d thought. It made me wonder if he might also be wrong about my wonderfulness. (Nah.)

Dwight Eisenhower defined leadership as “the art of getting someone else to do what you want done because he wants to do it.” (Apparently Eisenhower wasn’t nearly as confident about how one might go about leading a “she.”)

Still, whether you’re dealing with a man or a woman, whether you’re trying to lead a customer or one of your people, and no matter how great or not so great a leader you might be, once in a while you’re going to have to council or correct or contradict someone.Businessman wearing red boxing gloves

The Feel, Felt, Found Technique

Of course, neither you nor I would ever call anyone a moron—not out loud. No matter how appropriate the term might seem. And there’s no chance, with the word unspoken, that our tone could scream “moron” as loud as any shout. “Are you kidding, Phyllis. You really thought that was a good idea? Really!?! You did make it through middle school, didn’t you? At least most of the way?”

Neither you nor I would ever say anything like that.

Still, let’s face it. Even when we try to correct someone politely in what’s meant to be an understanding tone (no, not condescending, of course not), often we may find ourselves pushing more than we intended. “No, Ralph, can’t you see how wrong that is? Clearly the reality is that…”

How much do you like being contradicted and corrected? Of course, your customers and your employees feel the same way.

Allow me to suggest a technique you may well have heard of, but might not use. One you may think is too simple. Or too obvious. Or too slick.

The technique? “Feel, Felt, Found.” Yes, it’s simple. Yes, it can be obvious. And yes, it works—like little else I know.

Two men having a debate in office

It’s a technique that comes from the world of sales. My guess is that virtually everyone reading these words has bought something at least partially because of Feel, Felt, Found. And a great many executives and managers use it all the time. It works with customers and with employees. It works with almost anyone. The only people I know it doesn’t work with are teenagers.

Nothing works on teenagers.

I met one world-class negotiator who called Feel, Felt, Found “the single most important technique for any negotiator to master.”

And mastering it couldn’t be simpler. Just three simple phrases:

ONE: “I understand how you feel. Empathizing with the other person.

TWO:I felt the same way at one point.” Validating what they’re feeling. It’s not stupid or moronic, it’s a perfectly understandable way to feel. Even someone as perceptive as myself once felt that way.

THREE:But what I found was…” And here comes the polite contradiction.

Not only is the person I’m contradicting not stupid, but intelligent people such as myself (or some other equally impressive personage) actually held the same belief. Until they achieved enlightenment.

So much more tactful than, “Nice move, pigeon brain, that’s a gold medal in the Olympics of Wrong.”


“I understand how you feel about saving money on computers, Ted. When Bill Jones was doing the ordering a few years back he felt the same way. But what he found was that those lower priced brands don’t have the functionality or the endurance we need. They failed and failed badly.”

“I understand how you feel about our prices being on the high side, Mr. Customer. To be honest, a number of our customers felt that way at first. But what they found upon investigation is that our long-lasting, high-powered, light-weight, super-sexy widgets ultimately save far more than they cost.”

“I understand how you feel about not getting that promotion, Mary. I felt the same way myself when I got passed over at first. But what I found was that waiting until I was truly ready, so I could do the best job possible in the new position, made all the difference when it came to future advancement.”

Why It Works

Because it’s simply a polite way of contradicting someone, Feel, Felt, Found works even when people know you’re using it. And of course, you don’t have to use the actual words “feel, felt, found.” They’re just a memory enhancer. The exact words are unimportant.

You simply validate what the person is saying, tell them that others have had the same perfectly understandable thoughts, and explain that eventually those people uncovered a truth that wasn’t immediately obvious.

“Yes, Frank, I know exactly what you mean about picking up hackneyed ideas from self-appointed gurus who write business blogs. I used to think the same thing myself. But you know that cliché about even a blind hog occasionally finding an acorn? Once in a while even one of these guys stumbles across a worthwhile idea. Take for example, Feel, Felt, Found.”

Have you tried using this approach to contradict someone? Or do you have another suggestion? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.