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I used to serve as a mediator to facilitate the resolution of complex commercial cases. Resolving those difficult and challenging disputes was highly rewarding – and it taught me several things about how to subtly but effectively persuade clients and prospects.

I was appointed by the U.S. District Court in New York City. My job was to listen to the attorneys and parties involved in a dispute and attempt to find common ground that could result in a settlement. Typically, parties were polarized on a case’s merits. This situation was complicated when the parties were angry at each other.

I had an agenda. My job was to persuade parties to compromise on their strongly held views. It was the ultimate test of my ability to use all the tools of persuasion I could muster. I was evaluated by how many cases I resolved.

My experience was consistent with a study on the various tactics used by mediators to persuade parties to accept a settlement rather than proceed to trial. You too can benefit from the findings in this study.

Here’s a summary of three key observations that are relevant to advisors:

Develop rapport

A survey of 30 highly experienced mediators found that the single most important factor in their success was their ability to develop a rapport with the parties in the cases they heard. “Rapport” was defined as “a relationship of understanding, empathy and trust.”

A critical component to developing rapport was “actively listening,” which demonstrated a concern with the feelings of the participants.

Keep this finding in mind when you meet with prospects. Unless you are able to develop a rapport, you are unlikely to convert them into clients, regardless of your qualifications or the merit of your offering.

Set expectations

Mediators set the stage for a successful meeting by asking questions or making statements designed to show parties whether their expectations are realistic.

How many times has a prospect told you that they want at least 10% returns with little downside risk? You know that expectation is not realistic. When it is expressed, you need to find a way to adjust it without losing your credibility.

Persuasion techniques used by mediators

Mediators have an arsenal of persuasion techniques they can use to reach their settlement goal. So do you.

For instance, they can engage the parties in “cooperative brainstorming activities.” In this way, mediators encourage parties to establish priorities, so there’s a framework for discussions.

Rather than unilaterally making recommendations, work with your prospect to jointly come up with a plan that makes sense to both of you. It’s unlikely that a prospect will reject a solution that has been jointly crafted.