Trust me, I feel your pain, I have a plan – tools for selling design

The final stage in our arc of design thinking workshops is developing the ability to convince other people to adopt your design. In these workshops there are three areas we work on with participants: building trust with the client; three elements of content, and giving effective feedback.


Building trust with your client is absolutely essential if you are going to convince them of anything. There are two things we concentrate on here; the first is being mindful about the first impressions we create. We all create first impressions, whether we like it or not, but we might not be aware of what those are. In our workshops we help people become more aware of the impressions that they create, and help them think about how to create the impressions they want with clients.


The second thing we concentrate on is developing trust through showing vulnerability. To show vulnerability to someone is to show that you trust them; if you can trust others then they are more likely to reciprocate. In our workshops we help participants explore how they can show their vulnerabilities, such as what they are worried about or where they feel their weaknesses are, and use this as the basis of building trust with others.


Together, managing first impressions and building reciprocal trust with our clients, we call ‘gaining entry’.

Three-phase content

For many people, the starting point for any pitch is to work out what they want to say. Aristotle said that for a speaker to convince an audience of anything, then the speaker needs ethos, pathos and logos. Having ethos is to be trustworthy. Having pathos is having a shared sense of their feelings (in particularly their pain). Having logos is to have a logical argument. We can think of these as three phases we need to develop in our pitch.


In my experience, many engineers are most comfortable starting with the logos phase, the logic of the solution. The trust-building that we start the workshop with is an important element for developing the ethos phase, as is the reputation of the companies that participants work for. For many, the hardest phase is developing pathos. To develop good pathos you need good understanding of the client’s perspective, which is easiest to gain if you have a good relationship with them based on trust.

Giving and receiving honest non-judgemental feedback

We now have a plan for getting the content together, but how do we know if the pitch we have put together is any good? Here we rely on feedback from others but, for many, the idea of receiving feedback is dreadful; it isn’t all that fun for the feedback giver either. When done well, however, feedback is an invaluable tool for improving our work, and it can be fulfilling for the person offering it too.


To make feedback work really well, we require the person giving the feedback to be really honest, but also non-judgemental. So they should say how something makes them feel, and why that might be, but not to judge it. A judgement is too final and puts the listener on the defensive, whereas talking about feelings offers the person listening the chance to find out more about why what they have done has elicited these feelings.


Equally, good feedback has requirements of the receiver too: they need to be open to receiving it, grateful and not defensive. The last part is critical if the exchange is going to be useful. If the person receiving feedback can hold off on defending, and instead show interest in the other person’s views, then they can really deepen their understanding.


Taking these tools together, we can build an effective pitch for ideas that says, ‘trust me, I feel your pain, and I have a plan’.

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