a technique to gain commitment
One of the key roles of an organiser is to gain commitment from the member or potential member to do something. It’s almost a definition of organising – to move people.
We know there are a number of stages in moving people. These include:
- Building rapport or trust with someone.
- Finding their issues or needs
- Developing some concern and desire to change
- Hope that things can be different and a possible pathway for change
The final stage is gaining their commitment to do something about their situation. This is when they move. We call this last stage ‘closure’.
Closure (a term from the sales world) describes techniques to gain commitment. It may be commitment to join the union or it may be commitment to talk to five other people in their area about the issues.
Closure techniques are methods that assist in gaining commitment, which are based on human nature.
Organisers get annoyed if union leaders focus on closure as the solution to many problems. Closure techniques are useful but do not work effectively without first generating the rapport, finding the issues and developing hope.
If a member (or potential member)
- acknowledges that they have issues
- talks about how those issues affect them and their life
- understands that they can do things by working with others to change their situation
- is aware that other workers have been able to deal with similar problems by working together
then the commitment stage is a lot easier.
In short, the worker’s issue or concern is the key motivator to moving them to get more actively involved or join the union.
The reason we focus on developing closure skills is that many organisers still have difficulties gaining commitment even when they have worked through the four stages listed above. Put bluntly, sometimes people just need a push and the closure techniques can assist.
Our barriers at closure
Do you enjoy selling raffle tickets? For many organisers, at the point when they actually have to ask someone for the money or the commitment, something changes.
Many organisers talk about a sudden change in facial expression or tone of voice.. They say things such as “We were having a good conversation and suddenly it was about to change”. There is a growing tension – some form of chill effect. Most people don’t like this point in a relationship or in a conversation.
We call it the “raffle ticket cringe” and it’s healthy to admit to it.
The effect of the raffle ticket cringe
When organisers feel this way, two things usually happen:
- They avoid seeking commitment.
- They “fudge” the closure – basically by giving the person a way out.
It’s not surprising that if organisers don’t like a certain reaction or rejection they simply avoid it.
We can all think of times when we simply have rationalised why we don’t have time to approach that non-member. However, avoidance has pretty significant long-term consequences for unions. This is not just about using closure techniques to gain new members, it is also about gaining commitment from existing members to become more actively involved.
The other approach is to fudge the closure. Instead of saying “All that’s left to do is fill out the form”, they say something like “Would you like to join. It’s okay if you want to think about it. I’ll get a union rep to follow you up later if you want”.
Fudging means that, because they don’t not feel comfortable, they give the other person an out, or a way to avoid the commitment. And guess what? If they give the person the option of not joining on the spot or not committing to getting more involved, many of them take that option.
How to overcome the cringe
There are some techniques that organisers can use to make themselves more effective and more comfortable with the process.
It helps to remind oneself that the member or potential member is not doing you a favour by joining the union or getting more actively involved. Rather it important for them and they should do it for themselves.
If organisers have done everything possible and still the person doesn’t join or get involved (sure it is useful to assess your technique and other factors) you can say to yourself “It’s their loss”.
Remember people have a lot of preconceptions about unions as well as fears and at times an aversion to any form of decision or commitment. Even when it is clear that it is good and important for them to join, they avoid commitment.
Answer: Organisers need to give them a push and not let it be too easy for them to use avoidance techniques.
The closure techniques
Each of the closure techniques
- suggests a positive course of action,
- does not give people an out and
- avoids asking a question that has a yes or no answer.
[Why avoid a question with a yes or no answer? Again, it’s human nature. Can you remember discussions or arguments you have been in where even though you started to feel you were on shaky ground, you stuck to your guns because you felt obliged to defend your initial position?
Sometimes when people are asked, “Do you want to join?” and they say “No” they have dug themselves the proverbial hole. They then feel the need to defend their initial decision and it is difficult to shift them from this “no”.]
The four main techniques to assist in gaining commitment are:
- Direct close
- Suggestion close
- Choice close
- Summary close.
With each of the of closure techniques it is useful, just before seeking the commitment, to go back to the issue of concern discussed earlier because that issue is the motivator.
1. Direct close
- “As you want to do something about the roster issue, all that’s left to do is fill out the form” (hand the membership application form to the worker with a pen – having most of it already filled out helps).
- “To join and get this moving. All you need to do is fill out the form. Here it is”.
- “As we discussed earlier, if we are going to change this situation we need your support. The first step is filling out the form.”
- “So we can get a better understanding of what is happening we need you to talk to a couple of others and meet with me off-site. Let’s identify those people now.” “If you talk to three or four others in your work area and see what they think of the issue, that will greatly assist”.
- “I cannot do this without you. If you can find a contact or key person in each of the departments or shifts that will greatly assist in getting a good collective agreement”.
- “We are going to need to be able to communicate effectively with everyone in this workplace. You would make a great contact for your area. It simple involves talking to the other people in your area and coming to our meeting to work out where to next”.
2. Suggestion close
- “I would suggest you join and then you are protected from now on. And we can start working together to resolve these issues”.
- “As you are so concerned about what is happening here I would suggest you join and then we can get things moving”.
- “You are the person people look to for direction. You are the person we need to be actively involved”.
- “I would suggest that rather than you hand out the surveys yourself you find a person in each team and ask them to do it”.
- “Our first step here is that we need to map the workplace and know where we do and don’t have members and what the issues are in each area. That’s the place we need to start.”
3. Choice close
- “Would you prefer to pay a one year subscription up front or by direct debit where you can pay in fortnightly instalments?”
- “Would you prefer to be the delegate or simply the contact for your area?”
- “Would you prefer to go to the management on your own to raise an individual grievance or would it be better to get other people involved?”
- “I suppose we could leave things as they are, not do anything about the problem and just go on living with it, or we could try and do something to change what its like working here.”
In the choice close the organiser provides the person with two options, either of which are ok, or utilises two options to create a dilemma in the worker’s mind and highlights the necessity to take the option you prefer. This type of close may come across as slimy to a potential member but it can be very effective.
4. Summary close
In the summary close the organiser goes through what has been previously discussed with the worker and the reasons why the decision is so obvious.
It is more effective if, as the organiser is going through the summary, they get the worker to nod along and acknowledge agreement to each point.
- “We have discussed the importance of this issue and how strongly you feel about it and we have discussed the importance of working together if we are going to get a result. So all that’s left to do is for you to fill out the form”.
- “As you agreed, we are going to be far more effective if we go to the employer on behalf of 90% of the workforce rather than 20%. So we need your help to get the others involved. The first step is for you to…”
- We’ve talked about the union being there to support people at an individual level. We’ve talked about the importance of people here supporting each other to get a better deal and we’ve talked about the overall importance of the union in this industry. We also mentioned the fees are only £… and that you can more than cover the value of the fees by using some of our services. All you need to do is fill out the form and we’ll have you a membership card within a couple of weeks but you become a member immediately when you fill this form in”.
- “As we discussed, we need to improve the communication here. We have found it really helps by having a contact in each area and then just meeting together off-site once a fortnight for a while. As you said earlier, you thought that might be workable so we need to put it in place and need your help”.
Isolate the objection
At the closure stage there are often objections. It is useful to attempt to narrow the objections down to one or two.
The technique involves getting the potential member to say they would join except for that particular objection. Therefore, if the organiser can handle the objection the worker has effectively committed to join (or to become more active.)
Organiser: ”Other than the cost you would join?”
Potential member: “Yes”
Organiser: “I understand the money in your pocket is important. The way many people look at it is that if we get a better pay rise that will more than cover the dues. And there are options for payment that make it easier to budget”
Handling objections and closure
The two techniques go together as can be demonstrated with the very common objection “I’ll think about it”.
Organiser: “Well all that’s left to do is fill out the form”.
Potential member: “I’ll think about it”.
Organiser: “Sure I understand you may want to think it over. It’s an important decision. While I’m here are there any other questions you have? We have discussed the importance of working together if we’re going to resolve this issue and what the early steps will be. So do you have any other questions?”
Potential member: “No”.
Organiser: “Do you have any concerns or worries about joining the union?”
Potential member: “No”
Organiser: “ Look, if you don’t have any further questions and you don’t have any concerns about joining, I would suggest you get it out of the way now, fill it in and we can get things moving.”
Potential member: “Look, I just want to think about it a bit further”.
Organiser: “Yes, I know you’ve told me you want to think about it (and I know I’m sounding pushy) but what I’ve found with many people is that they get the form and it goes in the bottom drawer. You know what it’s like. The next time you think about it it’s sometimes too late. And as you said earlier, you really want to do something about what’s happening here don’t you?”
Potential member: “Yes”.
Organiser: “Well this is an important first step”.
The above is not guaranteed to work, but in many cases it does work.
You will notice in the dialogue that the person’s concern or objection is acknowledged which enables you to try to move the person further. If you get a further objection still have another go. Finally, go back to the original issue, which is the motivator, and try again.
The first attempt is to put the person in some form of dilemma where you draw out the question or the objection. This is your opportunity to try to handle their real concerns.
Alternatively if they say they don’t have an objection or question they look a little silly when they don’t make a decision. The “I’ll think about it” objection is often a fob off. This technique attempts to draw out any real objection or put someone in a position where they make a decision.
Will they work?
These techniques are not guaranteed to work. Workers will still have fears and objections. When an objection comes up it is sometimes important to explore the objection, definitely to always acknowledge or equalise with the person as part of handling the objection. It is then be easier to go back to the closure process.
The techniques have helped organisers a lot. If you start feeling tense at the closure stage, simply use one of the standard close lines that you are comfortable with.
It is often valuable to select one of the four close techniques you prefer and then use it like a script
We have a saying that it’s three strikes and you’re out. If, at the point of closure, the person raises an objection, attempt to handle the objection, go back to the issue and the hope and attempt the close again. If this doesn’t work after two more attempts then stop trying.
On some days and in some environments it may be appropriate to use one or two strikes before you’re out. If we’re honest sometimes we don’t even have one strike before we’re out.
Some organisers may feel that this approach is too pushy. You need to make a judgement about that. But ask yourself who is feeling uncomfortable about being pushy? Is it you or is it the potential member feeling you were too pushy?
What counts is how the potential member feels and you have to get past how you feel. It is often how you feel that stops you using some of these techniques.
Some organisers rationalise that they don’t use closure techniques because it would be bad for the member or potential member and bad for the union.
Only by trying some of these techniques will you really know.
Good luck. We hope the techniques help you in your work. Remember you use them because it’s in the workers’ interests to be in a union and to act collectively. They are not doing us a favour. They are doing themselves a favour.