Music for concentrating by

This isn’t for me. I work to music a lot. A lot. If I’m writing something with pace I might use iTunes Radio’s Eighties Hits station. But usually I have various playlists and selections and albums and artists and I play them on whims. Also on headphones. Whims can be loud.

Actually, that’s the thing: usually if I need pace and energy then I’ll turn the volume up. Once or twice recently I’ve found I have to turn it down instead or occasionally stop it completely. (You cannot listen to Kate Bush in the background. Cannot. You listen to her properly. No choice.)

I think I’m lucky in that I hear lyrics, I hear the human singing voice, as just another instrument. Only when I’m working, that is. If I’m listening properly, lyrics are crucial. I wouldn’t enjoy Dar Williams so much if her lyrics weren’t so gorgeous. But when I’m working, I can have Meredith Brooks blasting out and it invigorates me, it doesn’t distract me.

Apparently it’s more normal for people need instrumentals. Normal enough that I just found this 45-minute video for you. Presumably you don’t watch the video, you just listen to the sound – like you do when the only YouTube copy of a rare track is one set to fan-made photography and badly transcribed lyrics. See if it does any good for you.

Just tell me. (And I’ll just tell you.)

When I’ve got to brief someone or I need to effectively recruit them to work on a project, I will do the news approach of telling them what I need them to know. But most of the time, I am off doing something for them and they are off doing something for me. And in that case, just tell me.

Always tell me, always make sure I know what I need to know. Er, this is making me think I should’ve used “one” instead of “me”. Whoever you’re dealing with, never leave them hanging. Some people need to be told every inch of something, others are happy to let you get on with it – but every single person worries.

Just like you do.

When you’ve delivered a piece of writing to someone, you cannot fail but go in to the Writer’s Trap:

I hit Send forty seconds ago, why haven’t they replied?

Everybody is the same. I got a call last Friday from a fella who’s doing a thing for me and the entire purpose of his call was tell me that he hadn’t done it. I thanked him – and I meant it. He’s not late, he’s doing what he said he would, he just hit a delay and wanted me to know.

I thanked him and I meant it. Eventually he’s going to have to do the thing or I won’t be thanking him so much, but I am completely relaxed about it just because he called to tell me.

Use the news approach to get people listening

Nobody’s rude. Okay. Not many people are rude. Alright, the people you talk to and who get to work with you, they’re not rude. But they are all as busy as you are and it’s hard to get them to do what you need even if they need it to. Even if they want it too. (Hopefully you’re not spending a lot of time forcing people to do things they hate. You know that. I just had to say it.) Without trying to criticise the whole of humanity in one massive generalisation, here I am criticising the whole of humanity in one massive generalisation:

Faced between a massacre in a foreign country and stubbing your toe on a door frame, people fixate on the toe.

Because it’s closer.

Also, we’re horrible human beings, so, you know, there’s that.

But faced with everybody focusing on themselves and faced with the certain fact that you need people to work with you, do this. Do what every single television news bulletin you’ve ever seen does. This is a mantra for broadcast news:

Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em

Tell ’em it

Tell ’em what you’ve just told ’em

Why do you think news bulletins start with the headlines? If the top story is so important, why aren’t they just beginning with that? You can say it’s because the headlines are a quick way to see whether you want to watch the entire bulletin and I can then say aha, got you. That opening is how you get attention.

But look at the next bulletin that comes along or look at rolling news stations at the top of the hour. They headline the major stories yet they also headline smaller ones. Weather presenters now appear in the headline block saying things like “Will there be rain to spoil this weekend? Find out later on”. What is that doing in the news? Not in the headline block, why is it in the news at all? It’s weather – and they’re standing there refusing to tell us what it is. What is point teasing the weather?

The point is that they tell us what they’re going to tell us.

Then we get the news stories, we finally find out whether it’s going to rain.

And then we get “The headlines again”. Why?

Because it gets us watching and then it keeps us watching and finally it makes us remember. Three times’ the charm.

If you have to tell someone something or you know the work can’t be done, won’t be achieved, find three ways to tell them. Three ways and three times. You know it makes sense: you have seen it in action eleventy-billion times.

Negotiate like the FBI

Specifically, negotiate like you’re the FBI and the person you’re dealing with is currently holding hostages. They have your attention. You have theirs. You both have guns.

Eric Barker of Barking Up the Wrong Tree has taken the FBI’s Behaviour Change Stairway – a diagram of their standard approach – and applied it to the freelance life like so:

The Behavioral Change Stairway Model was developed by the FBI’s hostage negotiation unit, and it shows the 5 steps to getting someone else to see your point of view and change what they’re doing. It’s not something that only works with barricaded criminals wielding assault rifles — it applies to most any form of disagreement.

Six hostage negotiation techniques that will get you what you want – Barking Up the Wrong Tree

You’re wondering how he can say there are five steps when his article claims there are six. You are right. The five he lists there are FBI-based ones and the six are similar but extrapolated steps that make this fit the kind of situations we are hopefully more likely to encounter.

He’s boiled down the FBI’s distillation into these five or six steps but probably the first one is the key thing to focus on:

1. Ask open-ended questions
You don’t want yes/no answers, you want them to open up.

A good open-ended question would be “Sounds like a tough deal. Tell me how it all happened.” It is non-judgmental, shows interest, and is likely to lead to more information about the man’s situation. A poor response would be “Do you have a gun? What kind? How many bullets do you have?” because it forces the man into one-word answers, gives the impression that the negotiator is more interested in the gun than the man, and communicates a sense of urgency that will build rather than defuse tension.

But then you’ve got five more steps before they put the gun down and/or you get what you want. It’s quite a fascinating read, especially if you’ve seen eleventy-billion cop shows with exactly this kind of scenario.

Read the whole feature.