People Skills, Hacked: 3 Tricks from Apple Geniuses

by Vault Careers | August 30, 2012

Oh, Apple Geniuses. You just thought they were knowledgeable and helpful. Turns out, the warm, fuzzy feelings you have as you walk out--with your $600 in purchases—isn't just a product of their natural awesomeness: it's painstakingly studied customer-service skills.

Gizmodo recently leaked parts of the Apple "Genius Training Manual"… which reads like a cross between a Pysch 101 textbook and Jedi Mind Tricks for Dummies. But while it's a little creepy in all its specificity (a customer with an unbuttoned coat has "accepted" you), the tactics do make a lot of sense.

If you think about it, Apple Geniuses are dealing with some of the most intense interpersonal situations possible. Customers with dead laptops are panicky, impatient, and not happy—much like your boss, when you have to explain to him why you lost your best client.

Thus, there's lots to be learned from it. Here are our top takeaways:

1. Don't be negative

Apple Geniuses aren't allowed to tell you your computer has crashed, overheated, or become infected with a dreaded virus.

Instead, it's simply "not responding," it's "warm," and there's a "situation."

We can only speculate as to what Apple thinks about these choices of words, but the difference in effect they have is pretty clear: one set of words make a problem seem workable, the other makes it feel like a lost cause.

Got bad news to deliver to a panic-prone boss? Take a page from Apple's book and avoid scary, negative-sounding verbs. Instead, use the negation of positive ones. Try it at your next meeting: a customer isn't ignoring your email, he just hasn't replied to it. It's not that your team lost money, it's that the value added was below expectations.

2. Acknowledge feelings

Yeah, yeah, there's no crying in baseball. But just because you'd rather not deal with feelings in the workplace doesn't mean you can make them go away. Accept it: part of handling a coworker's problem person is dealing with that person's desire to share their pain and discomfort about it.

Fear not: by referencing emotional responses right off the bat, you can shoot down the pink elephant in the room (feelings!) and refocus the conversation back to the task at hand.

"I understand this is frustrating, but" or "We're all a little disappointed, but" helps a listener feel that you get their experience. Thus, they can let go of their desire to make you understand what they're going through, and get back to working with you to fix things.

It's also a great way to shift the tone of a conversation, if it's getting too negative. Jedi mind tricks!

3. Tell people they're wrong tactfully

"Turns out" is a favorite phrase of a Genius. Rather than informing a customer they're dead wrong, a Genius is trained to reveal contradictory information with a "turns out." To use an example form the manual:

"Customer: The OS isn't supported.
Genius: You'd think not, wouldn't you? Turns out it is supported in this version."

Funny bounce of the ball, isn't it? This new development in information just happened! Nobody's wrong here, it's just one of those spontaneous things where facts emerge!

People get defensive when they're told they're wrong, which leads to hostility, which leads to a bad interaction experience—or bitter, unproductive management meeting. A simple acknowledgement that a person's line of thinking is valid (before denouncing it for a different idea) cushions the "You're wrong" blow, and helps keep the conversation flowing.

Would you use Apple's Genius tricks for navigating your workplace or customers? Got any tricks of your own? Share them in the comments section below.

--Cathy Vandewater, Vault.com

Read More:
How To Be a Genius: This Is Apple’s Secret Employee Training Manual
Find Their Pain! How to "Neuromarket" for a Job
Have You Googled Yourself Today?

Filed Under: Interviewing | Job Search | Networking | Workplace Issues


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