I love finding new examples of the interested-oriented approach to dealing with others, examples that show how we can get more of what we need or want from others when we address their interests along with our own. A day or so ago, I read an article about new trends in waiter training. The one-size-fits-all “Hi, my name is John, and I’ll be your waiter tonight” or autopilot “May I interest you in one of our delicious desserts?” is being replaced by a more personalized, and therefore more effective, approach.


The most enlightened restaurants now train their wait staff to observe factors that indicate what type of service the person(s) at a given table would like. Signs of a tense conversation between a couple, cue the waiter to remain as unobtrusive as possible. A customer who looks the waiter in the eye and smiles in a friendly manner might appreciate a little more chat or welcome food choice suggestions.


If a group is enthralled in conversation, rather than interrupt them to take their order, or wait indefinitely for a lull in their conversation, the waiter places her hand on the table. When customers look at their watches or mention that they are on their way to the theater, the waiter avoids taking time to chat, but may offer suggestions for food that can be prepared quickly.


The approach to groups with children is especially interesting. Waiters learn to be friendly with the kids and give them their crayons and paper right away, but quietly present the dessert menu to the parents.


In short, the waiters serve in whatever way seems most likely to address the customers’ interests. When each customer or group gets the kind of service they want, their needs are better met.


But how does this serve the needs of the waiters and the restaurant? Wouldn’t they sell more food if the waiters followed the older practice of cheerfully chatting with all customers and trying to encourage them to order additional items such as appetizers or deserts? Actual experience shows that the answer is, “No.”


Customers return more often to restaurants where they liked the service, so the restaurant actually sells more to a given customer over the long term when they address that customer’s needs, even if those needs require less interaction and less pushing for sales. These customers are also more likely to recommend the restaurant to their friends because they felt that the waiters were more interested in giving them what they wanted than in selling one more dessert.


This is why the same skills we use to build consensus are also the best skills for persuading others to meet our needs. Conversely, we need not fear that persuading others means taking advantage of them. Interest-oriented persuasion succeeds precisely because it is not exploitative, but rather, the road to a true win-win.