The Power of Persuasion

Persuasion is a vital skill in the workplace, whether you are seeking to expand your team, buy-in for your latest project or to climb the ladder there are ways that effective persuasion techniques can help you.

Effective persuaders use dialogue to learn more about their audience’s opinions, concerns, and perspectives. (Conger, 1998).

As Conger states it is important to understand their view of the issue at hand, understanding the lens the person(s) you are seeking persuade are looking at the situation through, as this will help you to adapt your approach and gain the win-win result that is desired.

Once we understand our audience we then need to adapt our strategy for persuading them. Dr. Robert Cialdini in his book “Influence: The Pyschology of Persuasion” lists 6 principles of influence, these are:

1 – Reciprocation

People are more likely to be influenced if they have already received something previously from the person (e.g. This could be in the form of information).

2 – Social Proof

People are more likely to be influenced if others are already doing it (e.g. Not wanting to be the only person in a shop).

3 – Commitment and Consistency

People are likely to keep to commitments (e.g. When the team behind Obama issued pledge cards to supporters to influence their vote on the day).

4 – Liking

People are more likely to be influenced if they like the person, are attracted to them or they believe they are similar to them.

5 – Authority

People respect authority and are more likely to follow them, even if that authority is faked through appearance. (e.g. A common approach in many grifter scams where a uniform gives the impression of authority)

6 – Scarcity

The belief that the rarer something is the more valuable it is leads people to value scarcity and is more likely to influence them into a positive decision.

While not every situation will require all of the above methods of persuasion, using a mix of these for the different situations you find yourself in will serve you well in your journey to become an effective persuader.

Conger’s “The necessary art of persuasion” was written back in 1998 and makes mention of the generational differences in our workplace, with baby-boom’ers and GenX’ers bringing different styles to the workplace. Of course these days the discussions around Millenials in the workplace is a common one and it doesn’t seem that a day goes by without another article being written. When we take the generational differences alongside those of the temperament theories of introversion/extroversion it serves to highlight that persuasion cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution, it’s only by listening and understanding to those we seek to influence that a win-win solution can be achieved.

4 key stages of effective persuasion

1 – Establish Credibility

In the workplace, credibility grows out of two sources: expertise and relationships (Conger 1998).

We all know that office politics exists, however in many cases it can be used for good. It is the politics of office relationships and influence that are required for effective persuasion. Knowing who holds the power, being known as a trustworthy and reliable person. As we saw above people are more likely to be persuaded if they like someone, therefore it is important to build relationships in the workplace.

In terms of expertise this doesn’t necessarily have to be your own, the use of consultants or external reports that back your case could be part of your strategy to provide implied expertise to your case. Involve co-workers you trust who hold expertise in the area and leverage that expertise as part of your persuasion strategy.

2 – Frame for common ground

Effective persuasion is a process of identifying shared benefits (Conger 1998).

As we discussed above persuasion is largely about understanding those you are trying to persuade, only be listening and studying what it is that matters most to the person(s) you are attempting to persuade.

Only by understanding that can you begin to frame your proposition to their perception of the problem and achieve that win-win result you are seeking.

3 – Provide Evidence

Effective persuaders supplement numerical data with examples, stories, metaphors, and analogies to make their positions come alive. (Conger 1998).

Traditional strategies would be to produce a power-point and lay down some statistics, providing evidence of increased sales, however this can often by counter-productive. Ultimately they are too clinical and in many cases simply don’t provide the emotional impact needed for effective persuasion.

The use of vivid language and persuasive stories is far more likely to gain the result you are looking for

4 – Connect emotionally

Good persuaders are aware of the primacy of emotions (Conger 1998).

The use of emotional intelligence is key in effective persuasion, by understanding the emotional state of those you seek to understand you will have a better understanding of how they are likely to interpret any attempt to influence them and adapt as necessary. It may be that adaptation is a change in the story you use or it may be a change in the time. Perhaps now is just not the right time to approach them, again understanding not only their needs from any attempt but also their emotional state is vital for a successful outcome.

Aside from their emotional state is your own emotional commitment to your proposal, if you seek to persuade with little emotion then it is possible you will be seen as lacking faith in the proposal. However too much emotion may do exactly the opposite and show you are thinking with your heart and not your brain. It is a fine line to walk but one that must the effective persuader must tread.

Summary

Persuasion is about more than simply being passionate about something. We must seek to understand how those we aim to persuade will react and how we could present our proposal in a way so as to benefit their aims also whilst seeking to connect with them at an emotional level.

We should aim to use more than the trusty power-point full of financial figures and 5 year plans, rather seeking to build a vision of our proposal through vivid language and analogies.

Ultimately persuasion is about human connection, that of emotion, relationships and shared visions where everyone wins.


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