The Art of Strategic Persuasion

o Are you meeting a representative from one of your suppliers and need to negotiate new pricing with them?

o Have you inherited a dysfunctional team working on a high-profile project? How do you bring them around to working more cohesively and productively?

o Do your co-workers control information and resources that you need to fulfill your projects and are not forthcoming or supportive?

o Do you have a new idea to put before your boss, who is known to say ‘no’ before even fully hearing anyone out?

o Do you want to cultivate ‘champions’ within the organization to help promote your ideas to others?

o Do you want to be viewed as more charismatic?

If you responded ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you are a prime candidate for sharpening your powers of persuasion.

It’s no longer enough to ‘tell’ others what to do. Effective leadership nowadays depends on your ability to influence key thought leaders, senior management and cross-functional teams. A persuasive argument is critical, but only if you deliver it with the confidence that comes from having done your homework.

The process of persuasion begins with the way in which you think about the people you need to influence. Your success in persuading others depends upon your ability to communicate and interact effectively and strategically with them. Understanding how to shift attitudes and behaviors results in positive outcomes for everyone.

But before I present some of the elements that form the basis for a persuasive argument or presentation, let me make a small but important ethical distinction, namely the difference between persuasion and manipulation.

Being upfront, transparent and guileless will provide you with the foundation for strong, trusting and long-lasting relationships. Using coercive or manipulative tactics may serve short-term goals, but people will not respond kindly over the long run. Manipulation is the unethical use of the principles of persuasion. Period. End of story.

On the other hand, persuasion introduces compelling perceptions to others. This is based on the premise that people can only do or agree to what they have first imagined. The persuader’s task is to get others to imagine doing what it is you want them to do. No coercion, no force, just valid information presented in a way that makes sense. Here are some of the characteristics and tactics that make an effective template for persuading others:

INTEREST BASED (aka What’s In It For Me?)

o Position your arguments in terms of what’s in it for your customers.

o Imagine things from the other’s perspective.

o Understand what motivates and interests them.

SOCIAL PROOF

o People’s ability to be influenced depends on the social proofs that we call testimonials.

o Use examples of how other clients have benefited from your services/products.

POLITICS

o This strategy relies on finding others to support your idea.

o Highly competitive people and self-sufficient people tend to push their ideas through on their own and don’t use this form of persuasion as much.

o Cooperative and group-oriented people seek support from others to champion their ideas, often before the meeting even begins.

THE POWER OF LESS

o Offer only three solutions. Your client, boss or customer will be more apt to decide, and the middle almost always wins. So frame your solutions that way.

o More options confuse your clients that result in their procrastination for moving forward.

RATIONALITY

o Using reasoned debate, evidence and logic to support your proposal will help guide move people towards a resolution.

o The more reasoned and logical your solution sounds, the greater the chance they will say yes.

INSPIRATION AND EMOTION

o Using story-telling, images and pictures will help move your customers emotionally.

o Studies by Wharton in conjunction with IBM researched that you are 38% more likely to influence when you use visuals.

o Make your stories touch the heart of clients.

RELATIONSHIPS

o Sharing something in common breaks down walls.

o The more similar you are to your colleagues and customers, the more persuasive the message becomes.

THE LIKABILITY FACTOR

o Positive relationships predispose your customers to be more open to and supportive of your ideas.

o The more you are liked, the more likely others will support your ideas.

o You’re more likely to be forgiven for mistakes when you have champions.

For this next section, I am indebted to G. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa, authors of The Art of Woo: Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas. In my opinion, no one puts it better than they have, so I am going to forgo trying to reinvent the wheel and just paraphrase what they say in their book:

THE LAW OF RECIPROCITY

o Your customers will be persuaded to do something for you when they first see you doing something extraordinary for them.

THE PROXIMITY EFFECT

o After a favor is done, your customers will place a higher value on the favor than you. However, as time passes, the trend reverses. The value of the favor increases in your eyes as the doer and not in eyes of the taker. So don’t wait forever to call in your markers.

SCARCITY

o Your customers will show a greater desire and interest in something when they learn its availability is limited. Look for people to snap up Pontiac cars now that the line will be discontinued.

o Placing limits on quantity available and restricted timelines persuade people to act more quickly.

FOOT IN THE DOOR

o Evidence suggests that after agreeing to a request, your customers are more likely to help out again.

o They see themselves as committed to you and will be open to a larger request.

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