Monday, July 13, 2009

Persuasion - Mutual Purpose

Last time, we covered a primary component of persuasion and that is Credibility. It is hard to take someone seriously unless they are credible. Once you pass the credibility test, there is still more to do if you want your counterpart to deeply and seriously consider your perspective. This week we will talk about Creating a Mutual Purpose.

It seems obvious to say, but it is very important that you and your counterpart have a CLEAR understanding of what you hope to accomplish with your proposed perspectives. If you aren’t, it is typical that you will “imagine” what each other’s purposes are and if you get it wrong, you will likely be unable to be persuasive (or persuaded) because you will be suspicious of each other’s motives. The best way to address that is to explicitly state what your purpose is.

It is a fact of life that if you are both interested in achieving the SAME result, then you are more likely to work together than if you are out to accomplish different (or even opposite) outcomes. Let’s look at an example.

The company you at which you work is seeking to increase profits. You manage the Operations Group and your two counterparts (in this example) manage the Sales Group and the Engineering group. When the discussion turns to ways to achieve this, the Sales guy might say “We can only sell more products if we can cut the cost. Operations needs to make it cheaper.” You, the Operations guy, say “We have made just about all the improvements we can. If you want to make it significantly cheaper, we need a new design.” The Engineering guy might say “The sales guys need to be more creative in finding new markets for our existing products”.

There is a mutual purpose at the beginning of the scenario – to increase profits. This is pretty general, though, and doesn't provide much direction. We want our purpose to be as SPECIFIC AS POSSIBLE and still remain mutually supported. Each of the parties, however, has announced individual agendas that simplistically put the responsibility on other groups. These are TOO specific and in framing them in this way, have set themselves up to be suspicious and wary rather than open and excited in this activity. Let’s see how we can drive the process to keep things focused on mutual benefit at the optimum level of resolution.

When Sales says “operations needs to make it cheaper”, we can ask a question (refer to other newsletters about the Inquiry method) to clarify this like: “So what you are saying is we need to find a way to reduce the cost for each product sold?” Note that this is NOT the same as “operations making it cheaper”. There are MANY ways to reduce the cost per product. What if we were able to reach more customers per sales person? That would reduce the cost too. Our mutual purpose is now to reduce cost per product sold, and each of the three organizations can contribute to that.

When Engineering says “sales needs to find new markets” we can again clarify this to say “So what you are saying is that we need to sell more product?” Note that this is NOT the same as “sales finding new markets”. There are MANY ways to sell more products. What if we were to design in new features that our customer’s liked more? Or we were willing to hold stock for our customers in exchange for a slightly higher price, or for high volume customers? Those would increase our sales too. Our mutual purpose is now to increase sales, and each of the three organizations can contribute to that.

If your counterpart sees that you are working hard to find ways to accomplish the SAME GOAL AS THEY ARE, they are for more likely to work with you than if they feel you are working on something that doesn’t achieve the same goal or is even working against you. It is critical that you keep in tune so that all parties understand the MUTUAL PURPOSE.
When framing a mutual purpose, focus on a) things that you counterpart will gain that they currently lack and b) things that your counterpart can avoid losing. The second of these is especially powerful. People are far more persuaded to do things that prevent them from losing what they already have than to obtain new things that they don’t yet have.

Having a CLEAR MUTUAL PURPOSE upon which all parties agree, and weighing proposals based on how well they support that purpose makes persuasion much easier.

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