Sunday, November 7, 2010

Persuasion Boot Camp

This week, we’ll start a series on Persuasion. The purpose will be to help you become more persuasive at those times you need to be. There are lots of different ideas about what it means to “be persuasive”, so we’ll start with what it is and what it isn’t.

Let’s start with a definition that says to persuade is to "induce to believe by appealing to reason or understanding”. This definition indicates that if I persuade you, I am somehow using reason to do so. That’s good to remember, but not always the case. The same definition allows me to appeal to your understanding of something and use that to induce you. This needn’t be a purely logical appeal, so that means that we can use emotion as well.

Some of my clients have said that they don’t think they can be persuasive because those with authority can veto their ideas, which can make them feel powerless, and even angry or humiliated. What I can attest to is that there are different kinds of power that are used in business. There is the authoritative power about which they are talking, and there is also the power that comes from expertise. I know that many times, the power of expertise can cause someone with a great deal of authority to change their mind about something. There is also the power of charisma. We see this from informal leaders that may not have direct authority over us, and may not be experts, but they can inspire us and cause us to do things we normally wouldn’t believe that we could do. That is certainly persuasion at work!

The power to persuade combines these and can often "level the playing field" in so far as getting your ideas in play. Done right, your persuasion will create the support that you need to implement the idea ("buy-in") as you go.

Many of my clients have felt at one time or another that logic was the main force at work in business persuasion (usually early in their careers). As time goes on, they witness idea after idea, backed by impeccable logic, failing to persuade those at which the ideas are aimed. This causes great disappointment and confusion in many business people, as it did with me, but now I am glad for it because it supplies me with such a wealth of clients!

The answer is that logic is quite important in persuasion, but it isn’t enough. In fact, it is just a little more than the bare necessity. The emotional element is richer and bigger than most of us ever imagine. For our first lesson, I will cover that aspect of persuasion.

A logical argument (about which I have just finished a series of newsletters) is at its best a series of statements well-supported by sound evidence. Logic, when delivered well, is persuasive because the statements and evidence are consistent with a conclusion that we can accept. They may not, however, cause someone to change their mind about some long held belief. Nor will logic alone cause someone to act. Nor will it cause them to respond if they don't know they should care about the issue. That is where the emotional component comes in.

When I describe the “emotional” components of persuasion the first time, almost everyone gets a little distracted by the word. They start to think about someone being hysterical, or crying, or angry, storming and fuming to get their way. That is generally NOT persuasive, especially in a business setting and certainly not what I mean.

Think of these elements of persuasion that are NOT strictly “logical”:

The persuasiveness of credibility. Someone you feel is credible is more likely to be persuasive than someone you feel is not credible.

An argument that aligns with one’s values. We have all heard that we need to consider the “what’s in it for me (WIIFM)” factor when we are trying to persuade someone. That is because most people value their self-interest pretty highly. We will learn to connect with other beliefs and values as well, and get the same kind of persuasive result over the next few weeks.

An argument that is imaginatively and emotionally appealing. That is, an argument that we make to persuade someone in which we create something they can picture in their minds and anticipate the enjoyment of experiencing it.

An argument that uses language that someone finds particularly appealing and is persuaded by it based on the choice of words and the feelings they inspire.

An argument made at the right moment in time to have maximum persuasive effect.

An argument that creates in another person the desire to act in a timely manner.

As we can see, the elements of persuasion that are NOT logic based are rich and essential (and many). Yet, when we fail to be persuasive we seem to go back to examine our logic, as if a little more evidence is the only thing that would “induce someone” to accept that which we wanted them to accept. It is as if when the car fails to start, we start our diagnosis by checking the tire pressure. Maybe that’s because the only tool we have is a tire gauge!

Over the next few weeks, I will share with you those things that we find most persuasive in an effort to help you begin to help percolate better ideas thorough your company and even get others to act on them. For now, just recognize that while the facts are important, they are only a fraction of the elements important to good persuasion and be open to learning more about the emotional elements.

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