Monday, December 6, 2010

Elements of Persuasion #2

Last week, we touched on two very important activities involved in persuasion – establishing credibility and aligning with your counterpart’s values. This week, I’d like to talk a little bit about how to help them use their own thinking to stay open to new perspectives.

A very difficult part of being persuasive is helping a person appreciate your perspective. If we could do something to make that happen, to keep the other person in a frame of mind that helps them remain receptive to the logical and emotional elements we present, we would have a much better chance of helping them understand our perspective and perhaps to adopt it. It is important to allow the person to use their own thinking process to connect with your perspective. It is not enough to tell them how to feel; it is important to help them feel it.

Here are some things to think about if you have an issue that you consider serious and are having trouble persuading others to share that feeling:

• Discussions that end up with determining a course of action usually start by discussing a symptom and moving to a problem. Usually, we start talking about a symptom of the problem first (because we see symptoms first). We might say that the company has a problem because sales are down. Then as we discuss it further, we’ll find that low sales are a symptom. The real problem is that the company isn’t profitable. That is the real problem here. “Sales are down” is not really broad enough to do much about (except sell more). The reason low sales are a problem is the effect on profit. Profitability can be addressed a few different ways. It is best to frame the problem in such a way that there are a variety of ways to solve it. Over time, I have found that framing the problem this way encourages many more ideas.

• The next thing I talk about is NOT the potential solutions, but the impact that the problem presents. I do this for several reasons, and here are two: first, it gives us an estimate of the size of the problem – the weight of it. If it has little impact on us, then it is a smaller problem. Secondly, it makes the issue fr more real to have a realistic discussion of how it harms us. Before anyone decides we aren’t going to do anything about it at this time, I like to remind them that we all said it carried a certain impact. Are we willing to live with it? Usually, if we have discussed it openly and fully (and I try to make sure we really explore impact), we look at things very carefully before moving on. Impact of not being sufficiently profitable, for instance, is that we don’t have money for training or internal research and development, or other important things.

• I then move to eventual consequence. This is the impact to us if we don’t do anything. For instance, if we don’t do anything about our profitability, and don’t train our people or do sufficient research and development, we will certainly become less competitive and will likely go out of business. I like to let everyone that can do something about the problem participate in the “Impact and Consequences” discussion so that things can be very real. This has a strong emotional charge to it.

• There is a phenomenon called “Avoidance of Regret” that is a very strong motivator. People don’t like to feel regret, that they made a bad choice and now have to suffer (or cause others that they care about to suffer) the consequences. People will usually take a proactive course IF THEY TRULY FEEL that regret is a likely consequence of taking a reactive course. The trouble is getting them to feel it. I have found that asking them to imagine how they will feel if things turn out in that regrettable state is powerful. I say straight forwardly “Before we decide, I want you to think for a moment about how you will feel if you decide to do nothing about this situation now, and in a few months the thing we believe will happen comes to pass and we find ourselves in a non-competitive position with dire consequences. How will you feel about the choice you made today to do nothing?” If I have done the above steps well, and made everything transparent to all involved, they will usually be persuaded to be proactive.

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