"The secret is to always let the other man have your way." -Claiborne Pell
Six months ago, Quincy, was promoted as the finance manager in a leading IT organization. A few weeks back, Quincy read an article about a new accounting system that many organizations like hers were implementing. Quincy believed that by implementing this new system, her organization will not only save money but could also expand its business. She was aware this switch may not be easy, especially since her organization has had a long history with its current accounting system and some managers may resist her proposal. Nevertheless, Quincy wanted to convince her boss and other key players in the company of the new accounting system’s value. And though she had some influence over the organization’s decision makers, they all outranked her and shared different dispositions about her idea. What should Quincy do?
Simple, one may say – Quincy must employ ‘persuasion’ to achieve her goal. Indeed, I’d say too.
But is there an effective way to persuade an audience that differs in inclinations and receptivity?
Let’s begin this exploration by first understanding ‘persuasion’ and its mechanics. Persuasion is the primary means of affecting decisions; an act or process of ethically winning the mind and heart of others to adopt a belief or behavior or one’s way of thinking (provided it’s appropriate). The applications of persuasion are virtually infinite — a consultant pitching the benefits of a new framework, a salesperson assuring a customer of a product as the best buy, a purchase manager convincing the supplier to expedite the shipment of an order or a manager urging an employee to perform better. Whatever be the situation, we all draw upon our persuasive skills every day and quite often without realizing it.
However, in several persuasion situations many people struggle to make their arguments perfectly sensible and get the much needed ‘yes’. This is because they often fall short of the crucial planning and preparation required in persuading someone effectively.
But losing out on a proposition can be detrimental for the persuader as it may cost him/her the business, a relationship or the cause itself.
With dynamic changes in the business world, more and more managers – those with power and those without it – are recognizing persuasion as a critical and must-have skill than ever before. Clearly, formal authority and issuing orders no longer gets managers as far as it used to. So how can managers, like Quincy, and you become talented persuaders that very few can resist?
The first aspect you will need to recognize in order to become a talented persuader is that persuasion is an effective interplay of an art and science — an art in which you need to establish your unsurpassable credibility as a trusted expert, without which your audience will dismiss your proposal. And a science where you must collect, analyze and present information in a sequence that appeals to logic as well as fundamental human emotions of your audience.
While all this may sound intricate, here are 4 strategies that will help you define your unique value proposition and further boost your odds of persuading people with least resistance from their end.
Identify your true audience
Perhaps like Quincy, you too have built your credibility by establishing your trustworthiness and expertise, but no matter how credible people find you and your ideas, you must identify your audience to win their minds and hearts. In most persuasion situations, your true audience is a subset of decision makers, key stakeholders and the influencers. The decision makers are those individuals who can approve or reject your idea. Stakeholders are those who get directly affected by the acceptance or rejection of your proposal. And last but not the least, influencers are the opinion centers who have the capacity to effect decisions – they often get consulted and may participate indirectly in the decision making process too. To ethically win in your persuasion, you will need to identify all the members of the true audience as early in the run as possible. This can give you an edge in completing your groundwork about them in order to win their approval. Whatever be the mix and the count of your audience, you need to bear in mind that the opinions of some will always outweigh the rest. Thus, after you’ve identified your true audience, it’s time to analyze their inclinations and likely receptivity.
Analyze audience receptivity
Audiences differ in their perceptions about you, knowledge about your idea and interest in supporting what you have to propose – all of which influence their receptivity and inclination to say yes. You can generally classify your true audience into these five categories of receptivity – Hostile, Neutral, Uninterested, Uninformed and Supportive. To analyze your audience’s receptivity, you could do the following: look for signs of openness or resistance in their formal or informal interactions, assess their body language as well as observe how they express their concerns about topics related to your idea. It would also help to identify individuals who understand your audience’s moods and opinions about developments that are in some way related to your idea. You could interact with these knowledgeable contacts to know their assessment of likely receptivity of your true audience. You could even ask them about what they themselves and other key decision makers care about most. Such detailed analysis often lays the foundation for building a rock-solid case and unique value proposition.
Build a strong case-in-point
A strong case-in-point is the cornerstone of any persuasion. It’s true that building a ‘perfectly sensible’ case in favor of anything is tough and sometimes a distant dream, but a case-in-point can be made strong and rock-solid by spotlighting the benefits the audience values. Hence, to build your case-in-point, begin by brainstorming all the possible benefits of your proposition. Then, of the brainstormed benefits identify the ones you think your audience values most. This will help you prioritize the benefits based on your audience’s interest – either the desire to gain something they don’t currently have or the fear of losing something they currently have and value. Next, gather evidence and compelling testimonials from credible sources that confirms that these high-priority benefits are real. As long as your case-in-point favorably addresses the audience’s question “What’s In It For Me”, neutralizes competing alternatives and unfolds facts in a structured sequence you have an equally strong chance of getting to a yes. If you wish to further strengthen your persuasiveness, then you can play up the unique advantages of your proposition that would, in turn, convince the audience that your idea merits serious consideration. So go ahead and compare your idea against potential alternative propositions and thoroughly prepare to present in succinct and compelling terms why your case-in-point is the best value proposition your audience must approve.
Present in a compelling way
A knockout formal presentation is a timeless tool of persuasion and is a powerful way to communicate your message. It’s crucial to argue with the right structure. In some cases, you may plan your structure based on the subject matter while other times your analysis of the audience’s receptivity might inspire the structure. Whatever be the case, don’t simply address the intellects of your audience, speak also to their emotions by making the personal impact of your proposal clear. By using a problem-solution or cause-effect structure you could convert the uninterested and the uniformed into positive supporters. By presenting both sides of the argument and a refutation, you could win over the neutral or hostile audience. Also, when persuasion is your aim, never underestimate the power of well-chosen words. Whenever possible add appropriate sprinkle attention-grabbing and emotion-evoking words within your chosen structure. To boost your chance of winning, maintain a motivational sequence in your presentation. Capture your audience’s attention with a startling statistic, anecdote or a humorous story, and then identify the pressing need and benefits of accepting your proposal. Finally, conclude with a call for action in which you clearly indicate what you want from the audience.
Research shows that talented persuaders actively adopt and apply these four strategies to master their unique ability to capture an audience, sway opinions and convince opponents to align with their cause. That’s how they get a yes faster and more frequently. So let me persuade you to learn this subtle science of getting your way ethically and by extensive practice, you too could smoothen your ride to a ‘yes’ from your audience including the nay-sayers!