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THE CORE OF PERSUASION
Communicating to help people make decisions
'The ability to express an idea is almost as important as the idea itself.'
Clear, well-considered communication provides a sound foundation for anyone wanting to be persuasive. It avoids misunderstandings and others may well appreciate the clarity of it; it can enhance the profile of the communicator in a way that impresses and can certainly act to increase the likelihood of ultimate success in getting agreement. Conversely, it is all too easy for something poorly communicated to be "marked down": badly presented = bad idea. That said, let me be more dogmatic about this: persuasion is a specialist form of communication. It presents its own challenges and will be seriously handicapped or jeopodised by any failings in basic communications. The importance of achieving understanding is returned to later; here bear in mind that this underpins any more specific techniques.
There is a danger that persuasion is undertaken without sufficient care. It can seem easy: after all, if you know what you are suggesting, and believe (know?) it is good, surely all you have to do is tell people about it? Not so, as we will see. For example, a department head, intent on conducting an orderly and effective meeting, might want to sell people on sticking strictly to a published agenda. Sensible enough surely, but a brief request simply to do so may still prompt argument. Why? Because with no reasons given people may draw the wrong conclusions: it will curtail what I have to say, it will stop us dealing with X. They may react in a hundred and one different ways – all of which fail to easily agree to do what is wanted. Matters may work out to be worse still if the manager was condescending, or in any way inappropriately abrupt or demanding.
This danger is a very real one too and disaster is almost guaranteed if you take the wrong view of the persuasion process. It is not to be regarded as something you "do to people". That makes the process seem inappropriately one way, when it should be a dialogue.
A USEFUL DEFINITION
The best definition I know of selling is that it is "helping people to buy". Similarly, in non-sales situations, persuasion is well described as "helping people to make a decision".
This may seem simplistic, but it does characterise the reality of the process well. People want to go through a process of decision-making, indeed they will do just that whatever you may do. So, the core of what makes the basis for persuasive technique is a two-way process and both elements start on the other person's side of the relationship. Always, you must consider the way in which people assess something and come to a decision. Anyone buying products and services illustrates what goes on: they investigate options and weigh up the pros and cons of any given case (and often, of course, they are intentionally checking out several competing options alongside each other); just as you do when you set out to buy a new television or washing machine.
Whatever decision they are faced with, how do people make a choice? They go through a particular sequence of thinking. One way of looking at this, defined by psychologists way back, is paraphrased here.
COMING TO AN AGREEMENT
One approach to this is to think of people moving through several stages of thinking, as if they were saying to themselves:
I'm the one who matters. Whatever you want me to do, I expect you to worry about how I feel about it, respect me and consider my situation and my needs.
What are the merits and implications of the case you make? Tell me what you suggest and why it makes sense (the pluses) and whether it has any snags (the minuses) so that I can weigh it up; bearing in mind that few, if any, propositions are perfect.
How will it work? Here people additionally want to assess the details not so much about the proposition itself, but about the areas associated with it. For example, you might want to persuade someone to take on, or become involved with, a project. The idea of the project might appeal, but say it ends with them having to prepare a lengthy written report, they might see that as a chore and therefore as a snag; therefore, if the case is finely balanced, reject it because of that.
What do I do? In other words what action – exactly – must someone take having agreed? This too forms part of the balance. If something seen in a quick flick through this book persuaded you that it might help you, you may have bought it because of that. In doing so you recognised (and accepted) that you would have to read it and that this would take a little time. The action – reading – is inherent in the proposition and, if you were not prepared to take it on, this might have changed your decision.
This thinking process underlines everything that must be done to be persuasive. People will always:
Consider the factors that make up a case.
Seek to categorise these as advantages or disadvantages.
Weigh up the complete case, allowing for all the pluses and minuses (something that takes varying amounts of time).
Select a course of action (which may be simply agreeing or not, or involve the choice of one action being taken rather than another or a choice being made from several possibilities), which they conclude reflects the overall picture.
Importantly, what is going on here is not a search for perfection. Most propositions have some downsides; this may be the most useful book you ever read, but reading it does take a little time that could be used for something else, therefore potentially a downside.
Think of a set of traditional weighing scales, the type with two sides, with each side containing plus and minus points of differing weight. Your job is to assemble a positive balance, one that will swing the argument. This is a good analogy and one worth keeping in mind; in fact doing so allows it to act as a practical tool, helping you envisage what is going on during what you intend to be a persuasive exchange. Beyond that, it helps structure the process if you also have a clear idea of the sequence of thinking people involve in their weighing up process.
It is after this thinking is complete that people will feel they have sufficient evidence on which to make a decision. They have the balance in mind, and they can compare it with that of any other options (and remember, some choices are close run with one option only just coming out ahead of others). Then people can decide, feel they have made a sensible decision and that they have done so on a suitably considered basis.
This thinking process is largely universal. Depending on what is being done, it may happen very quickly and might even be almost instantaneous – the classic snap judgment. Or it may take longer, and that may sometimes indicate days or weeks (or longer) rather than minutes or hours. But it is always in evidence. Because of this, there is always merit in setting out your case in a way than sits comfortably alongside the way in which it will be considered. Hence: the definition that describes persuasion as helping the decision making process.
Thus this thinking process should not be difficult to identify with; it is what you do too – witness the purchase of a television mentioned earlier. Essentially all that is necessary when attempting to persuade is to keep this process in mind and address the individual questions involved in turn, thus:
Demonstrating a focus on the other person early on– it helps also to aim to create some rapport and make clear how you aim to put things over (for example, in what sequence you plan to go through items).
Make and present a balanced case – you need to stress the positive, of course, but should not pretend there are no snags, especially if manifestly there are some. You must present a clear case, give it sufficient explanation and weight and recognise the balancing up that the recipient will undertake in their mind.
Include working details – mention how things will work, include ancillary details, especially those that will matter to others.
Thus when you set out a case, the structure and logic of it should sensibly follow this pattern. Otherwise the danger is that you will be trying to do one thing while the person you are communicating with is doing something else; and they will surely do what they want.
All the steps in the process must be taken before people will willingly move on to the next one. Some decisions can be taken at once while others require a pause between each stage. The core of this process is that we weigh up the pros and cons of making a decision. We all want to be able to make an appropriately informed decision; we put different points on one side of the metaphorical balance or on the other. Nothing is perfect, so what wins is best thought of as what has the highest positive balance. Thus in competitive situations a case can be won, or lost, on the basis of just one or two small points swinging the balance one way or another.
The process of making most decisions always follows this multi-stage process. But execution of the process can be complex and reflects the circumstances of the decision making. (In selling it might reflect the nature of the customer's business; the size of their organisation; the people and functions involved; their needs; the degree of influence they have on buying decisions – and what they are buying.) As an example, an organisation considering with whom to commission a major research study is likely to go through a more complex process than that of an individual deciding where to get the office stationery. Everything persuasive is best viewed from this perspective. As has been said, it is not something that you do to people – it is the mirror image of the decision making process – something that is inherently two-way.
Persuasion must focus on others and what is important to them. Communications are much more successful when a person's situation is clearly identified and, conversely, less successful when such information is only implied (in effect, guessed), or is ignored. Asking the right questions is thus as important to being successfully persuasive as saying the right things is (more of this anon).
Nothing is successfully agreed unless someone willingly agrees. There may be some reluctance but, if people feel their arms have been twisted unreasonably, they resent it and this can affect the action they then take, and at worst they may renege on their commitment. There is a need to relate closely what is done in communicating persuasively to others' points of view; this can only be done if what you say is thought through carefully. Your approach must therefore be, in a word: planned (more of this anon too).
Obtaining agreement means you must play a part in other peoples' decision-making processes, assisting them to make decisions – the right ones – rather than pressurising them into doing something against their better judgement. You must sometimes play the role, in part, of an advisor; and being regarded as an advisor simply does not fit with a high-pressure approach (rather it helps and may be worth cultivating if possible).
If the right approach is adopted, agreement is simply more likely to be reached.
With that in mind we turn to the complete process involved in what we might call a persuasive encounter.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE TASK
Let's put the actual task facing you here, which spans a number of stages, in perspective (before getting into more detail chapter by chapter):
Planning: with someone in mind, and a conversation or meeting in prospect, some preparation is usually necessary. The most persuasive people do not just "wing it", they create an approach tailored to achieve their aims and matched to each particular person they aim to persuade. At its simplest this is no more than adhering to the old adage to engage the brain before the mouth.
Handling the conversation/meeting: when a formal (or indeed less formal) meeting is involved, it needs approaching systematically. A meeting needs some structure and must be designed to take an amount of time acceptable to the other party. Your chosen plan is like a route map, as important to assist when it is not possible to follow the planned route as it is when you can. The course of a meeting cannot be dictated, it necessarily follows the events that occur and what is said to some degree even though you will want to keep it as much as possible on your track.
In thinking through the best approach, it helps to consider the four
logical stages of a meeting:
1. Opening: the first moments, making a good first impression, if necessary identifying something about the other person and their situation and setting the scene for the way you want to describe your offering.
2. Presentation: making your case and putting it across in a way that ensures that it can act persuasively. How this is done, the power and precision of your description and more are vital to success.
3. Handling objections: any pitch is likely to give rise to some objections – the "buts" (which may in any case only be clarifying questions) – and this stage too must be handled smoothly to preserve a positive balance.
4. Gaining a commitment (or "closing" as it is called in sales jargon): an injunction to act does not cause people to agree, but it is often (usually?) necessary to take the initiative and ask for their specific agreement, thus converting the interest you have generated into action.
Some orchestration is necessary. The overall progress of the interaction must be controlled and managed, and at the same time individual techniques must be deployed as appropriate and how things are done adjusted in the light of how matters are progressing. Additional follow up activity may be necessary if things are not concluded promptly. This implies a far-reaching activity. If agreement is made, then the contact may still need maintaining. If someone hesitates, then persistent chasing needs to take place, and yet doing so needs to be made acceptable.
Beyond that, those with whom you have regular contact – as a manager does with their staff, or a member of staff does with their boss for that matter – will be influenced by the ongoing nature of the relationship. We are all more likely to cooperate with people with whom we have a good relationship and to go along with what they say.
So, the persuader needs to adopt a careful, systematic and creative approach, one demanding considerably more precision in the way it is applied than the application of the traditional "sales person's gift of the gab". As has been said, the key to it all is seeing things from the other person's point of view – the classic concept of empathy – and using that understanding to fine tune approaches and ensure both persuasiveness and an approach that is acceptable to, and appeals to, those with whom you deal.
THE RIGHT FRAME OF MIND
The way you think about the process of persuasion is certainly the first thing that conditions how well it goes and what results you will obtain. It is your attitude that decides how you will go about the detail of the task, and that in turn will influence how others see you and whether they will be willing to cooperate with you. You are, after all, usually the only person present on your side. So, in part to illustrate the approaches that being persuasive demands, consider three key routes you can take to what you do and how you do it, all of which can influence results positively. You should:
1. Adopt the right overall approach:
Let's start with a single overall point that is of considerable significance. Any persuasive task must be regarded in the right way. Every circumstance and every person is different and everyone expects to be dealt with in a way that recognises just that.
What works best is, as a result, not any one set approach. You must deploy appropriate approaches from all the available techniques and do so person-by-person, meeting-by-meeting and day-by-day. The most persuasive people are those who recognise this fact. They seek to consciously fine-tune what they do; they never get stuck in a rut but always approach what they do intelligently and judge exactly how to proceed on each occasion in the light of all the circumstances.
This fact alone can be crucial. Because elements involved can be repetitive (the committee Chairman may have to do similar things at every meeting), it is easy to find things starting to be done on "automatic pilot" and that original and creative thinking about what is going on becomes less.
Getting agreement rarely has very much to do with good luck. You can however, to an extent, make your own luck; certainly you can and will do better if you see the process of working at it as a continuous one. This affects all the other points mentioned in this book. In other words, the person likely to be of most help to you in making your communications more effective is, ultimately, yourself.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Smart Skills: Persuasion"
Copyright © 2011 Patrick Forsyth.
Excerpted by permission of Legend Times Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
FOREWORD by Jonathan Reuvid,
1. THE CORE OF PERSUASION,
2. READY, AIM, FIRE,
3. OFF TO A GOOD START,
4. MAKING A POWERFUL CASE,
5. RESISTENCE IS FUTILE,
7. BEYOND THE CLOSE,
It is a fundamental skill and there are different facets and approaches. It is important to note that persuasion is not the same as negotiation, which is more geared towards a compromise or a degree of backing down. Rather persuasion is the power to convince the opposing party to your way of thinking either through means of influence, power or motivation. This book provides the details that will help you get ahead in the workplace.
• Key tactics to guarantee persuasiveness
• Language appropriate to persuasion
• Structure, sequence, visual aids, description
• Relating benefits to individuals - The tailored approach
• Avoid exaggeration & Avoid pressurising people
• Add a demonstration
• Maximising your chances
• Handling and overcoming objections
• Respect alternative choices
• Dealing with “maybe”