#24 Art of Persuasion

by Steven Cerri on January 8, 2007

“The Necessary Art of Persuasion”

Good evening!

I just finished reviewing an article in the Harvard Business Review magazine called OnPoint, dated Winter 2006. These are selected articles from the Harvard Business Review, and the title on the cover is “The Art of Middle Management.” It’s an interesting magazine with a variety of articles and as the weeks go by, I’ll be reviewing some of the articles in my blogs.

One of the major articles is titled, “The Middle Manager as Innovator” and while I’ll probably talk about the full article in future blogs, in this blog I want to zero in on the additional reading that was listed under the “Further Reading” heading at the end of the article.

One of the articles recommended as further reading was and article printed in the Harvard Business Review, dated May-June 1998 and listed as Product no. 4258. The title of this essay was “The Necessary Art of Persuasion”. I’ll quote a few sentences from the summary of that article:

“In driving innovation, middle managers must know how to persuade key constituencies to support their ideas. This skill is particularly crucial as managers “sell” project ideas, garner needed resources and top-level support, and mobilize key players to carry out the project as a unified team.”

No doubt this is necessary at any level in an organization from the technologist to the technical manager. However, it is a skill that in most cases must be learned by the technologist who wants to become a manager because …

we are not taught how to “sell” our ideas during our college education. While in school, we are taught that the facts “sell” our ideas. The “truth” sells our ideas. No persuasion is necessary; our answers are either right or they are wrong, and no wrong answer can be “sold” and no right answer needs “selling”.

I’ll continue to quote the article summary;

This article outlines four powerful steps to persuasion: 1) establish credibility through pertinent expertise and positive relationships, 2) clarify the shared benefits of a potential innovation project, 3) vividly reinforce one’s position through compelling examples, stories, and metaphors, and 4) connect emotionally with one’s listeners.

Now notice the four items listed in this article summary:

1) establish credibility through pertinent expertise and positive relationships

2) clarify the shared benefits of a potential innovation project

3) vividly reinforce one’s position through compelling examples, stories, and metaphors

4) connect emotionally with one’s listeners

I find the order of these four items interesting. I’d put number 4 at the top of the list because it seems impossible to me that anyone can accomplish items 1, 2, and 3 without performing item #4 first. Who do you listen to? Whose advise do you take? Who do you take seriously? Who do you consider wise? The person you listen to, whose advice you take, whom you take seriously and consider wise, is the person you give something to that is very important and very emotional… it’s the person you TRUST.

Trust is an emotion. It is not based on logic, although we’d like to think it is. Trust allows us to listen with open attitude so that someone can indeed establish credibility, can clarify shared benefits and vividly provide examples, stories, and metaphors. It is trust that must be there first.

And who do we trust? Just look around the world. Without much effort we can see that people have a tendency to trust people who are more similar to them than those who are dissimilar to them. Said another way, we feel more comfortable with people who are more like us than with people who are less like us.

So, notice, we are building a hierarchy here.

A) Our ability to persuade is based on accomplishing the four items listed above.

B) Those four items are dependent on our ability to connect emotionally with our listener.

C) Our ability to connect emotionally is another word for trust.

D) We more easily trust people who are more like us than those who are not like us.

The next question is, how do we convey to people that we are more like them than less like them?

To answer that question, lets look at scientific research. Research over the last 40 years has given us the same conclusion, over and over again. We have three ways to communicate our ideas and our messages. We can use the words, that is the content of our message, either spoken or written. We can use our voices, the tone, speed, loudness of communication along with other vocal parameters. Or we can use our physical orientation, often referred to as body language.

The data consistently come back the same. The ability of the words (i.e., content) to make the emotional connection is estimated to be around 7% (+/- 2%). The ability of our voice tone, speed, loudness etc., to make the emotional connection is estimated to be around 35% (+/-2%). And the ability of our body orientation, posture, (i.e., body language) to make the emotional connection is around58% (+/-2%).

It doesn’t take long to look at these data and determine what the message is. The connection that builds trust, that allows our messages to be heard is not based on the words we use, it’s based on our voice and our body language. And in fact, we all have plenty of examples of this in our real life work experience. How often have you been in a meeting or been in a discussion and everyone has seemingly agreed to an action, a decision, or a conclusion only to discover three days later it is as if no one apparently attended the same meeting. Each person had a different interpretation primarily because the emotional connection of trust had not been established allowing people to understand the same thing, agree to that understanding, and commit to that agreement.

The ability to communicate at these much subtler levels, to build trust based on similarity and an emotional connection, will allow you to be listened to and to be accepted. It will allow you to be heard. It is only then that your stories and metaphors will be heard. It is only then that your credibility can be built. It is only then that you can secure the necessary resources and build the team that can get the project done.

The subtleties of human non-verbal communication are the foundation of all human communication. Master them and you master the Necessary Art of Persuasion. Master the Necessary Art of Persuasion and you master the foundation, the first step to management and … leadership.

Be well

Steven Cerri

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