At its most basic level, persuasion is about communication. But the art of persuasion is about using a sophisticated mix of communication skills and leadership abilities to bring others around to your ideas, recommendations or proposals after—and only after—you’ve successfully convinced them that it’s in their best interest to apply them.
The ability to persuade others has always been a top leadership and communication skill—especially for transformational leaders—and the pace of technological, human capital and workforce change has only heightened the demand. Can you be an effective agent of change, if you can’t influence and persuade others? Can you inspire others to action, if you are unable to draw them into your vision or positively help them embrace a new process, a new system or a new method? Can you lead anything or anyone at all if you fail to appreciate the concept of influence and how to use it to persuade others to embrace your ideas?
Persuasion, while about selling or presenting your ideas, is more about appreciating how to best reach and engage your audience for change. To increase the likelihood of your ideas, recommendations and proposals being adopted—and acted upon—you should be acutely aware of the kinds of questions that start rolling around in people’s heads the moment you start talking to them. Everything you say and do should be done to advance the needs and best interests of your audience—those you are trying to persuade. By following these five steps, you will be better positioned to assess needs and interests and convince people to act on your great ideas. These five steps will help you to successfully apply the art of persuasion.
1. Give people a reason to listen to you.
You can’t persuade people who won’t listen to you. One of the first things your audience will be thinking when you come to them with a new idea, recommendation or proposal is whether they should even give you the time of day. They will absolutely question whether they should listen to you at all.
Everyone is busy. People barely have to time to exercise, eat or spend quality time with their friends and family so you can believe they aren’t trying to waste time with you on ideas they don’t think or know they need. It’s imperative that you are quickly able to help them appreciate that what you have to say matters and why. Before you can persuade anyone to take action on anything, you have to first convince him to take some time and listen to you.
If you fail to make clear how your message (whatever it is) connects with your listeners’ lives, jobs or organization, you won’t ever get to tell them why they should care about anything else on the subject.
2. Show people that you truly care about them and their needs.
Even after people decide to go ahead and start listening to you, they will still be questioning why they should actually care about the issue. They will have internal objections that are wholeheartedly disconnected from the eye contact and assertive listening techniques you might see them employing. If you haven’t yet put in the work to confirm they know you care, don’t be fooled into skipping this step.
After you have their attention, it is incumbent upon you to help them see that you care. The best way to show that you care is to start listening to them. In order to persuade people, you have to understand their challenges, struggles, pain points, etc. And then you need to ask thoughtful, open-ended, questions that serve to expand the conversation toward an area close to where you want to go.
You will know when listeners start to feel and believe that you care because they will begin sharing more. If you listen with intent, your audience will surely tell you where they want to go. And when you are real good (leading with influence), they will actually let you take them where you want to go. Of course, there should be mutual interest and clear commonalities in where they believe they want to go and where you want to take them. The big takeaway here is that you must first care about your audience and their needs before you should ever expect them to care about yours.
If you fail to demonstrate that you care by understanding and appreciating their needs and interests, you won’t even need to worry about the following step because they will surely never trust you.
3. Give people a reason to trust you.
After people believe that you care, they will start processing whether they can trust you. But it will go deeper for them. As sure as you are reading this, your listeners will be internally questioning whether they should trust you. People need to feel comfortable working with you and with how you present yourself to them. They will look for internal and external endorsements, validators or other means of affirmation to decide whether they should place trust in you and, even then, how much.
Who are you? What is your reputation? What is your evidence or credibility on the topic? What makes you an expert? Your audience will have all kinds of questions rolling through their heads about you, and it is your responsibility to go in knowing this because they may never come out and directly ask any of these. You should be aware that there is a positive correlation between trust and influence and between trust and persuasion. The higher the level of credibility and trust your audience attributes to you, the higher the likelihood they will open their minds—and hearts—to really process your ideas. Nothing reduces resistance to a new or different idea like building trust.
If you fail to give your listeners a reason to trust you, don’t even both asking them to do something different, change a behavior or adopt or implement your recommendations or proposals. They will have internally shut you down. They may still be in conversation with you, but fail to give them a reason to trust you, and you have lost the opportunity to connect and thoroughly present your ideas.
4. Present your ideas in terms of pros and cons that will connect with your audience.
If you’ve gotten this far with your audience, you are good—really good—because it means that you have your their attention. They believe you care and have decided to attach a good level of credibility and trust to you and your message. But don’t dare drop the ball here. You still have some heavy lifting to do, and when the context and timing are right, you should move forward.
This is where the rubber meets the road for your grand ideas, recommendations or proposals. This is where you need to substantiate your case for anyone to do anything differently. This is where you really demonstrate your appreciation for your audience’s needs and interests. This is where you’ll match those needs or challenges with solutions that will advance their goals or solve their problems. And all the while, your audience will still be wondering why they should take any action at all. They may like what you are proposing, and they may like your new ideas, but they will still have some lingering objections.
To remedy those last objections, you should describe how your recommendations will specifically benefit the individual, the team or the organization. You should describe why they should take action (change something; do something different) and outline the pros and cons of it all. It starts and ends here with the WIIFM and the WIIFO. You’ve got to give people the “what’s in it for me” and the “what’s in it for their organization.”
If your listeners aren’t sold on the benefits and improvements that they, themselves, or their organization will experience if they adopt your ideas, they won’t take action. Similarly, if they aren’t sold on the negative consequences that a lack of action will bring, they won’t take action. Use this time to provide a rationale for your ideas, substantiate your proposals and fully justify your recommendations. Do this well enough, and people will likely take action.
5. Define the action steps and clarify the process.
Now that your audience is motivated to take action, you have to help them understand the action steps and process for which they will commit. At this point of your persuasion effort, your listeners are ready to accept your ideas, recommendations or proposals, but they are still unsure about the action steps and the process. You can’t leave them without an action plan.
The art of persuasion isn’t about simply selling an idea; it’s actually about bringing about a change in behavior or moving people to action. Don’t’ leave people motivated for new and different outcomes without specifying how to get there. By communicating actions steps, you will help reduce fear and ambiguity, and when you outline a clear process, you help to minimize the perceived risks.
If you fail to define the action steps or clarify the process, all of your effort will be wasted. The audience may have loved what you told them and even how you told it to them, but they will not follow through without a game plan. After you persuade people to do something different, you need to help them understand how to achieve it.
This five-step needs’ assessment and persuasion model works for everyone who seeks to affect change and convince others to take action. It is not a manipulation tactic. Whether you are the job applicant trying to persuade the hiring manager to hire you, the manager of sales who wants to implement new communication techniques, the change lead responsible for persuading colleagues on the benefits of your next digital transformation initiative, the HR executive charged with a complete work-design overhaul or the marketing executive leading a new approach to performance, you need to become more persuasive.
This point is worth repeating. Persuasion, while about selling or presenting your ideas, is more about appreciating how to best reach and engage your audience for change. It is your responsibility to be aware of the kinds of questions that start rolling around in your listeners’ heads the moment you start talking to them. If you move forward with your presentation, sales pitch or proposal without considering the needs of your audience, you are likely to fail. If you move forward and make your presentation and recommendations based on the above five-step needs’ assessment and persuasion model, you are much more likely to succeed.