Over the past few days, I led three classes on the art of persuasion, so this is a subject at the top of my mind.
Sometimes the word “persuasion” receives a bad rap. And that is a problem. Understanding what persuasion is and is not may help sidestep the stereotype. Persuasion is not pushing. It is gently pulling others towards our point of view and letting them come to their own realizations along the way. Persuasion is not arm twisting. It is gentle arm holding to guide others to do things that are in their own best interest that also happen to benefit us. Persuasion is not manipulation. It is an expertise that empowers us to positively impact others.
Jay Conger, in his article “The Necessary Art of Persuasion” in Harvard Business Review, makes another distinction when he explains that persuasion “is not convincing and selling, but learning and negotiating.” Conger continues:
”Persuasion can be a force for enormous good in an organization. It can
pull people together, move ideas forward, galvanize change, and forge constructive solutions. It [is] an art form that requires commitment and practice, especially as today’s business contingencies make persuasion more necessary than ever.”
We need to appreciate that being able to persuade or influence others is an essential communication skill for all of us who are professionals, idea-generators, mentors, leaders, parents, or passionate advocates of a cause. To be persuasive, there most definitely is an art to organizing how we present our position in terms of content and in perfecting our presentation style. My classes and coaching delve into a series of suggestions. Today I am focusing on three tips to cultivate our powers of persuasion.
First, we need to carefully research our target audience. When we ascertain their current knowledge of our topic, we may identify some knowledge gaps that we need to address before we even begin to persuade them of our point of view. Confirmation of our audience’s current beliefs or emotional state also will assure we meet them where they are. For example, if we find that our audience believes their efforts and sacrifices to date have helped us turn a corner, this understanding should prevent us from taking a doom and gloom stance. Finally, our presentation should demonstrate that we also have a firm grasp of what our audience needs. To build empathy with our audience, we need to present our ideas in a way that will matter to and impact each member of our audience. Steve Jobs was a master at persuading his audiences that they needed something before they realized that themselves.
A second and critical nuance in the art of persuasion is the framing of our idea, issue, or plan. We are far more likely to succeed if we frame our position as a single, well-crafted, and emphatic statement. Our framing statement should succinctly state our perspective on the issue and purposefully influence the audience’s judgment and emotions. An ideal framing statement is lop-sided and that is okay. According to Dr. Biljana Scott’s article entitled “Framing an Argument” for the DiploFoundation, our framing statement should be a “judicial combination of force or assertiveness and grace or attentiveness” to the needs of those we are persuading.
A third essential component of a persuasive argument is establishing relatability and common ground with our audience. We tend to follow the opinions of those we like and whose values appear to match our own. In other words, those who we identify as “one of us”. This is how Tupperware Home Parties in the ’50s, by exploiting existing social networks, convinced a generation of homemakers to adopt a new product. Likewise, seeing a familiar name on a petition means we are more likely to add our own signature. Even saying “I have wrestled with this issue too” is a way to demonstrate common ground.
Persuasion is an art. It requires creativity, diplomacy, and passion. Any one of us can learn the art of persuasion, and with practice and dedication, we can master it.