U.S. President, Lyndon Johnson famously said, “The only real power available to the leader is the power of persuasion.” He wasn’t wrong. Success as a leader hinges on learning to persuade people at work to buy into your plans and take actions you want them to take. Therefore, your leadership development program should include building skills in fostering working relationships and in building a repertoire of persuasion techniques for leaders.
First, Can You Be Persuaded?
To start improving your persuasion skills in leadership, conduct a little self-evaluation on your track record of open-mindedness. If your workplace reputation is for keeping an open mind, being willing to compromise, and prioritising win-win solutions, you’re already well-grounded in the foundational leadership self-disciplines needed for building management skills in persuasion. You’re ready to adopt the time-tested wisdom of great leaders, masters of the art of persuasion, who consistently succeed in inspiring their groups to follow their lead.
Methods and Techniques for Success in Persuasion
The Cornell University study Sweetening the Till: The Use of Candy to Increase Restaurant Tipping found that groups of students who were instructed to get to know each other a little prior to negotiating were about three times more successful in coming to a quick agreement and came to terms that were of greater benefits to all parties than the groups that were told to make a business decision together immediately.
The study results seem to indicate that even developing minimal familiarity can translate into spectacular results in peoples’ ability to persuade and be persuaded in order to reach mutually satisfying outcomes.
The research results above also support what leaders have long known, that building relationships and reputation are fundamentals for success in persuading people to do what it takes to accomplish an organisation’s objectives and goals. So, to start building your persuasive skills as a leader:
1. Establish Your Credibility.
There are two sources of leadership credibility — strong knowledge and strong relationships. There’s no substitute for expertise, so become an expert in your field. Maintain an ongoing mode of professional and personal self-development. Listen to people. Foster a workplace culture of mutual respect for each other and of valuing each other’s contributions of ideas.
2. Come Well Prepared.
To be optimally persuasive, be prepared with all the relevant detailed information and data necessary to fully support your proposal. (Practice with the technology for your presentation in advance, and have a backup plan to maintain your momentum, in case of tech glitches.) Know your audience’s needs and interests, as they relate to your proposal. Think through all the potential outcomes, and be ready to field questions and satisfy objections.
3. Understand Your Group’s Interests.
Ask questions to help you understand your group members’ interests and views on alternative solutions. This will likely bring you to modify your original position, at least slightly, to include certain compromises that bring the plan to deliver a more mutually beneficial outcome.
4. Connect on an Emotional Level.
Demonstrate your depth of belief in your position. Ask questions to gauge your group’s emotional response to your ideas. As they provide their feedback and alternative ideas, encourage their input and to help them receive your message in the same congenial way you’re offering it.
5. Build Relationships of Trust and Respect.
In building relationships of mutual trust with people, much of the work of persuading is being done before you ever make a presentation in which you need them to agree to your plans:
- Get to know your team members, and learn about their interests and concerns.
- Build a personal reputation for keeping your commitments.
- Foster an atmosphere of mutual support between management and staff.
- Promote team commitment to everyone’s common goals.
- Encourage communication, and provide regular opportunities for group and one-on-one dialogue.
- Be sensitive to people’s feelings about major change, and show empathy during transitions.
The remainder of the list of Tips consists of more specific techniques for persuading people at work, to add to your list of broader foundation-building tips above:
6. Answer the “Why?” Question.
Today’s generationally diverse workplace is a mix of Baby Boomers, Millennials, and Gen-X employees. Younger workers are technologically sophisticated, and they’re global thinkers. They tend to want to know more than simply what they’re expected to do and how to do it. They also want to know why they should do it. Modern leaders need to answer such “why” questions, to help people better understand and be more engaged with the their roles and with the organisation.
7. Ask the “If” Question.
People naturally are more open to buying into a new solution when they’re involved in choosing it. Working together for a solution through a collaborative decision-making process is the best possible approach to generating a robust, diverse creative exchange of ideas and a win-win outcome. Persuading can start with asking a “What if?” question and then collaborating to validate the suggested answer:
- Asking “What if…?” invites people to work together to analyse potential solutions with you.
- “Could it help if…?” redirects the focus from a difficult problem to the options for resolving it.
8. Remember the Cialdini Principles.
Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D., in his best-selling book Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion (Harper Collins e-books, 2007), made a scientific analysis of the topic, offered principles of persuasion for leaders, as follows:
- Reciprocity — His principle of reciprocity is based on research findings that giving people something unexpected and personalised is an impetus for them to feel persuaded.
- Scarcity — This is the principle that people want what may be unavailable. The idea is to help people understand what is at stake, what they could be losing, if your proposal is not accepted.
- Consistency — People prefer to say and do things that are consistent with what they’ve previously said or done. The suggestion is to align your proposal with people’s already-stated priorities.
- Consensus — People key off of others’ actions to decide what to do, especially when they’re unsure of the right action to take. Cialdini’s data found that pointing out what others are already doing made it easier to persuade undecided people to do the same thing.
- Authority — People allow themselves to be led by those they find to be credible experts. The point is that demonstrating authority in one’s field can help persuade people to subscribe to one’s ideas.
9. Embrace Carnegie’s Principle of Appeal to Higher Motives.
Cialdini’s observations of human motivation were fascinating but quite raw and instinctual. But there are other, more altruistic ways to persuade, such as:
Dale Carnegie’s world-renowned book How to Win Friends and Influence People (Simon & Schuster, 1936) offers a wealth of timeless tips for ascending to positions of influence through building business skills in persuasion. The New Yorker offers some great applications of Carnegie’s wealth of timeless tenets, from 73 years ago, for today’s workers.
We’ll just name one here, Carnegie’s suggestion to appeal to people’s nobler intentions, and enjoy discovering how frequently they will delight you with their will to help.
Attributes of Highly Persuasive Leaders
Summing up, naturally, highly persuasive leaders tend to have the kinds of attributes that lend to persuasiveness. Remember to work on developing leadership habits needed for persuading teams and other stakeholders:
- Actively listening to other people’s ideas
- Building relationships of mutual respect
- Mindfulness of other people’s needs and goals
- Ready acceptance of feedback
- Displaying a kind of positivity that is contagious
- Inspiring others with their expertise, passion, and integrity
- Thoroughness in preparing for presenting their proposals
- Looking for common ground on which to sort out conflicts
- Consistently striving for win-win solutions
- Using a well-developed skill set of persuasive techniques
Persuasion in leadership doesn’t mean employing high-pressure tactics to overpower employees and demand cooperation. On the contrary, it’s about inspiring people to want to follow a leader’s well-grounded proposals for action. It’s about taking the group members’ needs into the equation, and collaborating to find win-win solutions for all stakeholders. That’s all part of building the calibre of workplace relationships that make teams want to follow a good leader.
After you’ve established relationships of trust, built on common ground with team members (using Tips 1-5 above), your ability to share your concepts with them comfortably and their openness to accepting them all can naturally be expected to come more easily.
But, there is also a need to develop skills in persuasive techniques (using Tips 6-9) that can help optimise a leader’s effectiveness in public speaking, one-on-one meetings, and written communications at work.
Ethical use of refined persuasion skills are basics for effective leadership, and they lead to the success of everyone on the team and to the greater benefit of all internal and external stakeholders in the company.
There are many methods and techniques for persuasion that cannot be covered here. There is much to learn in this area of leadership knowledge and the right leadership training courses will most definitely point you in the right direction.