Do you have the power to influence change? We persuade every day, on everyday things. It’s part of basic human interaction and most of the time it’s instinctive and subconscious. But when we want to influence a decision that really matters to us the stakes become high and this previously instinctive behaviour becomes conscious as we strive to achieve the best outcome possible. Why then, when it’s most important to us, can our best efforts fail to persuade?
Kay Jepson, Sales Enablement Executive with Huthwaite International, explains why we’re probably more persuasive than we think and shares six tactics to improve our influence when it counts the most.
You just can’t reason with some people
"He just wouldn't listen, it was like talking to a brick wall!”
“I mean … well … anyone could see that it would've been a better solution, but she just couldn't see reason."
It’s a common occurrence. Many of us have spent time fruitlessly trying to change the opinion of someone not willing to listen to what we consider to be reason. However, expecting people to respond favourably to our logic is probably the most common trap in persuasion. Years of research by Huthwaite on persuasion has proven it time and again.
Logic by itself is not persuasive. It’s that simple. What is persuasive however, is engaging both hearts and minds. And this is crucial if we are to be truly effective at instigating change, particularly in the workplace.
Our research shows that effective persuaders follow this six-step process:
1. Establish the position of the other person
Having an appreciation of the other person’s point of view creates a solid foundation for constructive conversation. Without this basic information, the perception of the persuader may be quite different to that of the persuadee, resulting in a line of conversation which takes an entirely ineffective path.
To uncover background information, effective persuaders ask questions which centre around the persuadee’s situation and are in-line with their end goal.
“How much of your day is taken up doing X?”
“What resource are you using for Y at the moment?”
2. Focus the conversation
It’s comfortable, it’s safe and it’s non-contentious, but keeping to neutral ground will not progress the conversation. Once they have relevant background effective persuaders use the details to find out how the other person feels about their circumstances. To avoid unnecessary factors creeping into the conversation stay focussed on the areas you are looking to change.
“What’s your thoughts on X?”
“How do you feel about Y?”
3. Initiate the case for change
If someone feels 100% happy with the existing situation, they will have no appetite for change and any attempts to persuade them is likely to fall on deaf ears. To initiate a case for change, effective persuaders ask questions about problems. These can feel awkward and average persuaders often avoid them in the spirit of not causing offence or being seen as intrusive. Effective persuaders position their interest as a way for them to better understand the other person and their perspective.
“And how does the time you are spending on X, impact your schedule?”
“Is the Y service as reliable as you would like?”
When the persuadee is encouraged to voice their problems, the potential for change begins and the opportunity to persuade increases.
4. Build the case for change
People live with problems and unless said issues become insurmountable the status quo will generally continue. To build a strong case for change, effective persuaders use creative questions which clarify and extend the issues under discussion.
“If your schedule is difficult to maintain because of X, is that affecting your work with the Z team? How are they dealing with that?”
Exploring the impact of problems is the most difficult and crucial step in the process of persuasion. Phrasing these questions can be tricky and effective persuaders will plan and rehearse scenarios until they feel and sound natural – the impact on persuadees is palpable.
In addition to the problems and wider issues voiced by the persuadee, further implications may also be apparent to those initiating change as they keep the ultimate outcome in mind. Effective persuaders will test out these ideas as part of the exploration process.
Developing problems to their full potential increases the appetite for change until it reaches a point where people begin to consider alternatives.
5. Check the readiness for change
Time to talk solutions? Not quite. For persuasion to be truly effective the persuadee needs to articulate a desire to solve the issues discussed. Here, effective persuaders use questions to uncover, clarify and extend the value of making a change.
An effective persuader changes the context of the conversation from focusing on issues to focusing on solving them.
“Would it help if you could solve X and Y?” type questions help to shift a problem focussed mind set towards a desire for a solution.
6. How persuasive are you: getting to the desired outcome
Once the persuadee can see the value of making a change, effective persuaders move on to the idea of how to achieve the desired outcome. They may do that in one of two ways:
- by presenting a solution to the persuadee
- by asking the persuadee to put forward their own ideas for a solution.