Archive for the ‘Persuasion’ Category

The Art of Persuasion

Monday, January 10th, 2011

The other day I received an email from someone who was repeatedly frustrated in his attempts to negotiate. “Do you think the actual winners in negotiation are those who have really good personalities or those who disguise their disadvantages and insist on their position?” he asked. Although I understood what he was getting at, he had set up a false dichotomy. The right answer is “None of the above.”

You don’t have to be charming to negotiate well, although I strongly believe that you benefit from being pleasant and showing respect and concern for the other party. At the same time, while you don’t want to reveal all of your disadvantages, you certainly should avoid coming across as secretive or deceptive. And while you should rightly stand by positions that are based on solid reasoning, evidence and fairness, the word “insist” implies unproductive closed-mindedness.  The mistake my correspondent made was to focus on techniques rather than on the fundamental purpose of negotiation: to reach a mutually satisfying agreement that all parties will carry out willingly.

We often forget that the goal of persuasion is not to win an argument, but to influence others. People are rarely influenced by being told that their ideas are wrong  or not as wise as your own. They react even worse if they feel that you aren’t giving them a fair hearing, but are merely marking time until you can get in your rebuttal.

Psychologist Robert Cialdini, who has spent a career studying the science of persuasion, has set forth a number of fundamental aspects of persuasiveness, none of which include a great personality, self-disguise, or insistence. They do include: 1) being liked; 2) reciprocity; 3) working toward common goals; 4) being positive; and 5) genuine expertise, not just strong opinions.

If you want others to take ownership of a decision, you also need to involve them in the decision-making process. You don’t always have to be in charge. You are seeking to achieve a joint agreement after all.  So instead of saying, “Let’s meet next week at 10:00,” try asking “When would be a good time for you to meet next week?” Instead of saying, “Here’s what I think we should do,” try asking, “What if we did this?” If they say it wouldn’t work, don’t insist it will. Ask them what their concerns are, then go through those concerns one by one seeing how you can allay them.

Sincerity, open-mindedness, empathy, and sharing ownership are far more powerful persuasion forces than are a dynamic personality or smooth negotiating style.

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