As a leader, your success depends upon your ability to get things done: up, down and across all lines. To succeed, you must learn four essential skills of persuading people creating influence.
“Everything rises and falls on leadership,” says America’s recognized leadership guru and author John Maxwell. “Everything” is the key word in that statement. To survive and succeed, you must convince others to take action on your behalf even when you have no formal authority.
Persuasion is an essential proficiency for all leaders, requiring you to move people toward a position they don’t currently hold. Maxwell also says, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” You must not only make a rational argument but also frame your ideas, approaches and solutions in ways that appeal to diverse groups of people with basic human emotions. You must know your audience!
PREPARING THE WAY
Any direct attempt to persuade may provoke colleagues to oppose and polarize, they’ll simply push back on your ideas and initiatives. Remember, the quality of your communication can be judged by the results you get. Persuasion, creating influence, is a learning and negotiating process, it must include three phases:
Before you even begin to speak, consider your position from every angle. Presenting your ideas takes planning to learn about your audience and prepare your arguments. Here is where the NLP Presupposition, “an ounce of framing is worth a pound of reframing,” really makes sense.
Dialogue occurs both before and during the persuasion process. You must invite people to discuss solutions, debate the merits of your position, offer honest feedback and suggest alternatives. Include more people at all levels in the decision-making process. It’s best to test and revise ideas to reflect colleagues’ concerns and needs. Success depends on being open-minded and willing to incorporate compromises. Remain flexible. Another NLP Presupposition really fits here nicely. It comes from Systems Thinking and it’s called Requisite Variety; the element in a system with the most flexibility will be the controlling element. Stay flexible.
FOUR STEPS TO SUCCESSFUL PERSUASION
Leading through persuasion requires you to follow four essential steps:
1. ESTABLISH CREDIBILITY. Credibility develops from two sources: expertise and relationships. You must be able to listen carefully to other people’s suggestions. Establish an environment in which they know their opinions are valued. Prepare by collecting data and information that both support and contradict your arguments.
2. UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE. Frame your goals in a way that identifies common ground. Your primary goal is to identify tangible benefits to which your targeted audience can relate. This requires conversations to collect essential information by asking thoughtful questions. This process will often prompt you to alter your initial argument or include compromises. Identify key decision makers, stakeholders and the organization’s network of influence. Pinpoint their interests and how they view alternatives.
3. REINFORCE YOUR POSITIONS WITH VIVID LANGUAGE AND COMPELLING EVIDENCE. Persuasion requires you to present evidence: strong data in multiple forms (stories, graphs, images, metaphors and examples). Make your position come alive by using vivid language that complements graphics. Join in the conversation that’s already going on inside your audience’s mind. In most cases, a rock-solid argument:
- Is based on emotion and is logical and consistent with facts and experience.
- Favorably addresses your audience’s interests.
- Eliminates or neutralizes competing alternatives – Overcomes the objection before it comes up!
- Recognizes and deals with office politics.
- Receives endorsements from objective, authoritative third parties – Incorporates social proof.
4. CONNECT EMOTIONALLY. Your connection to your audience must demonstrate both intellectual and emotional commitment to your position. Successful persuaders cultivate an accurate sense of their audience’s emotional state, and they adjust their arguments’ tone accordingly. Whatever your position, you must match your emotional fervor to your audience’s ability to receive your message.
In today’s organizations, large and small, work is generally completed by cross-functional teams of peers, or outside virtual partners. It’s a real mix of some remaining baby boomers, Gen-Xers and millennials who show little tolerance for authority. Electronic communication and globalization have further eroded the traditional hierarchy. People who perform work don’t just ask “what should I do?” but “why should I do it?”
Leaders must answer the “why” question effectively and consistently. Answering the “why” question only once is a fools folly. Persuasion (aka the ability to influence) is an essential proficiency for all leaders who want to succeed today, tomorrow and in the decades ahead. How are you increasing your skill at influencing? I’d like to know!