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Using Persuasive Communication

When you need results from someone, but don't have authority over them, you have to be persuasive. If your goal is clear, you'll be able to get straight to the point. However, you also need to consider the other person's perspective. This will increase the persuasive nature of your request.

Remember, influence is about trades – you need to offer something the other side values in return for what you want. This means you also need to know what you have to offer that is of value to the other person.

Once you've identified your needs, the interests of the other side, and what you have to offer, you're ready to ask for what you want. When you do so

  • express yourself clearly and directly
  • define the benefits of what you're requesting, and
  • back up your position with compelling information

Express yourself clearly and directly

You need to

  • be concise – Being concise means presenting your idea or request clearly – in a sentence or two. You can then move on to details. Use simple, unambiguous language rather than technical jargon or abstractions. "The team's made improvements" is better than "the team's implemented several enhancements." You should also try to avoid unnecessary intensifiers like "definitely," "really," and "very" – these sound insincere and make others doubt what you're saying.
  • be direct – Do not talk about unrelated issues or take too long to get to the point. Nor should you make people guess what you want. Draw their conclusions for them. When you're direct, you'll be more likely to keep their attention.
  • be positive and assertive – Focus on an issue's positive aspects and downplay its negatives. Use assertive language, which is active and precise. It explains what is happening or is going to happen. Such language engenders trust and cooperation. It does not rely on disclaimers or qualifiers.

By expressing yourself clearly and directly, you show you value your audience's time and attention. This is important when talking to people who have authority over you. They will be more likely to respond positively and have confidence in you.

While you should be clear and confident, you shouldn't be abrupt. You're trying to get them on your side, not command that they do something.

Define the benefits

You need to describe how others will benefit from helping you. This requires preparation. You should know what their interests are and what motivates them. You can describe benefits by

  • reframing your position – Your language depends on your audience – its needs, concerns, values, and fears. If you're persuading your boss, you might want to frame your proposal in terms of what it can do for the company or how it will improve your department's reputation.
  • thinking about both gains and losses – Benefits come in two forms – those that give you something you don't have and those that stop you losing something you do have. Highlighting both types illustrates your proposal's value. Avoid exaggeration as this could offend your audience.
  • asking questions – Sometimes you need to ask questions to find out more about your colleagues' needs. Use questions that encourage reflection. Ask "What do you like about the project you're working on?" rather than "Do you like the project?" Your questions should also elicit unambiguous responses – for instance, ask "Do you agree?" instead of "OK?" Another tip is to ask "what" questions before "why" questions because asking "why" makes others defensive.
  • tailoring your language – Generally, you'll be more convincing if you appeal to a person's logic and interests, rather than to an ideal. So instead of saying "This vacuum cleaner has the most powerful motor available" say "This vacuum cleaner is so powerful it can halve the amount of time you spend cleaning your floors."

Monitor your language carefully. If you choose words that don't fit the organizational or departmental culture, you may not get the results you're after.

Back up your position

You need to back up your position with compelling information. This is especially true if you have an original proposal but are in a position of lower authority. To obtain management's approval, you need evidence supporting the value of your idea.

Generally, support for your position will benefit from

  • emphasizing your expertise – If you have technical experience or expertise in a specific area, say so and provide evidence for it. It shows you know what you're talking about and your colleagues may be more willing to listen to you.
  • using credible sources – When you quote figures, statistics, testimony, or any other evidence, you should use credible sources. When you use statistics, investigate how the evidence was gathered to check whether it's been skewed in some way or whether another interpretation is possible. Testimonials can increase your persuasiveness when they come from sources your colleagues consider credible.
  • making numbers memorable – People generally switch off when they hear large numbers and complicated statistics. A simple example of a number being made memorable is the replacement of a phrase like "34.5% of employees in this industry" with "more than one in three employees in this room."
  • giving examples – Provide examples that capture the attention of the audience you're trying to influence. Examples make generalizations specific and abstractions concrete – in other words, they help you make your point.

Communicating persuasively is key to getting results when you don't have direct authority over the person you're trying to convince. Proper preparation – knowing what you want and what the other person values – is essential.

Communicating persuasively involves expressing yourself clearly and concisely – getting directly to the point, in simple and confident language. It involves defining the benefits of what you're requesting for the person you're requesting it from, rather than to yourself. And it involves backing up your position with compelling information from credible sources.