Eliciting Excellence

The Art of Persuasion

I recently had an interesting coaching discussion with a client, strategizing about how to begin changing the culture within her organization.  She’s bright, well-educated, and very experienced in her field.  As you can imagine, our conversation was interesting and productive.

Like many senior executives, she truly wants to succeed.  She wants to shift the culture in her organization, have her team to embrace and embody the new cultural behaviors and values to one which is more positive, and doesn’t want to fail.  Consequently, she asked for my thoughts on how to begin her initiative along with how to ensure people act accordingly.

I started by asking for her thoughts on the best way to achieve her goals.  Her response was pretty typical of many leaders.  It showed vision, strength, and conviction.  The approach she planned to use started with a meeting of her direct reports (managers).  At the meeting, she planned to let them know how detrimental the current behavior had been to the success of the organization and to the people within the organization.

She planned to explain how – in its various forms – the current behavior caused problems and wasn’t really a reflection of who they were as an organization.

Finally, she would “lay down the law” and, as head of her organization, would clearly communicate what she wanted and set the example.

The plan was well thought out and made sense.  The only problem was that it would only have a fraction of the impact it could and should have.  Let me explain why and what I suggested as an alternative approach.

The main reason that her approach wouldn’t be as impactful as she hoped was that she was dictating the change to her team instead of persuading and creating genuine buy-in to her initiative.  In all likelihood, the results would have been weak and short-lived.

I offered a somewhat different approach to introducing the change she wanted to see within her team and her organization.  This alternate approach starts off by asking, rather than telling.  It starts by asking her team whether they feel the current behavior is something they are happy with and whether they feel it is a problem.  Only by revealing how people feel about the current situation can a leader determine the steps that should come next.

It may be that everyone is like-minded and the next step is to brainstorm the best way to achieve long-lasting change.  In contrast, it may turn out that only some of the team is like-minded but others don’t see the behavior as a problem – in which case the best next step would be to determine why they feel the way they do.  Only then can the leader understand their perspectives and decide how to most effectively persuade them to change their view of things.

The key to being persuasive is to first understand the other person’s perspectives and motivations.  Once you understand how they see things you can better determine what arguments to make and how to frame those arguments.  You are most persuasive when you meet the other person where they are in their thinking and then shift them from that place.

If you truly want to become more persuasive, start by discovering the other person’s perspectives and motivations.