By Greg Dardis / Guest Editorial
It’s likely nobody said these exact words to you today, but the request was certainly made repeatedly – and not just while you were pitching a new product to a client. That request is there each time you present a new project to your team, suggest a different restaurant for lunch or ask your child to clean their room.
Every act of public speaking involves the art of persuasion, whether you’re trying to sell insurance or yourself.
Note that we’re talking about an art here, not an exact science. That was a point scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal emphasized back in his 17th century essay on the topic, aptly titled “The Art of Persuasion.”
“People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive,” he wrote. “The art of persuasion consists as much in that of pleasing as in that of convincing.”
To do this effectively, you need to show your audience members how your idea will help them. Writing in the Harvard Business Review in May 1998, Jay A. Conger, a leadership expert and professor at London Business School, described effective persuasion as “a negotiating and learning process through which a persuader leads colleagues to a problem’s shared solution.”
“Persuasion does indeed involve moving people to a position they don’t currently hold but not by begging or cajoling,” Conger continued. “Instead, it involves careful preparation, the proper framing of arguments, the presentation of vivid supporting evidence and the effort to find the correct emotional match with your audience.”
That “emotional match” is the attraction aspect Pascal observed, and is achieved through focusing on the audience, not yourself. It shows them you’re looking out for their interests, not just your own.
To do this well, effective persuaders don’t solely rely on logic, persistence and personal enthusiasm; they also incorporate discovery, preparation and dialogue, Conger wrote. However, he also noted that engaging the audience’s opinions, concerns and perspectives means compromise. You may need to be flexible to get what you want.
“The most effective persuaders seem to share a common trait: They are open-minded, never dogmatic,” Conger wrote. “They enter the persuasion process prepared to adjust their viewpoints and incorporate others’ ideas. That approach to persuasion is, interestingly, highly persuasive in itself.”
Underlying this approach is a key factor: Effective persuasion is not pushy. Even a great idea will be rejected if someone feels like their arm is being twisted. Focusing on the audience’s needs, values and immediate benefit helps the persuader keep this in perspective.
We at Dardis Inc. suggest a simple strategy for mastering the art of persuasion. First, make your central claim. Then assert three points that support that claim, following each point with evidence that backs it up. Claim, point, evidence.
Let’s say you want to convince your manager to upgrade your workstation technology. You’re frustrated by a slow operating system, repeated calls to IT and the lingering fear the whole thing will crash in the middle of a huge project. Convincing your boss you need the upgrade, however, may take more than an airing of grievances.
With our roadmap, you’d first explain you’d like a new laptop and then explain why, with your boss’ benefit in mind. In this situation, you could highlight increased productivity due to a faster system (with examples of time wasted waiting for IT), the ability to access helpful new programs incompatible with your current system (with examples of potential products) and the need to stay current with industry standards (with examples of the technology your competitors use).
Done right, your boss would see themself as a beneficiary, not a sucker.
“Persuasion is motivation to do things that are in the person’s best interest, not manipulating or forcing them to do something that is not in their own interest,” Docstoc co-founder and CEO Jason Nazar wrote in a 2013 Forbes contribution on the topic. To do this well, meticulous preparation – which includes gaining an understanding of your audience’s actual needs – is key.
By persuading others to jump on your bandwagon, you’re ultimately selling yourself – which is why every aspect of Dardis training culminates in the moment you make your pitch. Like any art, persuasion must be practiced to be perfected, but those three steps – claim, point, evidence – can bridge the ever-present request of “persuade me” and the goal, “persuaded.”
Greg Dardis is the CEO of Dardis Inc., located at 2403 Muddy Creek Lane in Coralville. For more information, visit www.dardisinc.com.