Developing Persuasive Skills
Being able to influence and persuade others is a crucial part of leadership and management, but it is also important at home as well.
It is to say that the best way to persuade others is to get them to want what you want. Working out how to do that in practice, however, can be tricky. Some people are naturally good at it, but others find it much harder.
This page therefore describes some models of persuasion, including Tim Baker’s Four Persuasion Strategies and Robert Cialdini’s Influence Weapons. It is designed to help you to develop your persuasion skills in a rather more scientific way.
Tim Baker’s Persuasion Strategies
Tim Baker develops a framework for persuading others effectively in his book, The New Influencing Toolkit: Capabilities for Communicating with Influence. The framework describes two different styles of influencing and two different influencing approaches.
Influencing style: Push/Pull
A ‘push’ style of influencing requires the influencer to ‘push’ information out to other people. It is a very direct means of communicating, and often highly assertive.
A ‘pull’ style of influencing is more subtle and less direct. It points to the answer, rather than leading to it, for example, by identifying the negatives of the current situation.
Influencing approach: Logical/Emotional
The two types of influencing approach are logical and emotional. The logical approach appeals to reason, and therefore works through the mind. Logical persuaders tend to rely on facts and figures, and being ‘right’. The emotional approach works through feelings and therefore appeals to the ‘heart’. It has to ‘feel right’ to the listener.
Tim Baker’s framework takes these two styles and approaches, and brings them together to create four different influencing strategies:
Motivators use emotion, and tend to be good at creating a compelling vision.
They set out their stall clearly, showing those they want to persuade how the world could be, building morale in the process.
The classic example of motivation used to persuade is Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream…” speech, and others who used this style effectively include John F. Kennedy (“We choose to go to the moon…not because [it is] easy, but because [it is] hard…”). Political rhetoric is often in this style, because many political decisions are not driven by logic, but by political views and emotions.
Collaborators also use emotion, but unlike the motivators, they see themselves as equal partners with others in the decision.
Collaborators believe in engaging ‘hearts and minds’, getting people to buy into the outcome by being involved in the decision. They build relationships and trust, and communicate very openly.
There are fewer obvious examples of collaborators, because they tend to be the people who make groups work well, and often do not seek any credit. However, Tim Baker suggests that Mother Teresa was a collaborator, who was able to persuade others to buy into the importance of alleviating poverty.
Investigators like to have all the facts available, and use data as a way to persuade others.
Their approach tends to be quite structured and methodical, and they like to lead people step by step to their desired solution. They are very much about gathering the evidence, and presenting ideas, using data to address any arguments.
With the right group, this can be very effective, but it can also lead to a suspicion that you are trying to ‘blind people with science’. Al Gore, the former US Vice-President, is something of a calculator in his work on climate change.
Calculators tend to present both the positive advantages of changing, and the negative aspects of the status quo.
They weigh up the options, and offer concessions where they think they can afford to do so. Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was a very effective calculator.
Using Baker’s Strategies
Like Leadership Styles, each one of these styles is likely to be effective in particular situations.
For example, collaborators may be particularly effective in professional organisations such as schools and hospitals, where line management arrangements are less important than professional respect.
However, in many situations, effective persuaders and influencers will use all four strategies, to combine emotion and logic in the most powerful way, and ensure that they appeal to everyone.
It is therefore important to understand and be able to use all these strategies when necessary, and to combine them fluently.
As you develop your persuasion skills, it is important to remember that you should only use them ethically. You should never try to persuade people to do anything illegal, or that is actively against their interests, and in yours.
Of course there will be times when you need to persuade people to do something challenging, or that is difficult for them, because it is in the best interests of the organisation, or the wider group.
Persuading others of the importance of managing climate change is a good example of this, as is getting buy-in to a major change initiative that will result in some redundancies, but will make the organisation fit for purpose into the future. This is not unethical, but you do need to find a balance between individual and group needs.
Robert Cialdini’s Influence Weapons
Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, sets out six ‘influence weapons’, which can be deployed to help you to persuade others. This makes persuasion sound like a battle or war, which may be less than entirely helpful (creating a win–win situation is always going to be more effective).
However, these six ideas may be a useful way of thinking through your options in any particular situation.
This might be thought of as ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’.
In other words, if you do this favour for me now, then I will do one for you later. Of course, you will need to be prepared to return the favour later. Failure to do so is likely to limit your ability to use this tactic in future.
Commitment and Consistency
If you can get people to make a commitment, especially in public but even just to you, they are much less likely to go back on it later.
We like to be seen as consistent, and we also like to think that when we make a commitment, it matters: think ‘My word is my bond’. These ideas may be old-fashioned, but they are powerful and effective.
The idea behind social proof is ‘strength in numbers’. It is partly a reflection of ‘herd mentality’, but it is also about laziness: if someone else has done all the research and concluded that product A is best, then why do all the research again? This concept is behind the idea of testimonials on websites and in brochures, and it also explains why we like to consult on social media before buying anything.
This has two aspects: liking someone and being like them. We are more likely to be open to persuasion by someone we like. It is therefore worth investing time in building relationships, which is, of course, consistent with Tim Baker’s Collaborator strategy.
Showing that you are similar to someone—for example, that you have tastes and values in common—helps to build rapport and relationships much faster, so is an element of this.
Sometimes, you may be able to persuade someone simply by virtue of your position. If you are in a position of authority, you can tell people what to do. This works very well in the armed forces, but any sales campaign that relies on ‘experts’ to explain the benefits of a product is also using this type of strategy.
It is, however, a fairly limited strategy for long-term success as a manager or leader, because you cannot stand over people forever. Sooner or later, you will have to trust them to get on with it, and then they are unlikely to do so if they don’t believe in it themselves, but were only doing it because of your authority.
The final ‘weapon’ is persuading people that something is valuable because of its scarcity. Sales people use this when they say ‘Only five more left – buy now!’ or ‘Limited period only’. This taps into a fear of missing out, and is very powerful, but should be used carefully. It will eventually lose its power if you do it too often on a personal basis.
More scientific influencing strategies
These are only two of the possible models of influencing strategy that you could use. There are, inevitably, many others out there. The idea behind exploring them is to help you think through possible frameworks and ideas, and become more aware of your own preferred strategies. By broadening your range, you can become a more effective influencer.