The art of persuasion is a key leadership skill, but persuasion sometimes gets a bad rap.
Persuasion is a specific communication process where the goal is to provide people with the information, reasoning, and emotional motivation to change their attitude or behavior. Leaders use persuasion to introduce changes to policies and practices, inspire towards a new vision, or explain a shift in circumstances or direction.
Persuasion also subtly figures into our everyday discussions. When leaders can effectively communicate the why of a task, tackling the how becomes far more manageable. Great leaders have a contagious energy that persuades others to be believers.
Skilled persuasion is founded in honesty and transparency. It focuses on influencing people to do things that are in their best interest or the best interest of the majority. When dishonest and deceptive tactics are used, then it becomes manipulation. Manipulation generally focuses on forcing people into doing something that benefits you, but is not in the best interest of the individual or the majority.
“There are good leaders who actively guide and bad leaders who actively misguide. Hence, leadership is about persuasion, presentation and people skills.” Shiv Khera
One role of leaders is to influence people to follow them. Influencing others is an outcome of using persuasion skills and strategies. So, what are the skills and strategies to effective persuasion?
This is the most important strategy. Sadly, research shows that people generally have more faith in confidence than they do facts. People who present absolute certainty are viewed as captivating, powerful and intelligent.
If you need to fake the confidence, be intentional about your word choices. Instead of saying “I think this will work” or “I believe this is our best option”, speak in positive terms. Say “This will work” or “This is our best option”. Confidence is a combination of what you say and how you say it. You must speak with conviction and enthusiasm. This belief and energy will be picked up and emulated by your audience.
Begin with something small that will get every agreement. Identify some foundational premises that you know will resonate with your audience. Begin with these to get your initial audience reactions to be in agreement with you before moving on to your main thrust. Remember, a body in motion tends to remain in motion, and that also applies to a head nodding in agreement.
If you are not sure what to start with, focus on things about the audience. You need the audience to be interested and we are always interested in things that directly affect our everyday lives – like money, love, and our health. If you can connect with one of those topics, you are more likely to gain the interest of your audience. Then make statements that your audience will agree with and that can lead into your main request.
Mirror Your Audience.
Body language, speed, volume and tone of voice, and word choice should all match that of your audience. Watch them. If your audience is leaning back with their arms crossed, you should lean back and cross your arms. Listen to them. If they speak slowly and softly, you should speak slowly and softly. Match them. If the tone is polite and formal, your tone should be polite and formal. Relate to them. If your audience tends to use certain words or expressions, you should incorporate those words and phrases into your language.
Mirroring your audience will help to put them at ease and subtly create a feeling that you are like them. We naturally tend to gravitate toward people who act in the same basic mannerisms that we do, so understanding how your audience behaves serves as a format for you to follow.
Acknowledge concerns people might have and explain how you address or solve those. Think about the reasons people may hesitate to agree with you and any roadblocks others might perceive. Address those challenges head on. Identify the challenge and state how your solution addresses those issues or makes them irrelevant.
This approach lets the audience know that you think like they do, and you share in their concerns. This helps them feel that you are with them and want to help them succeed. It shows that you are being honest about situation and this helps gain audience trust. Addressing potential concerns provides you greater credibility.
Focus on the Positive.
State positive outcomes rather than the negatives that are being overcome. If you want your audience to have a positive and enthusiastic mindset, you need to use positive language. Focus on the outcomes in a way that is uplifting and exciting.
For example, if you are selling shoes, do not talk about how your feet will not hurt and how they will not be sore and tired at the end of the day. Instead talk about how you will feel energized from spending the day in airy supportive comfort.
People who feel positive are more likely to say yes. People who feel negative are more likely to say no. While you may start with some negatives early on to gain agreement as to the issues, make sure the bulk of your agreement cues explain the positive aspects you are presenting.
Make Your Case
To be persuasive you must have a game plan. You need to know how to appeal to the specific audience you are addressing. Think about the following questions.
- What is important to your audience?
- What do they need or want?
- How does your idea/product/vision meet their needs or wants?
- Why is your solution or way forward the best option / better than other options?
Your objective here is to demonstrate how going with you will benefit them. You need to work from the perspective of your audience.
For example, instead of saying
“I am an organizational development coach focusing on interpersonal leadership skills.”, say
“I provide executives with the interpersonal leadership skills they need to be rockstar leaders!”
“Persuasion is clearly a sort of demonstration, since we are most fully persuaded when we consider a thing to have been demonstrated.” Aristotle
What we visualize tends to more powerful than what we hear. So, it is important to create a statement that people can see in their minds eye. You must master the ability to paint an image of the future experience you can provide for your audience.
Putting It All Together
Effectively being able to persuade people takes practice. It is a skill that requires forethought and patience. Your communication needs to be clear, succinct, and easy to understand. You need to convey a concept that is meaningful to your audience and easy for them to grab onto. The more your audience feels like they are in the journey with you, the more persuaded they will be to follow you. And to be a leader, you need people who will follow you.
Revised August 2022. Originally publiched under The OD Pro in April 2020.