No matter whether it’s your business or private success it is essential to develop your power of persuasion. Effective leadership often requires such direct methods to influence those we lead.
Persuasion is defined as: the act or process of causing someone to do something through reasoning or argument. But how do you set about persuading someone?
Arguing if you are right, listening as if you are wrong!
Stanford University Professor Bob Sutton argues that leaders should adopt this approach to influencing:
Argue as if you are right, listen as if you are wrong.
The two sides of this approach mirror the notion of advocacy and inquiry. Advocacy is making your thinking process visible.
“Here is my view and this is how I arrived at the view”
In relation to developing your inter-personal skills, advocacy is about:
- Making your point, taking a position in an attempt to influence others.
- Supporting your viewpoint with how you came to that view, whilst remaining open to alternative views.
On the other hand, inquiry means asking others to make their thinking process visible.
“How does it sound to you? What makes sense to you and what doesn’t?”
Inquiry is about:
- How questions are raised and answered.
- Allowing people to inquire into one another’s reasoning and understand the conclusion they have reached.
Advocacy and inquiry are two sides of being persuasive. You make your best case for what you think is right, doing so as convincingly as possible. But you do this whilst listening very carefully to those around you, and being willing to change your view as a result.
Selling a message
Being persuasive also means being able to sell a message. This is an important aspect of persuasiveness for a number of reasons. Selling a message can mean:
- Convincing colleagues of a particular approach.
- Bringing employees on-board with your ideas.
- Persuading customers to buy your services or products.
Let’s consider selling a message with respect to your customers. There is an old adage that people buy from people. So building your relationship and rapport with customers is a crucial skill. How do you do that? First try building your credibility by selling your own strengths. Such as: your competence, and experience and track record.
Features and benefits
Next you need to be clear about distinguishing between features and benefits. There is another sales adage: people buy benefits, not features. So what are the differences?
- Features – describe a fact or characteristic of a service, what the service is.
- Benefits – are something customers have said they want, what the service will do for them.
Often there is a tendency to talk “features” rather than finding out benefits from the client. But how do you know if you are talking about features rather than benefits? Here’s one test:
If you can’t come up with a sensible reply to “So what?” then you’re probably talking features. If you can name the feature then follow it with “so this means…”, then you’re talking benefits!
Being truly persuasive means focusing on benefits. So how do you avoid the “features trap”? Here’s a simple 3 step process:
- 1. Ask the client enough questions to discover what it is they need from you.
- 2. Link what the customer wants to the specific features of your offering, which match those benefits.
- 3. Use the phrase “which means that” to convert features to benefits.
Whilst these points apply especially to customers they are equally valid when dealing with colleagues and employees. It’s highly likely that they’ll be far more convinced by benefits than they will by features. And remember that whilst we most of us may claim to be logical, the real picture can be much less clear.
As Dale Carnegie once put it:
“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion, creatures with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.”
If you would like to delve deeper into this topic, you can download the free eBook “High-impact interpersonal skills – How to be a persuasive leader” written by Apex Leadership Ltd