Leadership Skills: Persuasion Methods and Techniques

Posted March 27, 2018 by 

Persuasion in business is more than just getting other people to be receptive to your opinions and beliefs. Leaders understand that persuasion is a core aspect of communication that is needed for strong relationships and performance in business.

Psychological needs illustrate a basic way of reaching people. Based on Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, once people have food and shelter, they must receive safety, belonging and mattering. “Without these three essential keys, a person cannot perform, innovate, be emotionally engaged, agree, or move forward,” according to Inc. “Safety, belonging, and mattering are essential to your brain and your ability to perform at work, at home, and in life overall. The more we have of them the greater the success of the company, the relationship, the family, the team, the individual.”

Leaders can not only persuade people by being aware of these needs — it’s vital for simply connecting with others. People won’t be persuaded, be able to work or be able to build a meaningful professional relationship if they don’t feel safe in taking risks (safety), feeling connected (belonging) and feeling like they’re valued (mattering). Three influencing phrases create safety, belonging and mattering in communication.

  • “What if…?” This removes ego and reduces emotion. You’re not forcing a position, which enables someone to brainstorm a solution more easily with you.
  • “I need your help.” This engages the subordinate person in a temporary transfer of power. It can be effective in changing a person’s behavior or for taking on more responsibility.
  • “Would it be helpful if…?” This shifts the focus from the problem to a possible course of action or positive action.

Persuasion doesn’t necessarily require  bold tactics that change people’s minds and exploit their thoughts and feelings. Leaders can learn how to meet people where they’re at. The following sections explore some persuasion methods and techniques.

Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion

Robert Cialdini, best-selling author and an expert in the science of influence, established six famous principles of persuasion in his classic book Influence. Leaders can adopt these principles ethically to connect with and persuade people.

1.    Reciprocity

People are obliged to give back in the form of a behavior, gift or service that they have first received.

In a series of studies at restaurants, researchers found that when servers provided a single mint along with the bill to diners, tips increased by about 3 percent. When the gift was doubled to two mints, tips quadrupled to 14 percent. Interestingly, if the waiter provided one mint, started to walk away from the table, but paused, turned back and said, “For you nice people, here’s an extra mint,” tips increased to 23 percent.

The key is being the first to give and ensuring that what is given is personalized and unexpected. Leaders can use this principle for project outcomes and professional development plans.

2.    Scarcity

People want more of what may not be available.

In 2003, British Airways announced that they would no longer operate the twice daily London to New York Concorde flight due to economic reasons. Sales for available flights increased dramatically the next day.

The key is helping people understand what is unique about your proposition and what they stand to lose if the proposition is not considered. Leaders can use this principle for limited opportunities/roles in the organization.

3.    Authority

People follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts.

The key is indicating the importance of signaling to people as to what makes someone an authority before making an attempt at influencing that person. One real estate group saw a 20 percent rise in the number of appointments and a 15 percent increase in the number of signed contracts by using the following type of statements.

  • (for customers interesting in letting/renting a property) “Lettings? Let me connect you with Sandra, who has more than 15 years’ experience letting properties in this area.”
  • (for customers interesting in information about selling properties) “Speak to Peter, our head of sales. He has more than 20 years’ experience selling properties. I’ll put you through now.”

4.    Consistency

People like to be consistent with things they have previously said or done.

One study found that few homeowners would erect an unsightly wooden board on their front lawn to support a Drive Safely campaign in their neighborhood. This wasn’t the case in a similar neighborhood, where four times as many homeowners were willing to do this. The reason is that 10 days prior, they agreed to place a small postcard in their front window supporting the campaign.

The key is finding voluntary, active and public commitments (ideally in writing) to start on the path of consistency. Leaders can use this principle by aligning proposals with others’ goals and priorities.

5.    Liking

People prefer to say yes to those they like. People like people who are similar to them, people who pay them compliments and people who cooperate with them towards mutual goals.

Studies conducted with MBA students at two business schools involved group of students told two separate things.

  • “Time is money. Get straight down to business.” Around 55 percent came to an agreement.
  • “Before you begin negotiating, exchange some personal information with each other. Identify a similarity you share in common then begin negotiating.” In this group, 90 percent were able to come to successful and agreeable outcomes that were worth 18 percent more to both parties.

The key is finding areas of similarity and genuine compliments to give before getting to business.

6.    Consensus

People will look to others’ actions and behaviors to determine their own, especially when they’re feeling uncertain.

Small cards in hotels that persuade guests to reuse their towels and linens have about 35 percent compliance. When the card changes the text to reflect a simple fact in the industry — “75 percent of our guests reuse their towels at some time during their stay, so please do so as well” — towel reuse rises by 26 percent. A final iteration, stating a simple fact without any attempt at persuasion, leads to a 33 percent in reuse: “75 percent of people who have stayed in this room have reused their towel.”

The key is instead of relying on the ability to persuade others, pointing to what others (especially “many similar others”) are already doing can be effective. Leaders can use this to point out what successful workers are doing in similar roles to be more productive.

Persuasion Methods and Techniques

Leaders need to focus on and develop skills that help with persuasion. As seen from the psychological needs that people have and Cialdini’s principles of persuasion, a lot of it involves soft-skills and relationship building. Leaders should be working to connect to people, build relationships with them and see mutual connections to establish common ground. Then expressing ideas comes more naturally and the person will be open to hearing them.

Fast Company illustrates another way to persuade others, from Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People. Here are the table of contents, which are effective strategies and ideas for persuasion.

  • The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
  • Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong.”
  • If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
  • Begin in a friendly way.
  • Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately.
  • Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
  • Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
  • Try to see things from the other person’s point of view.
  • Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.
  • Appeal to the nobler motives.
  • Dramatize your ideas.
  • Throw down a challenge.

These techniques transform persuasion to a deeper, more personal level, which is arguably what needs to happen if persuasion will occur at all.

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