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As a leader, your success depends upon your ability to get things done: up, down and across all lines. To survive and succeed, you must learn four essential skills of persuading people. You must convince others to take action on your behalf even when you have no formal authority.
Persuasion is an essential proficiency for all leaders, requiring you to move people toward a position they don't currently hold. Your leadership must not only make a rational argument, but also frame your ideas, approaches and solutions in ways that appeal to diverse groups of people with basic human emotions.
Preparing the Way
Any direct attempt to persuade may provoke colleagues to oppose and polarise. Because persuasion is a learning and negotiating process, it must include three phases: discovery, preparation and dialogue.
Before you even begin to speak, consider your position from every angle. Presenting your ideas takes planning to learn about your audience and prepare your arguments.
Dialogue occurs both before and during the persuasion process. You must invite people to discuss solutions, debate the merits of your position, offer honest feedback and suggest alternatives. You must test and revise ideas to reflect colleagues' concerns and needs. Leadership success depends on being open-minded and willing to incorporate compromises.
Four Leadership Steps to Successful Persuasion
Leading through persuasion requires you to follow four essential steps:
1. Establish credibility.
Credibility develops from two sources: expertise and relationships. Listen carefully to other people's suggestions. Establish an environment in which they know their opinions are valued. Prepare by collecting data and information that both support and contradict your arguments.
2. Understand your audience.
Frame your goals in a way that identifies common ground. Your primary goal is to identify tangible benefits to which your targeted audience can relate. This requires conversations to collect essential information by asking thoughtful questions. This leadership process will often prompt you to alter your initial argument or include compromises. Identify key decision makers, stakeholders and the organisation's network of influence. Pinpoint their interests and how they view alternatives.
3. Reinforce your positions with vivid language and compelling evidence.
Persuasion requires you to present evidence: strong data in multiple forms (stories, graphs, images, metaphors and examples). Make your position come alive by using vivid language that complements graphics. In most cases, a rock-solid argument:
- Is logical and consistent with facts and experience
- Favourably addresses your audience's interests
- Eliminates or neutralises competing alternatives
- Recognises and deals with office politics
- Receives endorsements from objective, authoritative third parties
4. Leadership that Connects Emotionally.
Your connection to your audience must demonstrate both intellectual and emotional commitment to your position. Successful persuaders cultivate an accurate sense of their audience's emotional state, and they adjust their arguments' tone accordingly. Whatever your position, you must match your emotional fervour to your audience's ability to receive your message.
In today's organisations, work is generally completed by cross-functional teams of peers, with a mix of baby boomers and Gen-Xers who show little tolerance for authority. Electronic communication and globalisation have further eroded the traditional hierarchy. People who perform work don't just ask "what should I do?" but "why should I do it?"
Leadership must answer the "why" question effectively. Persuasion is an essential proficiency for all leaders who want to succeed in the 21st century organisation.
This article was contributed by Patsi Krakoff, Psy. D.
Patsi Krakoff, Psy. D. writes articles for business and executive coaches and consultants. She provides articles on leadership and executive development for sale, and formatted into customised newsletters.
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