A key aspect of persuasion and influence is preparation. This is the starting point in the Hale Circle of Influence, the model shown here which forms the basis of the book Impact & Influence and our personal development programmes offered by KNOWCANWILLDO. In business organisations when we think of preparation for a persuasive presentation, a tough meeting or briefing, it is normal to focus on the technical or professional aspect of the message. However research into successful persuasion shows that is is equally important to prepare by considering the perspective of the other person or your audience.
One way of approaching preparation of your argument is to imagine each person stands on top of their own hilltop. This hilltop is built upon personal experiences, values and interests. Some might see these as personal prejudices or biases. You even stand on your own hilltop based on your own experience and beliefs. In order to influence others you need to come down from your own hilltop and climb onto the hilltop of those you seek to influence. Try to look at the situation from their perspective which you may realise is slightly different from your own.
Imagine you are seeking to influence your team to wear face-masks in the workplace to reduce risk of viral transmission. It may seem straightforward to simply issue an edict and refer to the legal regulations in force. However if you consider the individual hilltop of different team members you may realise it is not necessarily so easy to achieve real by-in. Personal reasons for resistance may be wide ranging - one person may have existing respiratory difficulties, another may have strong personal beliefs about personal choice, whilst another may feel extremely self conscious about their appearance. So each person’s hilltop is different.
In preparing to influence we need to first recognise our own hilltop and then consider the other person’s. The hilltop of the boss might be based on the idea that authority comes from position and a deep rooted opinion that good leadership is about leading from the front, keeping the team safe and enforcing regulations. Whilst relying on position power to enforce compliance may work in the short term this will be less persuasive in the long run than seeking to understand others from their own perspective. Here we recommend use of the Perspective Specification as a tool to support preparation as you develop your strategy for influencing. Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People includes the exhortation to ‘seek to understand first, before making yourself understood’. We believe this process begins even before meeting those we seek to influence.
What else can you do by way of preparation for challenging influencing situations? Well the ancient Greeks, in particular Aristotle, developed our understanding of some essential principles of persuasive rhetoric. In particular three key concepts have stood the test of time and are worthy of consideration when preparing to influence others.
Ethos and Credibility
Ethos refers to the character and credibility of the influencer and is a key aspect that we consider when assessing whether to value the message being being delivered by the influencer. So we are more likely to pay attention to the messages delivered by the Chief Medical Officer to restrain our social interactions in order to protect lives as the pandemic spreads, than we might if the same message is delivered by a politician who we may see as career driven, or say the CEO of a home food delivery company who we may see as opportunistic.
So if you are seeking to influence others you might consider your sources of power which come from your credibility which could be related to your qualifications, professional status, prior experience or known life achievements. Making reference to these factors will enhance the likelihood of your message landing well with your audience, and even better, if someone else is ‘singing your praises’ this can be even more impactful. So think about how you want to be introduced to those you seek to influence and if you can influence your introducer then you will be off to a great start.
The other way to gain credibility here is to demonstrate your understanding of different sides of an argument before presenting your own preferences. In the Hale Circle of Influence this relates to the discussion of the current Position, associated Problems with this position, exploration of Possibilities and then making the case for Preferences. Another tool for preparation is to consider all arguments for a course of action and all arguments against, even to write these down in the form of a list or essay.
Logic and Analysis
Logos is the Greek word for logic or reason and is concerned with the way an argument is constructed. In a business and many organisational contexts there is a bias towards the use of logic to persuade others of a course of action. Government televised Coronovirus briefings have made use of detailed data presentations as part of the now familiar format. Often this is indigestible due to quantity, detail and viewing time, but it is still delivered on the basis that is it likely to instil a sense of trust for the viewer in the credibility of the presenters.
This bias towards logic is understandable particularly in technical or professionalised work contexts where is it is important to have the data or an understanding of the science behind a proposal. Would you trust an engineering consultancy to build your local school if their proposal only comprised images, aesthetics and emotional argument? You are more likely to expect that the quantity surveyors, structural engineers and lawyers have done their best work.
Pathos and Feelings
Interestingly in the study of the psychology of personality we often see logical preferences shown as opposite to emotional preferences. So the assumption is some people are more inclined to logic and others to emotions. However when we are seeking to influence others, we need to prepare to present both our logical and to appeal at an emotional level. Research into emotional intelligence and decision making has shown that where organisations are competing in major business proposals, and where technical competence is broadly similar, it is the business demonstrating strong emotional intelligence that wins the deal. This means researching the backgrounds of the procuring team, showing understanding of the values of the potential client and adapting to their culture or ‘way of doing things’.
Again the Ancient Greek philosophers understood the role of what they called pathos or feelings in adding weight to the art of persuasion. Emotion might be generated using subtle means to for instance with humour, generation of feelings of sympathy or fear. An example would be the deliberately shocking statement made in government Coronovirus briefings to ‘Stay home and don’t kill granny’.
So think of a significant influencing challenge you face and consider how you can prepare by thinking through:
- What might be the other person’s hilltop?
- What credibility do you already have which you can highlight?
- Who could build your credibility on your behalf?
- What is the logical argument, data and evidence you can use?
- How can you appeal at an a emotional level?
If you are interested in finding out more about the tools and techniques of Impact & Influence then contact us and register to join the Essentials programme where you will learn with others on our remote workshops and personal coaching.