The Art of Persuasion

It’s always a little strange to see your thoughts in writing – especially if they’re being written by someone else.

I was recently interviewed by students at the USC Marshall School of Business – they are candidates for Master’s degrees in Leadership and Management.  The focus of the interview was how to persuade employees to see your point of view.

Here’s the paper (and I didn’t edit at all!)

Background:  Eric Swenson has over 20 years of experience in management, sales, training and marketing. He has managed hundreds of employees and interviewed over 2,000 people in his career. RSJ/Swenson LLC is a management and human resources consulting firm with offices in California and Nevada.

Interview Summary: Eric shared his insightful thoughts about the leadership and persuasion. For Eric, persuasion is a natural process and he prefers soft tactics. He is always honest to his superiors and subordinates. Eric believes that effective leaders are very expressive when they come to everybody. They are very candid and direct and these personal traits play a key role for persuasion process. According to Eric, the three most important aspects for managing up and down are communication, openness, and setting a positive tone that focuses on the end result.

Persuasion Strategies:

  • Self Persuasion: “If you were in my position, how would you handle my problem?”
    • You should let team members identify the solutions on their own. You also remind them why they live in the same organization. This especially helps you deal with some conflicts with your members.
  • Logical reasoning: 
    • You use facts, figures, and belief that your idea is correct. You also consider the goals, needs, and interests of your subordinates/superiors you’re trying to persuade. The more they see an idea can help them, the more likely they are to help you.
  • Persuasion Tactics: 
    • Collaboration: You need to work with your subordinates, not at them, in order to get them to enthusiastically support your requests. You collaborate with team members, rather than using authority. You don’t need to overuse that power. The relationship based on the trust is a key for the collaboration.
    • Communication/Honesty: You should facilitate communication and be very honest to your people.
    • Improving Persuasive Skills: Appeal to the subject’s self-interest: You make it sure that what you need align with their best interests.
    • Present strong evidence to support your views/positions: You do intensive research and show the team members an idea that will likely work.
    • Establish credibility: You’re more likely to persuade your subordinates when trust and respect you. You promise to take the blame if it does not go well. This leads you to build up the trust and respect you’re your subordinates.
    • Make your objectives clear: You should get your team understand what you are doing and why are why you are doing that.

Other key factors:
Decision making is a collective effort: As a leader, you have to be honest to your team members. If you found you made a wrong decision, you would change the decision. There is nothing wrong with admitting a mistake.

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Employee Communication is a 2-Way Street

The most frequent criticism of management, in every 360 survey we’ve done (and seen on a national basis) is
“I don’t get enough feedback from my boss.”
– or –
“My boss(es) is/are not good at communicating.”

I believe that communication is the crucial component in managing people.

And I agree that most managers and leaders don’t do a good job at communication.

One of the best bosses I ever had was the Training Manager at a large company. He trained me when I started years before. I eventually became a trainer. Chris spent time watching me train and really left me alone. But I had no idea what he though of my performance.

I finally asked him what he thought, and he said, “You’re the best trainer I have, and one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

That was flattering, but I asked him for his suggestions for improvement, and he gave me a few which really helped me.

Chris told me his attitude was “If you’re doing well, I don’t need to talk to you.”

His mistake, which he corrected after this conversation, was that I didn’t know what he thought of my performance.

Implicit in the failure of managers to properly communicate is the failure of employees to “manage up”. Managers cannot simply divine, through ESP, what an employee wants and needs; it’s equally incumbent upon employees to ask and tell their manager what they’re looking for as well.

A good manager will always welcome the chance to find out what their employees need.

So – if you’re an employee who’s unhappy with the lack of feedback, or feels that communication is poor – make sure to ask your boss! You’ll be surprised that your boss didn’t know that was an issue, and the best bosses will take your information and be able to transform your employment experience.