September 26, 2011

Persuasive Communication

I was recently interviewed for a magazine article on persuasion. Unfortunately, I just found out that the not-to-be-named magazine folded before the interview could run. Here are some excerpts from my unpublished Q&A with the journalist:

Q: Can learning the right ways to approach people with requests help people become more assertive? How so? We all hate rocking the boat, but why is it important to stand up for yourself and ask for what you want?

A: We all want to be heard. We don’t even necessarily want to “win” or get our way; we crave being heard and understood. The Earl of Chesterfield is quoted as saying, "Many a man would rather you heard his story than granted his request." Being able to voice our authentic feelings and desires while at the same time showing respect and empathy for our listeners is incredibly powerful. Continually tamping down on one’s own passion is eventually exhausting and demoralizing.

Q: What are the keys to being a persuasive person - and how is this different from being manipulative?
A: We need to understand that we are primarily communicating because there’s something we want our audience to do. It may be that we want our listener to undertake a different approach to solving a problem, or we want our partner or roommate to take out the garbage, or we want to help a friend feel better – there is an end goal to our communication. Persuasion is not coercion, or manipulation; it’s about moving toward action.

Persuasion is about helping change people’s minds about changing their minds. It’s not about telling people what to do, but facilitating their own discovery of the action and the rewards of taking such action. It’s about engagement, and helping people find meaning, and requires two-way communication. Being effectively persuasive is about respecting how other people see the world.

Q: When trying to get someone to see your side, are there tactics that work across the board, or do you have to know your audience and adjust?

A: I recommend a 3-step process, based on history, experience, and an understanding of the science behind cognition, emotion, and memory. I've trademarked it Heart, Head & Hand™. Heart, Head & Hand™ recommends first establishing a relevant and emotional context for communication, then delivering facts and data, and then asking the audience to take action. The order is crucial.

Q: So how can you read your audience – what should you look for?

A: Start with a clear understanding of what you want your listener to do as a result of your communication. Consider how your listener may need to feel in order to take the desired action. Might you have a story you can share about a time when you felt similarly?

Think, too, about where your work and concerns overlap with your audience’s work and concerns. Draw a Venn diagram and map it out. Seeing it visually can provide insight, and thus confidence.

Q: How important is confidence in being persuasive? How can you exude confidence without seeming cocky or arrogant?
A: Too often, we fail to show up, to show emotion, to show passion and desire. Showing passion is crucial to successfully moving listeners to action, and to making change happen. In a professional setting, passion and emotion need not translate as emotional. Emotion, in a professional setting, means delivering your information, and your request for change, with passion and confidence, and within a context that the audience finds meaningful.

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