Biz Tips: The Art of Persuasion

Joan McGuire

Tips for getting your employees to change their behavior.

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I recently had an interesting coaching discussion with a client, strategizing about how to begin changing the culture within her organization. She’s bright, well-educated and very experienced in her field.

Like many senior executives, she truly wants to succeed. She wants her team to embrace and embody new cultural behaviors and values that are more positive and less prone to failure. She asked for my thoughts on how to begin her initiative and how to ensure people act accordingly.

I started by asking for her thoughts on the best way to achieve her goals. Her response was pretty typical of many leaders. It showed vision, strength and conviction.

The approach she planned to use started with a meeting of her direct managers.

She planned to let them know how detrimental the staff’s behavior had been to the success of the organization and the people who work there.

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She planned to explain how – in its various forms – the actions of staff caused problems and wasn’t really a reflection of who they were as an organization.

Finally, she would “lay down the law” and, as head of her organization, would clearly communicate what she wanted and set the example.

The plan was well thought-out and made sense. The only problem was that it would only have a fraction of the impact it could and should have.

Let me explain why and what I suggested as an alternative approach.

The main reason that her approach wouldn’t be as impactful as she hoped was that she was dictating the change to her team instead of persuading and creating genuine buy-in to her initiative.

In all likelihood, the results would have been weak and short-lived.

I offered a different approach to introducing the change she wanted to see within her team and her organization. This alternate approach starts off by asking rather than telling.

It starts by asking her team whether they feel her staff’s behavior is something they are happy with and whether they feel it is a problem.

Only by revealing how people feel about the situation can a leader determine the steps that should come next.

It may be that everyone is like-minded and the next step is to brainstorm the best way to achieve long-lasting change.

In contrast, it may turn out that only some of the team is like-minded but others don’t see the behavior as a problem – in which case the best next step would be to determine the reason they feel the way they do.

Only then can the leader understand their perspectives and decide how to most effectively persuade them to change their view.

The key to being persuasive is to first understand the other person’s perspectives and motivations.

Once you understand how they see things you can better determine what arguments to make and how to frame those arguments.

You are most persuasive when you meet the other person where they are in their thinking and then shift them from that place.

If you truly want to become more persuasive, start by discovering the other person’s perspectives and motivations.

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Michael Beck is a Portland-based executive coach, business strategist and author of the leadership book, “Eliciting Excellence.”