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Want to Persuade Others? Stop Making It So Easy for Them to Disagree with You

January 2, 2017



You have two primary goals when looking to persuade an audience: (1) to illustrate why they should care about your subject, idea or proposal and (2) to minimize the surface area for them to object. The way you position things, the tone and words you choose, and your approach to gaining consensus will be the critical factors in deciding the outcome.


The cardinal rule in doing so? Make it nearly impossible for them to disagree with you. So often we get tripped up on the what of our message based on how we deliver it. Avoid that trap by following these 4 tips:


1. Ground Them on a Widely-Appealing Problem Statement


In June of 1963, President Kennedy delivered a speech in what was then known as West Berlin, steps away from the Berlin wall, imploring the free world to continue the fight against communism and for freedom for all, everywhere. He drew a visual of the problem, followed by an emotional appeal as to why we all must care about solving it. He said:


While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system — for all the world to see — we take no satisfaction in it; for it is, as your Mayor has said, an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.


Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great Continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe. . . [1]


Moving words, indeed. Luckily for us we tend to deal in less lofty matters. But the approach by persuasive advocates — on all subjects large and small — is nonetheless the same. Make them care.


2. Be factual, be fair 


In almost all professions, there are job performance reviews between managers and employees. This is a great test for a manager. As with everything else, there are good tactics and not so good ones. Here are some examples of poor manager feedback. They speak in generalities: “You’re not strategic.” They exaggerate: “You never hit your numbers” or “You’re always late with your reports.” They lack proportionality or perspective: “You missed this meeting” without acknowledging time pressures of a major assignment that may have led to it. This will sound familiar to many of us, on the receiving — and perhaps even the delivery — end.


Open-ended, unspecific and overstated comments invite disagreement, no matter the circumstance or venue. It’s sloppy but, fortunately, it’s also almost entirely avoidable. How? By keeping things tightly and objectively structured around facts. The more we veer into observation or opinion, the more surface area we create for others to do the same.


3. Be constructive


A typical cable news program will pit two people, from opposite ends of the spectrum, against each other on a given issue. A kind of Hunger Games between talking heads. When I watch them, I immediately start assessing whom I believe is the more persuasive speaker. The filters I use include: How factual are they? How fair or introspective? And do they overreach or exaggerate?


Among the key filters I use: Are they constructive? For me, the worst advocates are those who unapologetically pound out their talking points. Hardly, if ever, do they acknowledge points well made by the other side, nor do they consider or accept that reasonable people might disagree with their viewpoint. Even more so, they resist movement toward common ground or providing a vision for dislodging the impasse represented by competing opinions.


The best advocates are not always right. Importantly, it is not even their objective to always be right. It is to persuade others. Likewise, the best deal-makers are only nominally if at all concerned about winning the debate or proving their points. They measure their success by whether they get good deals done.


3. Be inclusive


Narrow minds and narrow skills are, not surprisingly, self-limiting. By contrast, a broad and inclusive field of vision opens you to a world of possibilities. This is also true in how we communicate.


Martin Luther King, Jr., in delivering what many believe to be the greatest speech of all time, similarly cast as broad a net as possible. Reflect for a moment on the inclusiveness of his statement:


And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:


 Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! [2]


The first and most important step in influencing others is to include them. It also just might be the easiest.


Persuasion only happens when you have accessed the attention, interest and beliefs of others. Avoid complicating what already stands out as a formidable task by eliminating that with which one can easily disagree. Give it a try!


I’d love comments about your best practices for gaining consensus with your audience. And if you liked this article, please share it. 


[Nick Psyhogeos is the author of Confessions of a Global Negotiator. How I Learned to Close Large Deals and the 5 Rules for Business Development Professionals to Do the Same, which will be published by Authority Publishing in February 2017]    





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