By Ruth Hill and the Mind Tools Team
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Powers of Persuasion

Understanding the Dos and Don’ts of Persuading

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Persuassion works best with shared understanding and agreement.

How do you persuade someone to do something? Do you rely on your authority over them? Do you "sell, sell, sell," with benefits statements and other Marketing 101 techniques? Do you cater to logic and set up rock solid arguments? Or do you show unwavering persistence in your position and stick with it until others agree that you are right?

All of these approaches can be tempting, but they're not always the most effective means of persuasion. In a defining 1998 article in the Harvard Business Review titled "The Necessary Art of Persuasion," Jay Conger, an Organizational Behavior professor, presented a very different view of persuasion. He said that to be persuasive you must provide four critical elements:

  • Credibility
  • Common Ground
  • Vivid Evidence
  • Emotional Connection

We'll talk about these elements in detail, but first let's look at why it's important to know how to be persuasive. Persuasion isn't all about selling. Nor is it trying to convince someone to agree with you. It's about getting to shared understanding and agreement. From there you work together to reach a mutually beneficial outcome.

Managers need to be good persuaders. They need to accomplish objectives through people. They could choose to bully, dictate, or coerce people to get the work done, but how successful would that be in the long run? If they use persuasion effectively, they will lead employees to want to reach a shared solution.

Likewise, in any situation where you need to persuade someone to work with you or you want to promote your idea, if you badger them and sell excessively, you'll only create resentment. Establishing mutual understanding is what leads to an agreement; One that is negotiated not forced.

Persuasion Dos and Don'ts

It's important for people to understand persuasion for what it is – not convincing and selling but learning and negotiating. – Jay Conger

To develop effective powers of persuasion there are essentially four things you must do, and four things you must not do. ...

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