There are times when all of us need to persuade people to see things differently. To get others to do something we need them to do or to accept our view or ideas. There are also times when we need to negotiate deadlines, resolve conflict, change mindsets, resolve problems and obtain permission to do something. It can be vital to be able to get what you want in order to be successful. Influencing and persuading are the ability to use both verbal and non-verbal communication to create the impact you want, rather than letting things simply happen. At the same time you have to maintain positive and trusting relationships.

Persuasion is more than trying to explain benefits and changing people’s minds ¬- it’s more about understanding as much as we can about how the person thinks who we are trying to persuade and influence and what motivates them. You have to understand how they will react to actions taken and words spoken. It is often the subconscious mind that gives away how people think through their body language. To be able to understand and “read” other people you have to listen very carefully to every word, verbal and non-verbal cues, read “between the lines” and be astute. You need to understand that people perceive differently from you even if it is about the same situation, and they think differently from you and may act differently from you thinking that their view is the right one.

We all have subconscious beliefs and it does not matter whether they are true or not because if we believe something we look for evidence to support our beliefs and we usually find it! You should try and understand what their beliefs and values are and look at things from their point of view. So you have to be able to take in all these different factors and process them before you speak. Taking the time to see a situation from someone else’s view ie empathising, gives us a great deal of information that we can use to influence them effectively and is much quicker than trying to convince the other person that you’re right and they are wrong.

Persuasion and influencing skills begin with the relationship and the building of rapport. You need to plan to influence – behave “as if” – if you look and sound convincing, we are more likely to be influenced by you. You should look the part by consciously using positive body language to reinforce your messages; sound the part by underlining your messages with the appropriate tone and avoid words that weaken the power of your messages.

We often need to persuade or influence others and influential persuasive success depends on the following factors:

1.The starting point

It is important to understand the starting point of the people you wish to influence for example what are their current opinions of the situation, proposal, idea, suggestion that is being made. Is it an absolute opposite opinion, more against than for, neutral or more for than against?

Being prepared is essential ¬- you must think of all the objections and contradictions they may have in advance and think of your answers to these objections. Think about the reason why they should be persuaded and from their point of view – “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM).

You should try and understand the person well and find out as much as you can about their strengths, weaknesses, personal interests, hobbies and their preferred communication style. Try to find out why the other person is rejecting your preferred course of action. The closer you can align yourself with the other person, the more empathetic you can be.

2.What you say

Persuasiveness is enhanced if you give your message in a chronological sequence as follows:
-A short, sharp and to the point initial statement to catch their attention.
-Your main idea given as a big picture.
-Potential benefits of the idea.
-Diffusion of objections – answer the WIIFM questions and ask “what if…?” questions. Also use the “imagine if…” statement which has real power to influence.
-Summary of the idea and its main benefits – what has been agreed upon so far. Depending on their personality type, you may not have agreement immediately, so you may need to sow the seed initially and continue the discussion later as some people may need to be persuaded over time and step by step. Sometimes it is about being tenacious.

Listen to what they need and want, and it is most important for the other person to feel listened to so always first acknowledge what they have said so they know you have really heard them and then make your response. Using phrases like “I understand how you feel…” (kinaesthetic), “That sounds interesting…” (auditory) and “I see what you mean…” (visual). These phrases are helpful in acknowledging what they have said and at the same time, if you use the correct phrase that resonates with the way they process their world (visual, auditory or kinaesthetic) then your persuasive and influencing skills will be exceptional.

You should avoid using negative language such as “unfortunately”, “can’t” and be careful about being too passive and saying “sorry” – people tend to use this word often and unnecessarily. It is also advisable to interchange the word “but” with “and” which turns the sentence into a positive sentence. You need to use communication strategies such as rephrasing, asking questions, focusing whilst making sure you keep the ideas and views constructive and positive.

3.How you say it

When speaking, remember to be clear and concise without using “ermms”, “hmms” etc and using the right tonality and think about what you are saying and why. Avoid saying “I’ll be honest with you…” as this implies you have no integrity and are now always honest! You should be polite, confidential, show empathy with their feelings and thoughts, be enthusiastic and always try and think in a positive way.

“Reframing” is an excellent method of influencing which is saying and thinking about things in a different way both in content and context and looking at it from a different angle.

Questions to help you persuade and influence
The aim is to challenge thinking in a non-confrontational way. You can help to overcome resistance by using questions (after acknowledging what they have said). When people resist ideas and suggestions, it is important to understand what is causing them to resist before trying to overcome their resistance. The key to this is to ask questions which explore a person’s views and help you to:

?Uncover what lies behind the words that a person uses
?Challenge limiting beliefs
?Challenge vague or incomplete statements
?Enable you/them to understand more about their thinking and so help them move past obstacles which may be self-imposed

You can use presupposition questions to help change mindsets and challenge limitations. For example:
“What would happen if you did not do…?”
“What would happen if you did…?”
“Has there ever been an occasion when…?”
“What would have to happen to make it possible?”
“If you don’t know the reason, take a guess at what it could be.”

Asking the right positive question, whether it is of yourself or others, can set up your unconscious mind to think in a different way and help you to reframe the situation differently. Another example would be “What motivates you the most to keep you focused and learning?” This presupposes that there is definitely something that motivates you and the question makes you bring it to your conscious mind and thereby changing your mind set. It simply puts you in the right frame of mind and in a good mood.

Limitations and generalizations can be misleading and often seem to prevent or block possibilities such as when we use:
“We must not…”
“We should…”
“I can’t …”
“I always…”
“We never…”
“That’s not possible…”
“I just don’t know the reason why…”

Questions can challenge limitations which are often self-imposed or imaginary. They also allow the other person to discover and explore alternative ways forward.

Limiting statement: “We must not do it that way”
Question: “What would happen if we did?”

Limiting statement: “That’s just not possible. More than my job’s worth”
Question: “What would have to happen to make it possible?”

Limiting statement: “I don’t know the reason.”
Question: “If you don’t know the reason, take a guess at what it could be.”

Mirroring, matching, pacing and leading

To learn how to influence it helps to find out what people value; how they make decisions and what is their preferred communication style. For example, if the person you are speaking to uses visual language, you should reciprocate with visual language which means you are speaking in terms that the other person understands and can relate to. Remember: people like people who are like them.

Persuasive techniques include “mirroring” and “matching” the body language and language of the other person ie the type of words: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, positive, negative, illustrative, jargon, slang etc. You can “match” body language – posture and gestures. When using these techniques you need to be subtle and therefore your skills should remain unnoticed on a conscious level so you have to practice them to be good at it.

A powerful way of matching someone is to match their voice and rate of speech such as volume, energy (especially with angry people) and characteristic phrases. You can also do this when people are speaking too loudly – match their pitch and volume (or maybe slightly less depending on how loud they are) then gradually bring your volume down and they should follow you when you are in rapport.

Accurately reflecting back someone’s experience and they will feel listened to. Useful phrases are:
“It sounds like you are really frustrated/disappointed/upset”
“I can hear how angry you must be…”
“It does seem unfair sometimes…”

Once the rapport is gained they will then start to “follow” you and then you can start to “lead” them.

Identifying styles and adapting yours

If someone has a “Supportive” style they like to believe in the importance of personal relationships. They tend to approach problem solving from a collaborative point of view and are supportive to others who are less experienced. They like to enjoy working with others and will share responsibility and resources readily. Trust is an important issue for the supportive person and they are likely to build long-term relationships.

To influence and persuade the Supportive style you need to stress the worthwhile nature of causes in the long term, emphasising the relationship between your objective and their personal development. Ask for their help in tackling a problem. Be careful of criticism; they are particularly likely to fear ridicule and failure. Give them recognition for their ideas, achievement and contribution. Provide opportunities for them to work with or alongside others. Sharing information and being open will help in the relationship. When setting goals and targets, both parties should be involved, and the manager should make opportunities available for the subordinate to achieve these targets.

To influence a boss who has this style you need to demonstrate your value and contribution to the organisation. Sincerity and honesty will be particularly respected and it will be better to admit mistakes and seek help rather than cover them up. Willingness to participate in activities and tasks is important.

If they have a “Competitive” style they tend to rely on power, based on authority and position and approaches tasks in a strongly competitive manner. The main aim of the competitive person is to achieve results.

To influence and persuade the Competitive style you need to emphasize the opportunities being offered to them and the ways in which they can personally raise their profile. They respond well to direct approaches and will be intolerant of woolly approaches which might be seen as weakness. Give them authority and challenges, provide autonomy and individual responsibility and recognise achievement. Define clearly the demarcation of the role so they do not undermine or encroach on the responsibility of others.

To influence a boss who has this style you need to take a direct and straight-talking approach. Demonstrate your capability and independence, but don’t be afraid to recognise the boss as a resource to draw on for assistance when appropriate. Stick to your views and meet objections head on when you know you are right. Don’t take a submissive stance; they enjoy a challenge and the cut and thrust of a strong argument.

Most people have a natural style of influence which they prefer to use, however we should be flexible and be able to use different styles when our preferred style does not achieve the desired results. Having a wider range of approaches and styles of behaviour gives you more flexibility and increases your options. Step outside the comfort zone of your natural style and enjoy greater success by practising new ways of influencing. You have to realise which influencing style has the greatest chance of succeeding in different circumstances and with different people for you to be able to influence and persuade successfully. “

Sue France FCIPD/INLPTA is passionate about the development of all Assistants, having been one for over 30 years. She has owned her own training company since 2009 working in over 36 countries with thousands of assistants, both face-to-face and virtually ... (Read More)

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