Have you ever met someone for the first time and you instantly think to yourself ‘we are going to get on really well, I like her/him? Have you had the opposite visceral reaction, when you think to yourself in the first few moments, ‘blimey they are going to be hard work’?
What do you think is going on when this reaction occurs?
I am certain that most of the time when we meet people for the first time we are neutral in our emotional response, sure we form an instant impression, but rarely is it at the extremes. It is worth dwelling on the question ‘what is going on?’ when we have these extreme reactions as it offers some clues as to how to improve our influencing skills.
Consider this. For the vast majority of us, the person we trust the most on the planet is ourselves. We have an innate ability to persuade ourselves of our point of view, often ignoring any and all evidence to the contrary. So if people can appear like us, they appear to see the world the way we do and it follows the more likely it is that we will trust them too. Trust is the foundation stone that needs to be established if we are to be persuasive.
Good salesmen have known this insight for a long time. They ‘match and pace’ their prospects, ask great questions, listen carefully to the answers and the tonality being used and then adapt their pitch to suit the perspective of the prospect. They talk about their prospects hopes, fears and concerns rather than their own views. Bad salesmen go with their often misplaced intuition, they form an instant opinion of who they are talking to and then start talking, usually falling back on a tried and trusted ‘sales script’ when they see the prospect is moving away from them. Bad salesmen rely on luck and some are very lucky, however most are not, ask any telesales person this soon becomes a numbers game.
I believe we are all born with an inbuilt alarm that sounds in our head when we are being ‘sold to’ rather than being listened to. It is the sound of this alarm that makes most of us feel we are not great at selling, yet we can be and persuading is all about selling.
Pleasure and Pain
Neuroscience has shed some light onto this area. The brain is pre-wired to be attracted to pleasure and reject pain. If we are to persuade someone towards a particular view point then the starting point should be one of enquiry. What do they like about the proposition and what do they not like. It is also worth finding out if they are ‘towards’ people or ‘away from’ people. The majority of people are ‘away from’ people. They are pretty sure what they don’t like but are less clear about what ideal looks like. The opposite is true of ‘towards’ people, they are concerned less about the here and now and are future focused always looking to the future.
This insight is important if we are to understand and frame our views in a way that makes them attractive and appealing. For example it is ineffective to tell an ‘away from’ person about the benefits of your perspective, they want to hear how it solves the here and now issues they see and feel. With such people the challenge is to make ‘doing nothing’ seem very unappealing and then they will move. Frame your views using the issues they are trying to resolve and you will get them to move in the direction you want.
Skills to hone
We all have the skills needed to persuade, but we do need to keep them in our conscious mind and proactively supress our natural desire to persuade through talking. We need to hone the art of asking great questions; listening carefully and literally to the answers we get and then summarising what we hear using neutral tonality. Our opinion in this key enquiry stage of persuading is irrelevant and can be very distracting, so enter any discussion where persuasion is required with curiosity front of mind.
If you are really not interested in what the other person thinks and feels then you will struggle to really persuade. Absent curiosity you will start to talk rather than listen and will more than likely end up telling rather than selling.
This is fine if you have some authority and you only want compliance, but useless if you want genuine commitment to your point of view.
Process to Follow
In summary there is a 3 step process that should be used for successful persuasion. It is:
- Understand – their perspective first then share yours – seek first to understand then explain your views using their words and points of emphasis as packaging for your views. This is the rational connection necessary as no one will be persuaded by a point of view they do not understand.
- Believe – this is the step beyond the rational connection. We may understand why we should do something (exercise more for example,) but that does not make us want to do it. Emotional connection is the key to shifting any behaviour. To achieve this you need to match and pace and shift from rational discussion to emotional discussion – how do you feel about this?
- Commit – this is where you see a shift of behaviour. Talk is cheap it is what people do that matters and persuasion that requires a change of behaviour needs persistence and determination to achieve. It is all about changing habits and that takes time.
Think of the process as a verbal dance where you take the lead but you do so subtly and with the permission of your partner. Dance well and you will master the art of persuasion, stay off the dance floor and you will become the wallflower at the party. Go on dive in and enjoy the process, you know you want to…..