Whether you’re selling your ideas to a customer, your boss or your work team, put the three cornerstones of persuasion in place: 1) a solid case 2) structured to the person or people you’re trying to convince and 3) your ability to gain their confidence. For complex ideas or ‘big asks’, add a fourth cornerstone: leading the person slowly, one step at a time, towards agreement.
- Build a solid case.
To build a sound argument, you need to do your homework. What is your premise, or the basis of your argument? What are its pros–how will it add value, be cost-effective, help achieve the organisation’s or the other party’s goals? What are the cons, so you can develop counter-arguments? (In a sales situation, know what the competition is offering.) What could be lost by not adopting your ideas?Now think about the supporting arguments you can call forth. This reasoning is the foundation of building a solid case.Next, work out how you can best back up your case with evidence, examples, personal stories and so on. You want to illustrate your ideas in a clear and memorable way. When appropriate (for instance in sales) include information that shows your proposition is unique. Since the behaviour and actions of others can be powerfully persuasive, explain or show how others agree with your proposition.
- Structure your case to the person.
Listen carefully to the other party’s point of view so you know how to present your case for maximum persuasiveness. What are they most concerned about? What are their short-term and longer-term goals? Show how your ideas fit in. What do they already know and think about the ideas you intend to present? Build on the positives and gently counter any negatives.Use this information to ‘speak their language’ and ensure your premise fits in with their world view. This makes it easy for the person not just to understand you but also to agree with you.Debbi Thompson believes there are four types of people and it helps to know which type you’re dealing with. There are those who listen and make up their minds quickly, often after one conversation. They aren’t pushovers but they are quick decision-makers. Then there are those who need to hear your argument two or three or sometimes four times before they feel comfortable with it. Others take an even longer period of time to make up their minds whether they agree with you. Finally, there are the ‘brick walls’, those you can seldom convince of anything. Knowing who you’re dealing with saves a lot of frustration and helps you remain patient.
- Establish your credibility.
People want to work with, do business with and support the ideas of people they like. Show how you are similar in terms of common interests or backgrounds and match some of your body language and speaking speed to the other person’s. Establish mutual ground and shared objectives. Show that you want to cooperate to achieve mutual goals. It’s all about building trust and establishing effective working relationships.When appropriate, give a small and unexpected gift. Nothing flash or expensive–bringing a coffee for each of you or sharing a snack would do. It doesn’t have to be a material gift, either. Offering a genuine (not smarmy) compliment can work, too.Once you have built a cordial relationship, build your credibility. Let someone else or your own reputation build you up when you can so you don’t have to ‘blow your own trumpet’. (When you have to blow your own trumpet, do so matter-of-factly and provide evidence.) Your expertise can be based on years of experience, qualifications or anything else that is relevant.
Presenting your case with confidence, commitment and energy adds to your credibility.
- Take one step at a time.
Ask for small agreements and commitments initially, because they smooth the path for greater agreement and bigger commitments. Make sure they’re voluntary; ‘railroading’, or forcing agreement, is counterproductive. When possible, these agreements should be made in public and better still, backed up in writing (even if you need to write the confirming email or memo.)Strengthen your position by making concessions on minor points. Being open-minded and accommodating invites the other party to be the same.
The higher the stakes, the more effort and thought you put into presenting your case so that others accept it pays off.