One of the most important skills that you should have in order to be successful is the skill of persuasion. This is especially important when trying to influence the people who hold the power and make the decisions, either your boss, the CEO of a company you are trying to pitch your business to, or even someone in your social circle you are trying to convince to do something.
I ran across an interesting article in Harvard Business Review about the different decision-making styles of leaders and how you should tailor your message towards each one.
The argument was that people focus too much on the message itself and not on how it is delivered. This is the wrong approach and probably the reason why you fail in persuading the people you want to persuade. The most important thing is how you craft the message.
“All too often, people make the mistake of focusing too much on the content of their argument and not enough on how they deliver that message. Indeed, far too many decisions go the wrong way because information is presented ineffectively.“
According to the research carried out by the authors of the article, different leaders have different decision-making styles. These should not be confused with their personalities (although a certain personality type might influence the way that person makes decisions):
“Our research should not be confused with standard personality tests and indicators like Myers-Briggs. Our framework is simply a categorization of how people tend to make decisions. Of course, people do not always make decisions in the same way; much depends on the situation they’re in. But our research has shown that when it comes to making tough, high-stakes choices that involve many complex considerations and serious consequences, people tend to resort to a single, dominant style. Call it a default mode of decision making.“
The different decision-makers can be broken down into 5 distinct categories:
1) charismatics – Richard Branson
2) thinkers – Bill Gates
3) skeptics – Larry Ellison
4) followers – Peter Coors
5) controllers – Ross Perot
“Charismatics can be initially exuberant about a new idea or proposal but will yield a final decision based on a balanced set of information. Thinkers can exhibit contradictory points of view within a single meeting and need to cautiously work through all the options before coming to a decision. Skeptics remain highly suspicious of data that don’t fit with their worldview and make decisions based on their gut feelings. Followers make decisions based on how other trusted executives, or they themselves, have made similar decisions in the past. And controllers focus on the pure facts and analytics of a decision because of their own fears and uncertainties.“
Each of these different types of decision-makers needs a message structured in a way that suits their style and that they can digest in their own way.
When talking to a charismatic, they might often get excited about an idea. In that situation, you need to keep your head cool and not get too excited. Instead, talk about the results and keep the arguments simple and to the point.
Thinkers on the other head like to ponder an idea in their heads for a while, looking at its pros and cons. You need to supply them with all kinds of relevant data that you can think of. They want numbers, counterfactuals and all kinds of different information. Your presentation needs to focus on the data.
Since skeptics are usually skeptical about what you are presenting, you need to gain as much credibility in their eyes as possible and appear as an authority. They also rely on people they trust and so if you get support from someone in their inner circle, you are in.
Followers tend to think through analogies and focus on what has already proven to work. So in order to persuade them, you need to build your presentation around best practices and examples of success in similar circumstances.
Controllers don’t like uncertainty and ambiguity. That’s why you need to give it to them straight. They want just the facts and they want this to come from an expert on the subject. However you need to stay humble and not be too aggressive in pushing for your solution.
There may be a caveat, though. You will almost never be able to convince someone, if they don’t really care about the subject you are presenting and aren’t already convinced about the potential value of it. At least that’s what Jared Spool argues in his article.
In his article, he talks about how to convince people about the importance of user-experience in their IT projects. While the article deals with UX, the general ideas can be applied anywhere. In fact, Spool uses the analogy of a smoker to make his point:
“Have you ever met a smoker? Of course you have. Have you ever met a smoker who didn’t know the harmful effects of smoking? I bet not. Every smoker I know is well aware of what smoking does to their bodies, yet they continue to smoke. There are physical, cultural, and behavioral forces that make it hard to quit. You can’t convince a smoker to quit smoking. They need to just decide they’ll do it. On their own. When they are ready.“
So, if you can’t convince someone who isn’t convinced, then how do you get your idea through?
You have to do it through the back-door!
You need to find out what the person you are trying to convince actually does care about:
“You can find out what your executives are already convinced of. If they are any good at what they do, they likely have something they want to improve. It’s likely to be related to improving revenues, reducing costs, increasing the number of new customers, increasing the sales from existing customers, or increasing shareholder value.“
This means that you need to frame your message a bit differently. Talk about how what you are proposing will bring about the thing they do care about.
A simple reframe can help you get the decision you want.
There is an interesting article on persuasion profiling and the future of marketing in “Wired” magazine.