PEOPLE ARE DIFFICULT TO PERSUADE. And yet, some people simply know how to capture an audience, sway the undecided and charm the opposition. These individuals have natural charisma which to some appears like a magical power.
These born persuaders are often unable to account for their remarkable gift, and are therefore unable to pass it on to others. To them, it is really an art, rather than science and therefore can’t be learnt. Or can it? The fields of behavioural science and applied psychology suggests that such art can be learnt, and just to prove a point here are two principles, decoded.
The Principle of Timing
Singer songwriter, Willie Nelson, once said “The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese”. This contemporary concept of good timing is also present in the ancient Chinese story of ‘Three Visits to the Hut by Liu Bei’ (刘备三顾茅庐).
“The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese”.
When the King, Liu Bei, was asking for scholars, Zhuge Liang was nominated as a exceptional talent who could comprehend important events of the time well. The King went to see Zhuge Liang, he was only able to obtain an audience with him after three visits. It was at that time that Zhuge Liang presented the King with his ‘Longzhong Plan’, a generalised long-term plan outlining the takeover of Jing Province and Yi Province to set up a two-pronged final strike at the imperial capital. A lot of people’s take-away from this story is that King Liu Bei’s persistence and deep willpower gained him the greatest talent in his strategic team. However, this theory ignores why the 26 year old, Zhuge Liang, was so bold to make the 46 years old king visit him again and again, despite the power and position imbalance. The story goes that Zhuge Liang was an ambitious young man with a plan for his political pathway, so much so that he had already developed the ‘Longzhong Plan’ even before the King’s first visit. So what made him valiant enough to hold until the third visit? It is said that Zhuge Liang even kept the King waiting until he finished his long lunch nap, prior to the third and successful visit. It was all about creating the perfect timing and building the emotional need in order to be more persuasive.
The real art lies in the delivery of an argument which fits with the appropriate timing and need.
During a recent training program I delivered for a chemical industry client in Shanghai, one of the trainees shared a valuable lesson. Steven was handling a client complaint on quality issues. The key decision maker was very unhappy with the situation and was currently rejected the idea of meeting them for the next step, not matter how much Steven and his team tried to persuade otherwise. Steven had invested lots of time and energy and worked out a logical and systematic solution. This solution was already submitted to the unhappy client by email, however, a few days passed and there was still no positive feedback. After probing information from the people around the key decision maker, it was found that he was dealing with issues from both his office and his home that week. Essentially, the decision maker was difficult for anyone to contact.
Consequently, Steven and his team waited for an opportunity. That opportunity presented itself a few days later, when the key decision maker was invited to deliver a motivational speech at an industry event. At the end of the event, Steven and a few of his colleagues strategically approached the decision maker while he still had a big smile and was feeling very positive. A face-to-face meeting was arranged, a few days later, which was only possible because the decision maker was in a positive frame of mind. Again, it was good timing.
The Principle of Liking
“We like people who are like us” – anonymous
It is difficult to have productive discussions when you or the other party are angry or upset. Persuasion becomes near impossible. For this reason, it’s important to understand the other party’s emotional status prior to any discussion, and them actively transfer the other part to a positive liking status. Only then can you focus on guiding the conversation to the relevant issues.
Senior executives typically have a default style of decision making that can be described as either ‘towards’ or ‘away from’.
George is a senior sales manager and manages a regional team in the south of China. He is full of energy and likes to play badminton over the weekend with friends from all walks of life. He is very passionate about badminton and even up a Wechat group to promote the team activity and recruit new members. He has gotten his eyes set on a new car and he knew it will give him the opportunity to socialise at the next level. George joined this company because he knew it would allow him to further his career development.
George is a typical ‘Towards’ type. If he does not have a clear goal, he will easily get bored or become demotivated. To persuade executives like George, you have got to let them know you are looking forward to the next step and offer constructive action points. However, working or collaborating with people like George can have it’s own problems. Towards people are over positive and not cautious enough in risk analysis. But this is how they take in information. If you are emphasising too much on risk averse information, it will create negative emotions. For example, instead of saying “It happened to us a few times in the past. If we do not pay attention to the possible risks, we might face 5% decrease” you might should rephrase this by saying, “We need to consider optional solutions, in order to best overseeing quality factors and ensure that we hit our targets.” Towards people are marching forward and are not as interested in the negatives.
In our Customer Service Fundamentals training I often start by asking, “What aspects are important to you when you plan your holiday?” Often I hear, “I want to choose a place for holiday where there are less people. I do not want to spend my holiday time to wait in line forever” or “I need to make sure it fits around my budget, since I do not want to come back from a holiday and find myself having difficulties paying bills”. These answers are typical ‘Away From’.
Away from people notice what could go wrong. They are naturally very cautious. However, sometimes they have difficulty prioritising and seeing the big picture, because they are attracted looking at the details. That being said, they are great to have around in a project team, since they are good at spotting the potential risks and have an eye for resolving the immediate issues.
When persuading away from type, you might want to tone down your positive suggestions and future oriented plans. Instead of telling these people what could be happening in the future, try to use words like ‘overcome’, ‘solve’ and ‘prevent’. By analysing potential risks, presenting facts and describing obstacles, not only will you allow away from people to think that you understand their concerns, but you will build rapport.
Like George, I am a toward type, but I cannot use my default pattern of thinking and approach when I need to work cross department with the leader from ClarkMorgan’s Operations department, who is a distinctive away from type. It’s always about the timing and rapport. If it’s too soon, no one understands. If it’s too late, everyone’s forgotten. If you are not liked, you will not be heard, no matter how valuable your message.
Meet Maggie Nee in Beijing on May 27, 2015 at the ClarkMorgan product demonstration in Beijing titled ‘Rules for Master Negotiators‘.