Leadership Insights Blog with Shelley Row

Posts tagged "communication"

“Just the facts: they speak for themselves.” That’s the approach many take when they want to persuade someone to their point of view.

But do they speak for themselves? Not so much.

From my technical background, I have observed a fact-based approach to persuasion many times but rarely successfully. It’s no wonder. The brain isn’t designed to respond to facts alone. Analytical people are responsive to reasoned arguments more often than others are; however, even they need to be motivated to pay attention. A logical argument takes a lot of energy and is less likely to work for most people

Thankfully, there are other persuasive techniques that are more promising. (Kevin Dutton’s work provides excellent insights into persuasion). After all, when persuading someone, the goal is to get to “yes,” you see (YES, UC).

1. You-focused. “What interests you about this issue?” And, “We want to address your questions first.” The word “you” is powerful. It is immediately relevant and it is always about our favorite subject. However, all too often, we are so preoccupied with our view that we think too little about theirs.

Before starting the persuasive argument, consider how the issue looks from their perspective. Why is it of interest to them? Given their background, what viewpoint are they likely to have and why? (This presumes that you did the research to know their background and preferences.) How can you put their interests in the forefront of the discussion? When you figure that out, start the discussion with that point of view. The first point can be the most influential.

2. Empathetic. People are more easily persuaded if they have a sense of relatedness, which leads to empathy. A lack of empathy can have the opposite effect. A 2002 study of doctors found that those with a less empathetic tone of voice were sued more often. Empathy counts a lot. Before beginning a persuasive discussion, take stock of the ways you connect with this person – schools, sports teams, background, and hobbies. Use examples or analogies based on these connections that reinforce your persuasive points. This is a step toward establishing empathy.

We like people better if we feel an empathetic connection. Mirror neurons help if we allow ourselves to notice the expressions, postures and feel of the other person. We start to feel what they feel. But we don’t pick up these subtle clues if we are thinking about a practical argument and push aside feelings. Relax so that you pick up on feeling clues.

3. Simple. A leader once told me, “If I can’t explain it, I can’t sell it.” Exactly. A pile of detailed, convoluted data rarely sells the idea. Neither will a barrage of multiple points. Make it easy for them to grasp and remember. What is the one thing you want them to remember, do, or agree to? Is it simple, clear and unambiguous? The reasoning part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) is energy intensive. It is easily derailed by fatigue, distraction or emotion. If you catch the person when they are tired or stressed, their ability to focus on detailed arguments is reduced. Keep it simple; include factual and emotional appeals; state the main point first and throughout. Repetition sticks. Repetition sticks.

4. Unexpected. We tend to be captivated by and remember the unexpected. Brain research shows that the emotion center in the brain (amygdala) is more sensitive to unexpected stimuli whether positive or negative. In a study, diners were divided into three groups. At the end of the meal, one group received a single candy; the second group received two candies; the third group received one candy but the server stopped as though having a change of heart, returned and gave an additional candy. The increased tip amounts (compared to the control group) for each group were 3.3%, 14.1% and a whopping 23% for the last group. The unexpected nice treatment caused a positive emotional reaction.

A friend of mine tried to persuade a company to hire her. She happened to be traveling to Maine after her interview. She mailed them a live lobster with a thank you note, and shortly afterward she got the job. Is there an unexpected twist you can add to your argument – something visual, tactile, or humorous? The unexpected turn will be more persuasive.

5. Confident. Confident and credible people are more persuasive. Walk in straight and tall; look them in the eye; have a firm handshake, and speak with confidence. A truly confident person doesn’t need to be a bully because they exude an air of self-assurance. A confident person is also open to hearing others’ concerns. If you sense concern, acknowledge it. Negative feelings come from a threat response in the brain. The threat response is reduced when the feeling is acknowledged. “I’m picking up that this topic is uncomfortable/not resonating/disagreeable for you. Tell me more about that.” There is no defensiveness but rather a confident interest in understanding fully.

Facts alone rarely lead to persuasion. Improve your persuasive approach by focusing on “you” statements, creating an empathetic connection, keeping the message simple, using an unexpected twist and exuding a quiet, confidence. YES, UC will make a difference. You’ll see.


Stay calmIt’s going to be a tough meeting. The topic is controversial and you feel strongly about the outcome.  Plus, there’s a person in the meeting who routinely unnerves you. It’s the kind of situation that could easily cause you to over-react and not behave at your best.  If you let the situation get the best of you, you are unlikely to achieve the outcome that you wish. What steps can you take to resource yourself to remain calm and in control of your emotions?

Recognize the Situation in Advance.  To manage yourself in situations that are challenging, it helps to know in advance when you will be in that situation.  It’s not that hard to do as triggering events are repeatable.  Think about it. Who regularly gets on your nerves at work? What situations annoy you every time? Maybe it’s when people show up unprepared despite your efforts to provide materials in advance. Or those people who just don’t care and you do. The more you can identify the types of situations and the people that knock you off center the more likely you can prepare in advance.

Make a Plan. Before the meeting, take a break to clear your thinking and make a plan.

Understand your Communication Style. What is your natural communication style: direct, engaging, hands-off? Consider the people in the meeting. How do they typically communicate and will they react constructively to your style? How will you adapt your approach to enable them to be at their best?

Prime Yourself. Priming is a technique where you feed your brain positive information so that it is in that mindset. Because of the mind/body connection, priming the brain results in subtle but powerful shifts in behavior. For example, before the big meeting you choose the story to tell your brain. “I dread this meeting. Brian is always so difficult in meetings and I’m concerned that the meeting won’t go the way I want.”  Or, “This will be a good meeting. I’m capable of managing my reactions and I’ll exhibit calm strength if others over-react. And, we’ll accomplish our objectives.” Priming with the second option is much more likely to yield the outcome you wish.

Use If/Then Planning. Consider examples of how the meeting could unfold and the actions you’ll take to manage any problems.  Examples could be: If Brian starts interrupting everyone and dominating the meeting, then I will calmly ask that he allow others to offer their ideas. If Brian takes the meeting off-track, then I will restate the objective and re-focus the discussion. If the discussion begins to go in a direction with which I don’t agree, then I will make an effort to be open to new ideas and objectively consider the best option.

Work the plan. You’ve primed yourself with positive information and you have a plan. Now, pay attention to yourself and others to stick with your plan. Notice your level of agitation. Is Brian getting to you? If so, notice your tension and consciously think about slowing your breathing; relax your jaw. These simple techniques help to rebalance the nervous system.  Also, attend to the level of agitation in others. Intervene if you notice someone getting anxious. Listen to and validate their comment and redirect the discussion so that the agitated person has a chance to settle their nervous system. Summarize the discussion frequently to make progress.

With a little preparation, you can transform a damaging situation into a productive one and you remain calm instead of becoming testy. Testy helps no one; calm helps everyone.