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5 Thoughts on Persuasion

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in Remarkable Leadership with Kevin Eikenberry

I’m taking a different approach this week. When I start teleseminars (like the ones at RemarkableLearning.com), I often beginpersuasion sign with quotations from others to give greater perspective. I’ve decided to take that approach here on persuasion, following up my last post. I’ll share the quotation and then share the relevance to us as leaders.

Here we go.

“Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.” – Aristotle

Aristotle is reminding us of the importance of leading by example. If you want to persuade your children to be readers, turn off the television and pick up a book. If you want to persuade your team to apply what they learn in training, ask them to hold you accountable for what you are applying from the training you attend. If anything, Aristotle stops short when he says character may almost be called the most effective means. When there is time for observation, I’m pretty sure it is the most effective means.

Are you living what you want to be persuasive about?

“Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.” – William Bernbach, Advertising Executive

I am a student of marketing, both as an interest and as a business owner. Perhaps for this reason this quotation interests me. But it raises at least two important points for all of us as leaders.

  • We can learn much about how to persuade ourselves by watching and reading good advertising. Here is just one example: While you might not want to adopt the intonation or pacing of the best late-night TV infomercials spokesmen, there is a reason why they do things the way they do — it persuades. Your context is different, and so the subtleties are different, yet the components and order of their pitches are well planned and strategically created. To think there is nothing you can learn from them is short-sighted at best and, well, ignorant at worst.
  • While there is much science (and many great recent books that write about that science), there is also art. As you observe, read and watch great advertising, look for both the art and the science behind why it works, and then translate that to your persuasion work as a leader.

“I would rather try to persuade a man to go along, because once I have persuaded him, he will stick. If I scare him, he will stay just as long as he is scared, and then he is gone." – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Persuasion, in the end, is about the other person making a decision. Eisenhower knew this and expresses it well in this quotation. It is especially powerful that this idea is shared by a highly decorated and successful military officer. Why? Because often the command and control, dictatorial, “my-way-or-the-highway” approach to leadership is attributed to the military (and the military is used as the reason why this approach works best).

Not even close.

Persuasion isn’t (at least as we are talking about it) about power, coercion or force. It is about understanding, exploration, stimulation, and ultimately, choice.

Scare tactics might work for a bit, and the same goes for manipulation (which I wrote about in my last post), but especially when you are persuading people you will continue to interact with, your persuasion techniques have a trust component to them. Burn me once, shame on me. Burn me twice … and I may not be around long.

"One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears - by listening to them." – Dean Rusk, U.S. Secretary of State

Too often we think about great persuaders as people with the gift of gab or a silver tongue. While having the right words helps us persuade others, as Secretary Rusk suggests, listening might be the single most important skill for persuading others.

Think about it — how do you feel when someone (really) listens to you? Do you feel more important, acknowledged? Does the trust that you feel for that person grow? Are you more willing to listen to him or her in return? I’m betting your answers are all a resounding yes.

Do you want to be a more persuasive leader?

Shut up and listen.

“To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful.” – Edward R. Murrow

And let’s not forget this important point either. Trust raises our ability to influence and persuade others, and trust has honesty at its foundation. While this month we have talked a lot about the importance of passion on your persuasion, it isn’t the only factor. Honest communication matters. Persuading in a relationship of trust accelerates and eases the persuasion process significantly.

Remember too that beyond being honest, the other person must believe we are telling the truth. I’m sure Edward R. Murrow and his successor Walter Cronkite told the truth. At least as important to the persuasion of others was that we believed they were telling the truth.

I hope this different approach has been refreshing, and I hope that at least one of the quotations and/or my commentary has been insightful and will help you become a more persuasive leader.

Remarkable Principle: Remarkable leaders know that to ultimately succeed they must learn how to be persuasive.

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