Negotiation Persuasion

by Dr David Venter

When approached correctly, persuasion is potentially one of the most important skills in the armour of the business manager. Like power, persuasion can be a force of enormous good for our businesses and for all other aspects of society.

The importance of mastering the art of persuasion is vital to the ability of a manger to efficiently address the many vexing challenges faced in the ever evolving marketplace. Effective persuasion is achieved when managers arrive at shared and mutually beneficial solutions. This ability necessitates that managers utilise negotiation skills that will equip them to guide their employees towards joint problem solving and in joint opportunity finding.

Negotiation skills are honed through careful preparation, innovative framing of problems and arguments, and communicating this evidence in a most vivid manner. By establishing the most correct emotional match with other parties, managers will generate a climate of greater openness and a willingness to move to positions not previously held.

Conger, in a recent published article in the Harvard Business Review, notes the following most common mistakes made by managers when attempting to persuade employees or clients:

The biggest mistake occurs when a manage attempts to make their case by resorting to an up-front, hard sell approach involving persistence, rational thinking and a lively presentation. In spite of their belief that this will move the negotiation to a swift conclusion, it more likely offers the other party/parties a clear target to shoot at.

This method will cause the other party to resist compromise as they will view it as a form of surrender. This approach disregards research findings to the effect that it will not not possible for managers to persuade employees/clients to persistently alter their attitudes, ideas and behaviours without themselves also changing their attitudes, ideas and behaviours.

These managers do not appreciate the fact that persons are only willing to open themselves to persuasion when they are convinced that those are attempting to persuade them accept and appreciate their needs and concerns. Simply by viewing persuasion as a one-way street they fail neglect to listen to employees/ clients and do not include their viewpoints in the negotiation process.

They exaggerate the relevance of presenting great arguments. Following this process these managers do not consider the importance of other variables such as their credibility, their ability to build a mutually beneficial frame for their position, connecting with the audience at the best emotional level and communicating in vivid language that brings ideas to life.

They make the assumption that persuasion is an event and forget that it is a process. This result in a a lack of sensitivity because shared solutions frequently necessitates 'listening' to people, testing positions, creating new positions that integrate group inputs, more testing, incorporating compromises and then trying again.

Four crucial variables in the persuasion equation

Establish credibility

An audience that is presented with a new or contrary position will initially respond by determining whether the perspectives and opinions of the persuader can be trusted. As they are facing a risk in terms of possible resources and time that may need to be committed, they will become reluctant to open themselves to persuasion.

Unfortunately, the majority of managers over-estimate their credibility because they fail to understand that credibility primarily derives from their perceived expertise and the relationships they are able to establish.

Managers, who possess a track record of sound judgment or have shown they are knowledgeable and well informed about their products and proposals, receive high expertise ratings. High credibility ratings are reserved for those who have proven over time that they can be trusted to listen, to act in the best interests of others and to share credit for good ideas. Their behaviour is characterized by integrity, consistency and the ability to resist extreme mood swings.

Should an expertise gap exist the following remedies can be highly useful:

  • Formal/informal education and conversations with knowledgeable individuals to learn more about the intricacies of a position.
  • Hiring recognised outside expertise and/or tapping the knowledge of experts within the organisation to bolster a position.
  • Utilising respected trade and business publications, books, independent reports and presentations by experts to support a position.
  • Launching pilot projects to illustrate on a small scale how certain ideas have value and are supported by unique expertise.

Relationship gaps can be closed effectively by:

It is vital to meet with the most important people in the audience you plan to persuade so you can develop a range of perspectives on the issues and to assist them with issues they are concerned about.

Include co-workers who share similar views on the issues and who also have a well established relationship with the target audience.

Credibility is the basis for effective persuasion. If you lack sufficient credibility, then the steps that follow are futile. The good news is that credibility is something that can be developed and nurtured.

Framing for common ground

Even though credibility is a vital variable, it is unfortunately not enough in itself to persuade persons to accept new or contrary positions. Accepting new positions means that persuaders must also describe these positions in terms that emphasizes their shared benefits and advantages. Involving people and obtaining their commitment for ideas or plans is dependent on them understanding and accepting the benefits/advantages they confer.

A deep understanding of your target audience is a crucial prerequisite for accurate framing. It is best to begin by employing various types of dialogue to collect information, good listening, testing ideas with trusted coworkers and asking questions should precede the framing of a position. This induces the persuader to consider their perceptions, evidence and arguments carefully, and often leads to compromise even before the start of the persuasion process.

Providing evidence

When credibility is established and a common frame developed, the focus shifts to providing the most vivid evidence to back the persuader's position. The most effective persuaders are adept at backing up numeric data with metaphors, analogies, stories and examples that bring their ideas and views to life. They are word artists who can compose word pictures that are compelling and add an earthy quality to their views.

Effective persuaders appreciate and use the immense power of language to their best advantage and to emotionally connect with their audience. On the surface, reason appears to be the primary force that drives business activities and persuasion. However, when exploring just beneath the surface we discover that emotion is a very prevalent and powerful determinant. Good persuaders know the importance of emotion. They respond to this insight by showing their own emotional commitment to the position they promote, and by being able to accurately sense how audiences have interpreted past events, are more likely to get proposals accepted.

The power of persuasion

When applied properly, persuasion is potentially one of the most crucial skills in the armoury of the business manager. Like power, persuasion can be a power of enormous good for our businesses and for all other aspects of society. It can create paradigm shifts, break boundaries, embed and strengthen change and stimulate novel and constructive solutions. As a skill, persuasion is essential in effective negotiations. Fortunately, it can be developed and nurtured through specialised training.

"Agreement is brought about by changing people's minds - other people's."
SI Hayakawa

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