There are a number of reasons why you might need to be persuasive at work, such as negotiation, gaining support for decisions, encouraging commitment to goals, and enthusing others in pursuit of a vision.
What all of these examples share is the need to communicate enthusiastically and with clarity in a way that is likely to win favour.
Let’s start with the fundamentals. Your ability to persuade comes from three main places:
1. Your argument or ‘case’
2. Your use of language
3. Your personal credibility
When trying to persuade others, you must start from their perspective, and craft your argument accordingly.
Think not just about the best arguments in support of your case, but the issues that are most likely to resonate with the person or people you wish to persuade. There is probably little point attempting to influence an accountant by putting forward an argument about employee satisfaction, or trying to win support from a marketing professional with points about cost-saving.
Always begin by thinking of the benefits for your audience. It’s horses for courses, so position your case appropriately.
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Think about the language you are using. Are the words you choose likely to resonate well with the person or entity you seek to influence? Some of this may be about pitch, and carefully deciding how to express your position and needs. Here are some things to consider when trying to communicate in a way that engages and persuades.
Think about your audience and your argument, and choose words likely to explain and express your case in sufficient (but not excessive) detail. These should be pitched at the level you know the person or people will be comfortable with.
Stop yourself from using technical jargon when the audience is likely to be unfamiliar with it. Conversely, make sure you incorporate it where the audience has a good level of expertise.
Is the audience open to thinking about new ideas, and exploring possibilities? If not, keep it factual and prosaic. If they are of a more creative mindset, consider the most exciting ideas or concepts, and leave freedom in the conversation for them to add their own views. People are often more likely to convince themselves than to allow themselves to be influenced overtly by you.
There are a number of linguistic techniques you can use to make yourself more persuasive at work by emphasising key parts of your argument through repetition. Take care not to overuse these to the point that they sound unnatural, which can cause others to question your sincerity.
- The rule of three: as demonstrated by Tony Blair’s ‘education, education, education’, this can make key phrases more memorable.
- Anaphora: this means beginning consecutive sentences with the same phrase, as in Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, where he begins successive sentences with this phrase.
- Alliteration: using words that begin with the same sound within phrases can again make them stand out in people’s memories.
Do you have the gravitas and personal credibility to carry your argument? What do they really think of you? The way you are viewed by your audience will shape the weight they give to it, and the spirit in which they receive your words. If you know you aren’t going to be taken sufficiently seriously, then either take action to change that before your attempts at persuasion, or arrange for someone who has more credibility in the eyes of this audience to fire your bullets for you.
Above and beyond all of these points, consider your persona and behaviour at work. How do you come across? How do you present yourself? What does your behaviour say about your attitudes and commitment?
Think about what your body language say about you, your confidence and enthusiasm (I recommend that you watch Amy Cuddy’s brilliant talk about this on www.ted.com).
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As with all aspects of leadership, two of the smartest things you can do to improve your performance are:
- Observe others who appear to be successful exponents, and try to understand why. You can do the same with those who are getting poor results. What is it that they are doing that really works or really doesn’t?
- Join a leadership development programme; you’ll find it extremely powerful to explore these issues, challenge yourself and get professional guidance from a mentor, alongside others in a similar position.