Whether you’re in the midst of hiring negotiations, attempting to secure a raise or asking your manager to give you the opportunity to take on a particularly appealing project, a keen knack for persuasion will often help you achieve your ultimate goal.
Convincing others to follow a certain course of action requires a subtle touch and a talent for nuance, and many believe that these skills are inborn and can’t be taught. However, with a little patience, plenty of practice and a few helpful tips, anyone can boost their own persuasive abilities and use their communicative prowess to reap benefits and improve conditions for themselves and for their companies.
These 10 tactics will help you sharpen your powers of persuasion, therefore, positioning yourself for workplace triumphs and the potential for substantial career growth.
1. Build your persuasion style around your strengths.
Contrary to popular belief, effective persuasion doesn’t require witty double-talk, and it doesn't rely on “outsmarting” the other party in your discussion. In actuality, the most persuasive individuals look to their own natural character traits and personal strengths to bolster their arguments and help their conversation partner see the situation through their perspective.
In a recent article, Entrepreneur cites a study from Caliper claiming that women in leadership roles are ultimately more persuasive in the workplace than their male counterparts, owing their success to personality attributes like “assertiveness, willingness to take risks and empathy.” Honing in on your inherent powers and figuring out ways to apply them to the task at hand will enable you to develop and present a strong case for yourself when negotiations are on the table.
2. If time allows, “prime” your audience before presenting your case.
“Persuasion” and “psychology” go hand in hand, and a solid foundation of psychological concepts and terms can prove useful when entering a scenario in which you’re hoping to persuade someone to follow a certain path. If you’re not short on time, one way to ease your audience into a receptive state of mind involves “priming”, or exposing your audience to messages, images and other stimuli that lead to positive associations with your central argument.
For instance, if you want to convince your boss to give you a raise, producing excellent work and taking the initiative to make her aware of your successes over a period of time could be considered an example of “priming”, since she’ll now mentally connect you with a high quality of performance. The sooner you start producing evidence of your skills and your raise-worthiness, the more fully your manager will develop those mental links, and the more likely that she’ll agree to grant your raise or promotion.
3. Establish a “common ground” with those you’re trying to persuade.
It’s no secret that persuasion becomes easier when you’re able to connect with your audience on a human level. However, that “common ground” doesn’t need to be anything overly revealing or personal; even a friendly conversation about the weather or a relaxed chat about the latest NFL game or the hit movie du jour or the Kardashians’ most recent antics can result in the same person-to-person benefits. Instead of plowing ahead with your argument, take a moment to check in with your audience in a genuine manner, and those few moments of connection can work in your favor when you’re ready to make your ask.
4. Balance your priorities with those of your intended audience.
The best approach for a persuasive conversation includes a considerable amount of empathy; you need to put yourself in the other party’s position and figure out how your desired outcome would benefit both that person and yourself. That requires you to take stock of your audience’s priorities; what does your boss/colleague/friend want and need? If you get what you want out of this exchange, how can that improve conditions for them? This 360-degree view of the situation helps you strengthen your argument and provide compelling and reciprocal reasons for granting your request, which are especially helpful in a business context.
5. Come armed with research.
Emotion certainly has a place in the persuasive process; Chron even states that “the stats strongly suggest that people are more susceptible to emotional appeals because their brains are in an idle, subliminal state most of the time.” However, if you’re attempting to persuade a supervisor or colleague about a work-related matter, it’s also essential to have your factual evidence in order. Go into your meeting or discussion with clear examples of your value to the company, numerical proof of your financial successes and other pieces of objective, inarguable information that can serve as a strong foundation for your case.
6. Remember the power of persistence (within reason).
Individuals skilled in the art of persuasion know very well that taking “no” for an answer rarely proves the right path. Instead, they use their instincts and their intellect to devise ways of strengthening their arguments, to find new pitch methods and to adjust their request as needed in order to get the answer they seek.
That’s not to say that we recommend persistence for persistence’s sake; if you find yourself asking the same question over and over (with the same language and the same intent) even after you’ve received a clear negative answer from the other party, or if you find yourself attempting an attention-grabbing stunt as a display of “gumption”, then you’re likely not improving your odds of reaching your desired outcome. But if you walk out of a promotion-request meeting with a “no” and then spend a few months excelling at your work and gathering evidence to back up your claim that you’re ready for career advancement, then you shouldn’t allow the previous “no” to dissuade you from re-introducing the topic.
7. Work on your internal flexibility.
When it comes to persuasion, flexibility is often the most valuable — and the most underrated — tool in your arsenal. Sometimes, you’ll present an argument to a colleague or a supervisor, only to receive a counter-proposal. Rather than allowing yourself to become disappointed by the lack of an outright agreement, it’s wise to look at this new offer and to identify its positives (does it fulfill some elements of your ask?) and its negatives (where does it diverge from your ideal result?). Then, return to the negotiation table with an open mind. The more flexible you’re willing to be about the terms of your proposal, the more likely you are to ultimately land on a resolution that’s beneficial to all parties.
8. Practice potential responses to arguments.
Any effort at persuasion starts with a conversation, and because conversations require back-and-forth exchanges by nature, you need to come prepared for the other party to present arguments to your positions and requests. In order to avoid feeling blindsided, you can practice potential counterpoints to these rebuttals, a course of action that serves two purposes: you’ll have a few pre-prepared response ideas, and you’ll also have the chance to try your hand at empathetic thinking, which (as we mentioned earlier) only strengthens your persuasive stance.
9. Resist the urge to second-guess yourself.
For many of us, it feels challenging and uncomfortable to engage in any type of argument with a coworker or a friend, even if the exchange isn’t angry or volatile. When you introduce your request and the other party replies with a refusal or an alternate suggestion that doesn’t remotely resemble your desired outcome, it seems inevitable that you’ll start to second-guess your points and wonder whether you’re right to ask for what you want.
Unfortunately, these questions often turn into self-fulfilling prophecies: if you’re not confident in the validity of your position, then you’ll have a harder time convincing others to see things your way. Stand behind your ideas and your beliefs (albeit with a flexible attitude and a willingness to hear another side), and you’ll be well-situated throughout your adventures in persuasion.
10. Remember that “persuasion” and “manipulation” aren’t synonymous.
It’s a common pop-culture habit to associate “persuasive” people with manipulative chessmasters like Littlefinger from “Game of Thrones” or Hannibal Lecter from “Silence of the Lambs”. But in reality, “persuasion” and “manipulation” aren’t just different titles for the same concept; a manipulator will use any means at their disposal to change another’s way of thinking, and they won’t typically concern themselves with the advantage for the other party. By contrast, a clever persuader always remembers that conversations and negotiations are two-way streets, and she’ll present her points in clear and positive language that emphasizes mutual benefits. Keep these distinctions in mind, and you’ll be ready for a forthright and positive exchange.
Ultimately, a talented professional with an interest in career growth should view persuasion as yet another valuable tool to add to her repertoire. It’s a powerful method of communication, and unless you work in a fully self-contained industry, communication skills only increase in value as your career progresses.