Principles of Effective Persuasion

Whether making a formal presentation at a meeting or writing a report or fact sheet, the following principles hold.

  • Do not oversell or overstate your case. Make effective use of understatement.
  • Outline the topic you are trying to cover into two parts. The first part should give broad background information, while the second part provides a detailed summary.
  • Persuasion depends on clarity and simplicity. Avoid the use of jargon and buzz words.
  • Be prepared to back up claims or facts immediately.
  • Incorporate major anticipated objections into your program or presentation.
  • Address all relevant aspects of a topic, especially those that may affect the functioning of an organization.
  • Use graphics and audiovisuals appropriately.
  • Consider ways to get meaningful input from people. Find out what they think about the innovation or change.

Selling New Ideas
Creating Isn’t Selling. Often the creators of an innovation feel that convincing others of the idea’s value is somehow superfluous to their activities. To them, conceiving the idea is enough. This combines with their inner conviction that their idea will “sell itself.” Change agents provide a link between creators of new techniques and users.

Ideas Need Selling
Someone must recognize when an idea is good. It is important that when an idea is good it is sold to those who can act on it–those who have the power to evaluate and adopt it. Understanding users is an important activity for any change agent. People must be
convinced that a particular idea or innovation has enough merit to warrant adoption.

Selling Ideas Takes Effort
Selling innovations requires preparation, initiative, patience, and resourcefulness. It may take more effort than originating the idea. In an age of technical complexity and information overload, new ideas seldom stand out. Information on new ideas must be targeted to the appropriate users and relate to their needs and motivations.

Once is Not Enough
A new idea has to be suggested many times before it will “catch on.” Initial failures at promoting a new idea are to be expected, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t get the results you want the first time. Some ideas take years to catch on. However, first exposures are crucial to future prospects. Do it right the first time

Feedback (Listening)
Getting and giving feedback is one of the most crucial parts of good communication. Like any other activity, there are specific skills that can enhance feedback. Listening is a key part of getting feedback:

Listen to the Complete Message. Be patient. This is especially important when listening to a topic that provokes strong opinions or radically different points-of-view. In these situations, it’s important not to prejudge the incoming message. Learn not to get too excited about a communication until you are certain of the message.

Work at Listening Skills. Listening is hard work. Good listeners demonstrate interest and alertness. They indicate through their eye contact, posture and facial expression that the occasion and the speaker’s efforts are a matter of concern to them. Most good listeners provide speakers with clear and unambiguous feedback.

Judge the Content, Not the Form of the Message. Such things as the speaker’s mode of dress, quality of voice, delivery mannerisms and physical characteristics are often used as excuses for not listening. Direct your attention to the message–what is being said– and away from the distracting elements.

Weigh Emotionally Charged Language. Emotionally charged language often stands in the way of effective listening. Filter out “red flag” words (like “liberal” and “conservative,” for instance) and the emotions they call up. Specific suggestions for dealing with
emotionally charged words include

  • Take time to identify those words that affect you emotionally.
  • Attempt to analyze why the words affect you the way they do.
  • Work at trying to reduce the impact of these words on you.

Eliminate Distractions. Physical distractions and complications seriously impair listening. These distractions may take many forms: loud noises, stuffy rooms, overcrowded conditions, uncomfortable temperature, bad lighting, etc. Good listeners speak up if the room is too warm, too noisy, or too dark. There are also internal distractions: worries about deadlines or problems of any type may make listening difficult. If you’re distracted, make an effort to clear your head. If you can’t manage it, arrange to communicate at some other time.

Think Efficiently and Critically. On the average, we speak at a rate of 80 words per minute. However, we think at a much faster rate, anywhere from 100 to 150 words per minute. What do we do with this excess thinking time while listening to someone speak? One technique is to apply this spare time to analyzing what is being said. They critically review the material by asking the following kinds of questions:

  • What is being said to support the speaker’s point of view? (Evidence)
  • What assumptions are being made by the speaker and the listener? (Assumptions)
  • How does this information affect me? (Effect)
  • Can this material be organized more efficiently? (Structure)
  • Are there examples that would better illustrate what is being said? (Example)
  • What are the main points of the message? (Summary)

Sending Messages
Messages should be clear and accurate, and sent in a way that encourages retention, not rejection. Use Verbal Feedback Even If Nonverbal Is Positive And Frequent. Everyone needs reassurance that they are reading nonverbal communication correctly, whether a smile means “You’re doing great,” “You’re doing better than most beginners,” or “You’ll catch on eventually.”

Focus Feedback On Behavior Rather Than On Personality. It’s better to comment on specific behavior than to characterize a pattern of behavior. For example, instead of calling a colleague inefficient, specify your complaint: “You don’t return phone calls; this causes problems both in and outside your office.”

Focus Feedback On Description Rather Than Judgment. Description tells what happened. Judgment evaluates what happened. For example, in evaluating a report doesn’t say, “This is a lousy report!!” Instead, try: “The report doesn’t focus on the information that I think needs emphasis,” or “This report seems to have a lot of grammatical and spelling mistakes.”

Make Feedback Specific Rather Than General. If feedback is specific, the receiver knows what activity to continue or change. When feedback is general, the receiver doesn’t know what to do differently. For example, in an office situation, instead of saying “These folders are not arranged correctly,” its better feedback to say, “These should be arranged chronologically instead of alphabetically.”
In Giving Feedback, Consider the Needs and Abilities of the Receiver. Give the amount of information the receiver can use and focus feedback on activities the receiver has control over.

It’s fruitless to criticize the level of activity, if the decision to grant the necessary monies for materials, personnel or technology is made at a different level. Check to See if the Receiver Heard What You Meant to Say. If the information is important enough to send, make sure the person understands it. One way of doing this is to say, “I’m wondering if I said that clearly enough. What did you understand me to say?” or “This is what I hear you saying. Is that right?”

Selecting the Best Communication Method
In communicating with decision makers, use the most appropriate communications method. One way to do this is to ask yourself the following questions.

  • What is the purpose of your message? Do you plan to tell them something new?
  • Inform? Do you plan to change their view? Persuade?
  • What facts must be presented to achieve your desired effect?
  • What action, if any, do you expect decision makers to take?
  • What general ideas, opinions and conclusions must be stressed?
  • Are you thoroughly familiar with all the important information on the innovation?
  • What resources and constraints affect adoption of the innovation? How much time is available? How much money is available
  • Which method, or combination of methods, will work most effectively for this situation? Personal contact–requires scheduling, time and interpersonal skills.
  • Telephone contact–requires good verbal skills and an awareness of voice tones as Nonverbal communication.
  • Letter–requires writing skills. E-mail—informal, needs to be short and to the point, but not get lost in clutter. News release–requires writing skills and cooperation of the media and time.
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