By Merge Gupta-Sunderji, MBA, CSP
Whether or not you have “sales” in your job title, you are a salesperson. Even if you’re not selling a product or a service, you’re selling your ideas, your points of view, or even sometimes, yourself. It doesn’t matter whether you work in an office, a factory, on the road, or at home, the ability to get others to see things from your point of view is a key determinant of professional success. Persuasive communicators are seen as confident, credible and trustworthy. They’re likeable. And they get things done!
Research has shown that persuasive people are characterized by three specific traits, something that I call the “triple threat” of persuasiveness. In the performing arts world, someone who can sing, dance and act is referred to as a triple threat, because while each of these skills separately is a talent, combined in one person, it creates a formidable genius for performance. In much the same way, the triple threat of persuasiveness consists of expertise (or perceived authority), honesty and likeability. When we are faced with someone who has any one of these characteristics, we’re more disposed to agree to that person’s request; but if they have all three, our willingness to yield and concede goes up exponentially.
We assume that people with expertise have special access to information and power, and for that reason we are often willing to defer to their authority. This provides a convenient shortcut to sound decision-making. If you’re an accountant, you’re more likely to persuade people on accounting issues; if you’re a civil engineer, most people will listen when you talk about how a bridge should be constructed; if you’re a trademarks lawyer, people are likely to be convinced of your advice when it comes to copyrighting issues; you get the idea. If you have expertise, you are more likely to convince others of topics within your subject area. So, one way to become more persuasive is to consciously and deliberately work towards developing expertise in a few key areas.
The attribute of honesty is even more compelling when it comes to convincing others. People are much more likely to be persuaded by you if they trust you; and trust is usually built over time. So, if you have a positive long-term track record with someone where you have demonstrated honesty and integrity over time, then this individual would be much more likely to trust you, and thus be convinced of what you have to say. But what if you don’t have a past relationship built on trust with the person you are trying to persuade? What then? This is where the value of testimonials and endorsements comes in. Because they are viewed as unbiased information, the best testimonials come from peers. If all else fails though, even endorsements from famous people or “the average Joe on the street” will carry weight because these people supposedly have no personal interest in the eventual outcome.
Likeability adds further to your ability to convince in many aspects. First, we strive to identify with the people we like. Second, it is more probable that we will respect and trust those we like. Finally, it easy to give in to people we like. But of the three characteristics that make up the triple threat of persuasiveness, likeability is the most elusive when it comes to defining how you can get it. Ultimately, people are more likely to be convinced of your point of view if they like you. But perhaps more importantly, they are more likely to fight you tooth and nail, if they don’t.
While I’m not suggesting that you should now spend the rest of your professional career focusing on becoming more “liked”, it is definitely worth remembering that these three characteristics – expertise or perceived authority, honesty or trust, and likeability – together, significantly increase another person’s willingness to yield and concede to your point of view. If you can take small steps to master one or even all three of characteristics, you will find it easier to solicit support for your ideas and projects. You will negotiate better terms for the things you buy at work and at home. You will close important deals with clients and vendors more easily. You will spend less time and frustration working through disagreements with others. Bottom line: you will become more effective.
Merge Gupta-Sunderji, MBA, CSP, turns managers into leaders by giving them specific and practical how-to steps to create high-performing, productive, and positive workplaces. Contact her at www.turningmanagersintoleaders.com or (403) 605-4756.
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