Let’s talk about persuasion.
It can be argued that any intentional communication is an attempt at persuasion. Think about it – at the very least you want to make sure that whatever you’re saying, people are listening. To command the attention of an audience requires some type of persuasion!
Persuasive communication in a business context is necessary to drive action, implement change and maintain progress. Business leaders are constantly needing to work elements of persuasion into their daily tasks in order to be impactful.
To help you leverage your communication abilities, here are two strategies you can use to become a more dynamic, persuasive business leader.
Strategy 1: Get Out From Behind Your Desk!
If you’re talking to someone while hiding behind a desk (even if you think you’re just sitting comfortably) you’re not going to be as impactful as you’d like. When people want to exert power over another, they use all tools available to them – consciously and subconsciously. Placing a barrier between you and your colleague, team member, or customer is a power play. Unless you want to be the type of leader who gets results based on domineering and fear (and I doubt you are, because you wouldn’t be reading this article), remove any physical barriers between you and your conversational partner.
Think about it. When you were in school and called to the principal or headmaster’s office, this person was often seated behind a monstrosity of a desk. And you, the child ready to be reprimanded, walked in with a huge gap between you and the person in power. Even if this was a positive meeting, where you were being applauded for an effort, the behemoth of a desk between you two didn’t allow for the most genuine connection possible.
In the same sense, a presenter who speaks from behind a podium is often not as trusted as one who speaks while using an open room or stage. Most people take a presentation space for granted, or they walk into a room, see a podium, and immediately gravitate there. More about this in another strategy.
Stop erecting barriers that divide. Evaluate your space to see what type of barriers you might be placing between yourself and your audience. Leverage space in a way that allows you to connect with your audience or conversation partner.
Strategy 2: Reach People At Their Level, In Their Own Context
People make decisions based on emotion. If there is no emotional connection, people are not likely to act. If you want to drive people to action – if you want to persuade those around you – they have to believe that you genuinely have their best interests at heart. If they do not see your reasoning or a need to act, people won’t decide. It is important to establish this human touch in all of your communication, both in-person and virtually.
Another way to think of touch is to think of hugging people with your words. You need to communicate in a way that makes people feel embraced by your message. They need to feel comfortable listening to you, they need to trust you , and they need to be able to take comfort in what you’re saying. When people are relaxed, and not on guard, they’re more likely to be open to your messaging and to your requests for action.
This metaphorical idea of touch is often best demonstrated by drawing analogies and metaphors, storytelling, and making a direct connection to a person’s life or situation. Making an effort to demonstrate that you see an idea, solution, or a request that you’re making in the other’s situation is powerful. Communicating that you understand their context (and not just giving it lip service) is incredibly helpful to establishing the level of touch you need for people to trust you and your directives.
When you see these two strategies together, it’s easy to see the difference they make.
In my previous life as a university faculty member, one of the capstone projects my students did was an organizational communication audit. They were to present as a group—as if they were business consultants pitching their business to the company—and present the findings and recommendations to two key business leaders (myself and a volunteer grader).
The presentation was done in a small conference room, with 10 chairs. Student groups were 3-4 people. Upon entering the room, the judging panel stood to shake hands with the students, and then sat down. Without fail, every single student group did one thing that would’ve likely cost them business on the spot—they stood the entire time. They also gave a presentation full of information. Charts, bullet points, findings, etc. All presented in a linear, factual way. All presented from the perspective of the audit team. Never taking the client’s context into consideration.
Standing during a presentation is a power play, and presents a nonverbal barrier.If you want to earn someone’s business, standing over them and “telling” information is not the way to do it.
After giving the presentations, I asked the students to sit down. I asked, “How do you feel now that you’re sitting down?” “Much better, less awkward, more relaxed” were the common replies. “Why didn’t you sit down to give the presentation?” I asked. “because it’s a presentation. You’re supposed to stand up.” “Says who?”
Had the students sat down to give the presentation, they would’ve put themselves on an equal level with the business leaders. They would’ve established more metaphorical touch by engaging in a conversational approach, rather than a rehearsed and rehashed presentation.
Changing their presentation to include questions and feedback opportunities for their potential clients would’ve given them an idea of how we were interpreting information. Checking for interpretations and mutual understanding throughout any communicative situation—instead of saving it for the end during a Q&A period, is crucial if you want to persuade in an impactful way. If the students had done this, they would’ve been more likely to get valuable feedback from their audience that could help them be more persuasive and earn the business. And isn’t that the goal?
For ways to have persuasive feedback conversations with your employees, check out the first article in this series. Now that you know two key strategies in persuasive communication, you’ll be able to combine these with the rules for feedback to get even better results.