How to Be Persuasive


Focus on Issues Pertinent to Those You Want to Persuade
How will they benefit from your desired outcome? What issues could make it difficult for them to honor your request? What objections might they have and how can you counter these objections?

Consider, also, what these people emphasize when they seek to persuade. If, for example, they stress facts and figures, strive to do the same. If they focus on how people—or productivity, deadlines, etc.—will be affected, orient your key points accordingly. The more your own case meshes with what matters to these people, the better your chances of winning them over.

Persuade Professionally
Compelling though your case may be, sputtering and stammering will weaken its impact. Too many "ums" and "uhs" won't help either, nor will staring at the ceiling in hopes of sudden inspiration once you're on the spot. If you'll be making your case in spoken form, practice it as if you're giving a presentation—which you are (see my article, Strengthening Your Speaking Savvy). If it'll be in written form, make it articulate. A typo-laden email message may be fine for trivial communications, but if you want to be persuasive about important matters, a polished, professional-looking write-up will carry more weight.

Pay Attention to Timing
Teammates who slave over buggy code all weekend may be too bleary-eyed on Monday to care what you want. Your manager may not be sympathetic to your ideas after going a few rounds with a demanding, scope-expanding customer. Some people can't focus before their first (or fifth) cup of coffee. So don't just pop into the other party's office or cubicle when the mood strikes you and assume you'll get undivided (or even fractional) attention.

I recall a fellow named Hank who was so eager to present his Great Idea to his boss, Chuck, that he confronted Chuck at 8 a.m. on Chuck's first day back from vacation. Not only did Chuck have emails overflowing his inboxes, but his own manager had graciously welcomed him back with a crisis. Did Chuck pay attention to Hank's idea? Not a chance.

Don't Expect an Instantaneous Yes
It might not be a stretch to persuade a coworker to change today's lunch date to tomorrow. But making a pitch for something big, such as the adoption of agile methods, is unlikely to get an immediate "Sure, why not?" (Wouldn't that be wonderful?) Getting buy-in for something that entails a major change usually takes patience and quiet persistence. Let the idea seep in. Show how other organizations or teams have benefited. Find credible allies who can add clout to your case. Suggest ways to start small and with minimal risk. Give it time. Building your case slowly and steadily will improve your odds of success.

If the Answer Is No, Learn from the Rejection
If you get turned down, accept the decision gracefully. Arguing and "yes, but"—ing will simply peg you as a nuisance, making it even harder to succeed next time around. Instead, request an explanation and then do your own personal retrospective. Ask yourself: Do I still think my proposal was realistic and reasonable? Did I package my idea appropriately? What should I do differently next time around?

Savor the Unexpected "Go for It"
Back when I was an IT manager, there was some expensive hardware my staff and I yearned for that the director would need to fund. To get his go-ahead, we prepared a compellingly persuasive presentation and demo. At the appointed time, the director showed up, took one look at the product, and said, "Buy it!" We did. No complaints

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