Will Your Persuasion Priority Enhance Your Professional Skills?

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of determining if your persuasion priority is really a priority.

Remember that your persuasion priority must be specific, significant and meaningful to you and your organization, and realistic enough to be attainable. It also must be set with others in mind, because if you can help them get what they want, you’ll ultimately get what you want.

If you pursue your persuasion priority, be sure to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Will it improve your communication skills — such as writing a compelling email, facilitating a brainstorming session or making an executive presentation?
  2. Does achieving your persuasion priority add to your actual or abstract organizational abilities?
  3. Might it help you build relationships, hone your problem-solving talents or sharpen your decision-making abilities?
  4. Will it help you attain mental toughness to compartmentalize a challenge and put it off for later while you work on other more time-sensitive issues?
  5. Will it increase your negotiation skills?
  6. Does it require you to consider more carefully your proficiency at work-life balance?

All of these potential improvements can be considered more qualitative than quantitative financial gains

Breaking Down Your Skills

Keep in mind that the fastest way to achieve competency in a skill is to break that skill down into its various components. 

Far too many people think far too broadly when it comes to analyzing a skill. Take the ability to make an executive presentation, which some might categorize sweepingly as  “presentation skills.” That’s a mistake. 

Making a presentation involves researching your topic and your audience’s perspectives on the topic, as well as blending third-party expertise with your own insights. Then you need to develop your content: the opening, a middle section, examples, anticipation of questions, response preparation and even a recovery plan for gaffes or an unexpected comment. Then comes the creation of an effective closer that leaves your audience thinking, knowing or doing something different. Each of these components in and of themselves could be considered a skill set.

These skill sets might come easier to some people than others, but just because you struggle to achieve competency doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue a given skill — or a given persuasion priority.

Why Money Matters in Persuasion Situations

It’s time to revisit you persuasion priority: Who is the one person you want to say “yes” to what? 

In other words: If, in your professional endeavors, you could flick a switch and convince one person to do just one thing, what would that be? Remember that your persuasion priority must be specific, significant and meaningful to you and your organization, and realistic enough to be attainable. It also must be set with others in mind, because if you can help them get what they want, you’ll ultimately get what you want.

Is Your Persuasion Priority Really a Priority?

Occasionally, professionals spend inordinate amounts of time, energy and effort on persuasion campaigns that aren’t worth all that hard work. Discretionary time is wasted, political capital is squandered and relationships are sometimes damaged irreparably in the pursuit of an ill-advised strategy.

Thus, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking an objective is worthwhile. We feel the opportunity is scarce (I’ll never get another chance to work on a project in Germany!) or fall prey to base rate neglect (I know a person who tried this approach to product marketing and it worked for him! [But maybe it failed for everyone else…])

The carpentry rule applies here: Measure twice, cut once.

What Will Be Your Personal Financial Return?

There are many questions to ask when crafting your persuasion priority, and I will cover them in a series of posts beginning with this question: Is there a personal financial gain at stake?

In other words, if you are successful in achieving your persuasion priority, will you make more money? I’m talking about individual compensation or group compensation, as well as short-term compensation and long-term return. 

An example of individual compensation is when you earn an individual sales commission for closing a deal. Group compensation involves receiving additional dollars when the sales team as a whole meets a particular sales objective. Short-term compensation is reflected in your next commission check, while long-term return may refer to quarterly or yearly returns. 

Typically, people place their highest priority on individual short-term financial gains, such as an increase in hourly wage or salary, so they can enjoy immediate gratification. 

In reality, the more-powerful financial return might be long-term group financial gains, such as stock options, deferred compensation and royalties.

The question of potential personal financial gain is the first one to ask because, well, money is important. I chuckle when someone tells me it isn’t. My mind immediately jumps back to my earliest days working for Harley-Davidson at the company’s Milwaukee headquarters. Rich Teerlink, then president and chief executive officer, gave me a piece of advice I’ll never forget: “Mark, if someone ever tells you they are not interested in money, watch them, because they’ll lie to you about other things, too.”  

That said, while money is important, it’s far from the only thing that matters. I’ll cover more of those things in future posts.

Here’s Why (and How) You Should Ask Irrational Questions

Sales success requires confidence. One surefire way to be more confident in persuasion situations — which, let’s admit it, often involve selling something — is to provide high-quality options, and you can do this through the use of irrational questions.

Yes, you read that correctly.

I first learned of this approach from the incredibly intelligent and innovative New York Times bestselling author Daniel Pink. (He’s a very bright person who also happened to endorse my latest book!)

Regular readers will know that my approach to handling objections is to take two shots and then salute. Of course, the challenge is to always have an approach you can use for your second shot. Irrational questions are a perfect second shot.

Let’s say, for example, I’m speaking with a customer about the Harley-Davidson Planned Maintenance program and they “take a pass.”

I might say, “Fair enough. Don’t say yes, don’t say no, just be willing to hear me out for a moment before you make your final decision, okay?”

Customer: Okay. (This is my first small agreement.)

Me: May I ask you a question? (This is a permission question, which softens your approach and which people almost always say yes to … because they’re curious about what you’re going to ask.)

Customer: Sure. (My second small agreement.)

Me: If you were to rate the Harley-Davidson Planned Maintenance program on a scale of one to 10 — one meaning that it’s absolutely worthless and 10 meaning it’s better than cold beer, what number would you use?

Customer: Well I’d probably rate it a 3 or 4. (This is now my third agreement. They are willing to rate the program and participate in the conversation.)

Me: May I ask you another question? (This one is up to your discretion. Permission questions are powerful, but a strength overdone is a weakness; use your judgement on this one.)

Customer: Of course.

Me: Why didn’t you rate it lower? (Here is where you will get a moment of stunned silence. This is the irrational question. Your prospect is not expecting that question. And when you get stunned silence, you have regained control of the conversation.)

Customer: Well, it does have the free pick-up and delivery. And I guess I do like the wash and wax. Boy, the more I think about it, the fast turnaround guarantee is pretty appealing …

What’s happening here? Your customer is talking himself into buying the plan!

The best thing about using irrational questions as a second shot is that you can apply them to anything!

But what if the customer rates the topic in question at a 1 or a zero? Then shake it off, move on to what’s next, and live to fight — and persuade — another day.

How to Better Believe in Yourself

Do you ever talk to yourself? (Right now, you’re probably thinking: Hmm, talk to myself? Do I do that?)

Most people have an ongoing mental conversation with themselves. This is what many psychologists call self-talk. Left unattended, that conversation typically sways negative. 

When I was younger, I used to be pretty hard on myself:

• “I can’t possibly deliver workshops and write a book.”

• “I can’t possibly work for that company, because I don’t know anything about the beer business.”

• “I can’t work out in the afternoon; I’ll be way too tired.”

• “I can’t possibly hold my own with this guy; he’s written 64 books.”

None of it was true.

The problem with these mental conversations is that after a while, neuroscientists theorize that those thoughts go from the neocortex part of your brain to the basal ganglia. This is where your habits are hardwired. And it takes real effort to rip out the negative stuff.

My 3-Step Plan to Crush Self-Limiting Beliefs

1) Catch yourself in a negative thought. This requires cognitive diligence. You must think about what you’re thinking about — and not mindlessly scroll through Instagram or Twitter.

2) Disabuse yourself of this notion. I do this using my 82-year-old father’s increasingly cantankerous and challenging voice: “Yeah? Who says?” Immediately, something in my brain switches, and my next thought is: “Challenge accepted.”

3) Take action. Any action, no matter how small, just to get the ball rolling. There’s a great old turn of phrase that says, “Throw your butt over the bar and your heart will follow.” I really believe that.

Plan into Action 

I love to work out, and one afternoon when I was out for my typical 10-mile hike, I had about two miles left. Then a fleeting thought hit me: Maybe I should run the rest of the way. No, I can’t. I haven’t run in over 13 years.

That’s right: I used to be an avid runner, but once I turned 40, my knees hurt, and I told myself I was too old to run. I caught myself having this thought and — no kidding — I heard my dad say, “Yeah? Who says you can’t run at 53?”

 I took a couple of steps. Then took a couple more. And bam: I ran home.

Far too many of us convince ourselves we can’t do it:

• “I can’t ask this person for a referral; he just bought a motorcycle from me.”

• “I can’t call these people; they’ll think I’m sort of telemarketer.”

• “I can’t sell 18 units in a month.”

•“I can’t sell 300 units in a year.”

Yeah? Who says?

Sharpen Your Persuasive Edge; Use a Chiasmus

Hearing “yes” in any type of situation — with colleagues and customers — is largely about appealing to the other person’s enlightened self-interest. One of my favorite ways to effectively do that is through the use of language, specifically a figure of speech called “chiasmus” [kahy-az-muhs].

A chiasmus is a verbal pattern in which the second half of a phrase is balanced against the first, with key elements being reversed. While you may not be familiar with the term, chances are you’ve encountered it.

For example, even the most challenged high school U.S. history student has more than likely heard references to John F. Kennedy’s iconic 1961 inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Or, if you’re a fan of advertising jingles, there’s this one: “I am stuck on Band-Aid, ’cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me.” (Not as profound as JFK, but memorable nonetheless.)

And, of course, there’s “Live to ride, ride to live.”

Want to improve the likelihood of a co-worker getting on board with your initiative? Use a chiasmus:

Steve, it isn’t so much what you can do for this project – although that’s substantial. You really need to consider what the project can do for you.”

That approach is so effective, because you’re really “selling” transformation. You’re showing Steve how, by participating in an initiative, he’s actually signing up for an improved skill set, greater visibility in the company and perhaps a starring role in a career-making project.

In a sales situation, a customer might be considering ways in which he can trick out a new ride. If that’s the case, try out this chiasmus:

“It’s not what you can do to this motorcycle; it’s what this motorcycle can do to you.” 

These figures of speech work because they appeal to the other person’s enlightened self-interest – potentially creating a more open-minded buyer or a more skilled and more respected colleague.

The sooner you wrap you head around this concept, the better off you’ll be.

How to Make the Two Primary Roles of Persuasion Work for You

To understand what persuasion can do for you and your career, you must understand the two fundamental roles of persuasion. 

The first involves getting someone to say “yes” to your offer or request — to buy your product, agree to your idea or take you up on your suggestion. Persuasion helps you get someone to willingly do something. You may want that person to:

  • Approve a higher headcount: “Will you sign off on my four new field sales positions?”
  • Enter into a business relationship: “Do we have a deal?”
  • Support your initiative: Will you back my proposal at the board meeting?”

The second role of persuasion — and one that many people overlook — is getting someone to not
do something, to dissuade them from taking action you feel might be harmful, such as using a particular supplier or launching a particular product. For example:   

  • Do not go ahead with a new business partnership: “That firm is just bouncing back from bankruptcy; do you think we should partner with it?”
  • Discontinue, or at least rethink, an existing initiative: “Our East Coast teams aren’t seeing much client interest.”
  • Change a decision, or at least continue due diligence: “Do you truly think he is the right person for the job? If we keep looking, we might be able to find a better fit.”

Law enforcement officers in some cities use the power of dissuasion very effectively. When bicycle thefts are widespread, for example, they employ a special task force to use GPS-tagged bait bikes to catch would-be thieves, which forces small-time criminals to ask themselves one significant question before they steal: Is this a bait bike? 

If you’re going to thrive in the eat-or-be-eaten contemporary workplace, you must be able to effectively use both roles. Doing so will provide you with a competitive advantage, because your competitors are more than likely not focusing on their own persuasion skills.

But you are.

7 Ways You Can ‘See’ Trust

Some people say you can’t see trust. I say you can. 

How can you tell if you’re making headway with your persuasion target in such areas as trust and credibility? By consistently observing your target’s actions — or inactions — to determine the degree to which you’re winning over the other person.

Here are seven pieces of evidence of things unseen:

1. Your target volunteers information that is not requested. “You’ll also need this, which is a study done a year ago. Not many people are familiar with it, but it’s exactly what you’ll need.” If your target didn’t trust you, you’d never see that report.

2. Your target shares humor. “Just to show you how my day is going: I had a lunch meeting and went to the wrong restaurant. And I was the guy who made the reservation!”  A comment like that reveals that the target is willing to let down his guard with you.

3. Your target accepts pushback and contrary views. I see your point. I hadn’t thought of the impact on our European operations. I’ll have to consider that.” This means your target is willing to consider different perspectives. On the other hand, when someone says, “I’ll keep that in mind,” he’s blowing you off. 

4. Your target requests advice. What’s your take on the new sales promotion?” If the target didn’t trust you or find you credible, she wouldn’t ask for your opinion. 

5. Your target shares confidentiality.The news hasn’t been released yet, but the head of R&D has been selected.” This individual knows you can be trusted. Don’t prove him wrong. 

6. Your target meets deadlines and respects financial limitations. When someone comes in on time and under budget, that means he respects you. Remember, once is an event, twice might be a coincidence, and three times is a trend.

7. Your target provides friendly follow up and continuing contact. Trusted colleagues stay in touch. Can you hear me now?

The next time you’re not sure someone trusts you, think again.

What Will Be Your Legacy?

What is your persuasion priority? In other words, who is the one person you want to say “yes” to what?

Once you know the answer to that question, ask yourself this: Will my persuasion priority impact my legacy either at my company or in the field?

If you’re 21 years old, fresh out of college and starting your career, you may consider your legacy to be an inconsequential and trivial matter. You have the entire rest of your life to worry about a legacy. If, however, you’re in your sixties and thinking about what your next chapter in life holds, your legacy is a significant consideration.

When you reach that point, here are some questions to ask yourself regarding your persuasion priority:

• How will others view this action or attempt in the future?

• Will it be seen as self-serving or as contributing to the larger group? 

• Will it be seen as the act of a confident and conscientious member of the team or as something done from an insecure position?

• Are your efforts an attempt to leave a stronger company in your wake? Develop future organization leaders? Preserve personal records or accomplishments?

Even if you’re not nearing the end of your time at a company or in a career, it’s still wise to consider these questions now. Your actions today will contribute to your legacy tomorrow.

Don’t Be a Fool When Seeking Persuasion Success

The best way to minimize the likelihood of taking a foolish persuasion risk is to ask questions first and seek agreement later.

Like this:

“What’s your view on the new ad campaign?”

“In your opinion, are new research protocols available that can accelerate the time to market?”

“What’s your take on my performance?”

“What’s your position on the new project?”

You’ll notice that these questions all share a common theme: They ask the target for their opinion, but they don’t ask for a commitment. Commitments are threatening; they require a line to be drawn and force a decision.

People are reluctant to make commitments quickly. On the other hand, opinions are easy to make and quickly shared. If you ask others for their opinions first, you will receive important clarifying information about your target’s thinking processes and be able to minimize the odds of hearing “no.”

Everybody has an opinion, and most people are willing to share them. If you ask me for my opinion, I can’t help but like you more. It’s as immutable as the law of gravity.

Provide an ‘A-ha’ Moment for Greater Persuasion Success

One of the surest ways to remain in control of a persuasion situation is to provide your target with a moment in which he scratches his head and says, “That’s an intriguing idea. I’ve never thought of it like that.”


All of a sudden, you’re adding value to the conversation. You’re enabling someone to learn something he didn’t know before speaking with you. This is a major component of persuasion success. So practice engineering those “a-ha” moments with a series of “what if” questions. This type of inquiry allows you and your target to suspend reality and consider the possibilities.

B2B questions might include:

  • What if you expanded internationally?
  • What if you had lower volume, but higher profitability?
  • What if your salespeople were relieved of their administrative duties?
  • What if you reduced your advertising budget and increased your sales force?

B2C questions might include:

  • What if you could have the new model, and not see any increase in your monthly payment?
  • What if we came to you, and you never had to leave your home or office to do business with us?
  • What if we could assure you that you would always have someone to call if you need assistance?

It’s easy to come up with “what if” questions, based on the circumstances surrounding your target. Such thought-provoking inquiries challenge a buyer’s conventional wisdom. If you can identify sacred cows and change the way someone thinks about them, both of you may be leading those cows to the slaughter. (And that’s a good thing.) There’s no need to be rude or unreasonably abrupt, but don’t be afraid to take a risk and challenge convention.

After the “what if” questions, the next-best way to challenge convention is to simply ask, “Why?” Why does your target distribute products the way it does? Why is customer feedback considered so important – or, conversely, not at all? Why are sales efforts concentrated only in certain areas?

Help provide moments of clarity — and then watch your persuasion success factor increase.