I’ve flown well over a million airline miles, and I’ve never taken one flight on which there wasn’t at least some turbulence during the ascent. Likewise, rarely do persuasion attempts succeed without at least a few bumps. I call this “assent turbulence.”
This kind of persuasion turbulence occurs when new information appears, people are influenced by other opinions or X factors are in play. Be it a promotion, a firing or a merger, things happen that change a person’s perspective on your request. And the larger, more complex your request, the more important it is for you to buckle your seatbelt.
Just because things get a bit bumpy doesn’t mean your flight won’t end up at your intended destination, though. Here are seven factors that contribute to the inevitable bumps you persuasion efforts will take on your ascent to assent:
1. Lack of trust
You’ll know when trust is missing when your target fails to be forthcoming with information, asks for delays, acts guarded, or is curt and abrupt in responses — or worse, doesn’t ask any follow-up questions at all. The remedy is to be 100 percent candid with your target and address the elephant in the room: “Mike, I know we don’t seem to be on the same page with this issue, but it is important to both of us. So let’s be honest, see if we can forge a compromise and be allies rather than adversaries.” Or this: “Monica, you seem hesitant. Why don’t we talk frankly about your concerns so we can both be more comfortable?” Ask people for the “favor” of honesty, trust and patience, and they’ll return the favor and trust you more in the process.
2. Lack of compelling value in the request
This is indicated by no clear economic return on investment, no personal benefit for the target or no attempt to link qualitative returns to actual evidence. Value, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. And the other person’s eye is the one that needs to behold the benefits of your pitch. In this instance, have your target stipulate what an effective return would be, at least theoretically. What would he like to see happen? Start with ROI, and work backwards, being sure to turn qualitative benefits into quantitative metrics whenever possible.
3. The request is unclear
You’ll know your pitch isn’t working when you’re hit with a slew of questions, insistence on qualifiers, digressions or a lack of focus on what you believe to be the issue. One way to decrease the potential of making an unclear request is to practice your pitch on others first, including family members and friends. Ask for their help in terms of making you present your case with clarity and focus. Eschew jargon and focus on specifics.
4. An ill-timed request.
Sometimes, it’s not you; it’s the timing. Priorities may be elsewhere. Perhaps it’s your firm’s busy season. Or IT problems in the office are leaving employees distracted and ornery. Or your specific target might just be having a bad day and dealing with issues of which you’re completely unaware. You can do you best to anticipate the timing of your request by not asking for something that directly conflicts with ongoing demands. Don’t try to swim against the tide, especially a rip tide.
Practice reversal, too. As a high school wrestler, this was one of my specialties moves. Wresting control from my opponents earned me two points each time. In persuasion, it can get you much, much more. Try something like this: “You’ve got a ton on your plate, I know. That’s exactly why we should green-light this project. I can make sure it gets done right and involve you as much or as little as you want.”
5. Overwhelming opposing self-interest
This happens when the company, the department or the individual has a huge economic advantage to do exactly the opposite of what you are pursuing (or to do nothing at all). This is a tough one, but there are ways to combat it, by appealing to corporate values or long-term benefits. Suggest that your idea will not create a reversal of goals, and attempt to show your targets how a “yes” would support them in the longer term. You can provide them with a quid pro quo they’re not expecting.
6. X factors
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Suddenly, an unexpected “expert,” such as an outside consultant, weighs in on your pitch. Or an unanticipated development, such as an acquisition or company reorganization occurs. Or you learn of a personal relationship that could jeopardize your persuasion efficacy, such as the person you thought was in favor of an organizational shift is married to the cousin of the company’s general manager.
What should you do? Damn the torpedoes and keep your persuasion priority moving forward, irrespective of the new information. If that’s too bold of a move for you, make sure you have a Plan B. Adjust your “ask” in light of the new conditions, and try to co-opt new sources of expertise. If you can, change your timing to take advantage of the situation.
7. Machiavellian types
I’m referring to the people who tell you one thing (to keep you happy) and then do another (to make them happy) Then they explain their behavior as a misunderstanding (to try to make you happy again). They will take credit for others’ work, disassociate themselves from errors of their own and work behind the scenes to reach their goals — often entering and exiting alliances and friendships in revolving-door fashion.
Machiavellian types also hate the bright light that exposes their dark corners, so keep issues in the light. Contain them, because it’s pointless to fight them, and don’t attempt head-on (or head-first) assaults. Rather, give them the opportunity to eventually reveal that the only side they’re ever on is their own.
Next time: Five emergency persuasion actions you might need to take.