How Do You Engage Your Persuasion Target?

Last time, I shared the formula for persuasion success, which is Yes = E2F3.

1. Engage your target.
2. Explore the situation.
3. Frame the options.
4. Finesse the rough spots.
5. Finalize the decision.

In the next several posts, I will explore each element of that formula. Let’s begin…

Engage Your Target

Find the time that your target will be most approachable and receptive. You’ve heard about how some people shouldn’t be bothered until after they’ve had that first cup of coffee, or how the boss is far less ornery after downing a big lunch.

Just as important as when you approach your targets is how you approach the target. Persuasion relies on relationships, so a face-to-face encounter is always better than a phone call, while an email shouldn’t even be a consideration when it comes to persuasion. Consider those methods three-, two-, and one-dimensional, respectively. Which method of engagement would you most like to encounter when you’re being persuaded?

When you’re engaging, either go with a formal meeting (“Can we meet at 8:15 in my office?”) or what some people call “systematic informality,” which is accidentally on purpose bumping into them (“Hey, I’m glad I bumped into you. I have an idea I’d love to discuss.”)

The first aspect of engagement involves building rapport or confirming it. The most ideal situation is you already know your target well and don’t need to do much in terms of establishing a relationship. If you don’t know your target all that well, begin a conversation about a common topic and then eventually transition to the persuasion topic. How do you do that? Mention a project you’re working on, offer help, ask for advice or cite a common experience. Maybe you both previously worked for a competitor, for example, but at different times.

In any case, transition to your persuasion topic. In music, when a song changes to a different key, it’s called modulation. Often that shift is subtle (from C to C#, for example) and almost imperceptible to the average listener, but it slightly changes the mood of the piece.

That’s exactly what you’re doing when you change the energy in the room, ever so slightly. You want to build on the rapport you’ve established and shift the conversation. Here are some tips and language suggestions for a smooth transition:

  • Ask questions: “What do you think of [the situation you have in mind]?” “Do you have any experience in [the topic}?” You may find out that your target is already closer to your position than you anticipated.
  • Refer to a publication in which the topic at hand was recently mentioned.
  • Ask if your target will be at a specific meeting or event related to that topic.

The engagement aspect is intended to begin a dialogue. I don’t advise taking a stance at this point; rather, simply explore the other person’s attitudes. One of the persuasions “sins” that people commit is assuming that they absolutely know where the other party stands on a certain position. But people are often wrong, because of the influence of such factors as geography, constituency, personal experience and beliefs.

Another key engagement element is understanding the target’s level of knowledge. Has he or she been approached by others regarding the persuasion topic? Read up on it? Have personal experience in dealing with it? Or are you dealing with a blank slate?

This is why rapport building is so essential; it increases trust and frees others to be honest, while revealing additional information about them. Engaging with another person and not being told the truth is worse than not engaging at all. The more time you take to build rapport, the faster you can gain enough engagement to explore the issue. More on that next time…

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