Persuading The Powerful
We have all been in situations in which we wanted to sway people who are in positions of power. Whether it was convincing a client in a business meeting, presenting ideas to a boss or superior, conveying beliefs in a social setting, or guiding an audience to accept your perspective, we all know how difficult it can be to alter someone’s opinion without them becoming defensive or competitive – especially if you don’t have the authority that naturally commands their respect. It takes more than a mastery of the facts. It can also take charm, emotional intelligence, and verbal dexterity. There are, however, some very useful approaches you can use to help make thought-leaders your allies, and even your champions.
Interact with leaders in settings where they feel secure and are able to be vulnerable.
Every other week, I take part in a remarkable gathering of successful entrepreneurs, investors, politicians, businessmen, activists, and speakers. The group is organised by a master of relationship building. He creates a safe place where attendees can let go of their fears and insecurities, and are willing to be vulnerable, so they are comfortable sharing their private thoughts and valuable insights. The result is that they actually enlist the support and opinions of the other participants without the natural defensiveness or competitiveness often seen in high-achieving individuals.
Approach people in authority in a way so you are not seen as a threat
When you are perceived to not be a threat, people lower their natural defences and are more willing to accept your opinions. You can see this in situations where humans interact with animals. Kevin Richardson, the “lion whisperer,” will walk around a pride of lions until they come to view him as a harmless part of their environment. This enables him to approach the lions without them feeling threatened. The same principle applies to influential people. When you are not seen as a threat, they are more open to your ideas. Approach them with some humility, respect, and collegiality, and you’ll find they’re more susceptible to your influence.
Employ “emotional influence."
In a May, 2015 Harvard Business Review article, “Understand the 4 Components of Influence,” writer Nick Morgan suggests several strategies for approaching people who have greater authority, or what he calls “positional power.” One of the primary strategies he recommends is using emotion. “When the other side has the power and you have the emotion, something closer to parity is possible,” writes Morgan. He recommends being passionate about your opinions, and sharing your own emotional experiences in order to convey the honesty and strength of your convictions.
Tailor your presentation to meet the leader’s needs
Every human has emotional and tactical needs. If you want your ideas to be accepted by them, it helps to develop an understanding of those needs. They may feel frustrated by a particular challenge they’re struggling to overcome, for example. Structure your approach to help them meet their needs, overcome their obstacles, and decrease their frustrations. When you present your thoughts, try to be aware not only of the tactical hurdles they’re facing, but also be aware of their body language and behavioural cues. If they’re fidgeting during your presentation, for instance, tell them you’re going to get right to the point, and then do so.
Continually refine your approach
In order to achieve the greatest possible influence, it’s important when you communicate to take a step back and always look for ways to improve your presentation. Just like the Japanese manufacturing philosophy called “kaizen,” which emphasises continual improvement, you should monitor the effectiveness of your approach, and take note of what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes the results can surprise you. I always thought that the way that I speak, given my Spanish-British accent, was a disadvantage. What I recently realised, by observing the relative effectiveness of each presentation, is that my accent is actually an advantage because it emphasises my unique experience, personality and perspective, and makes my ideas all the more engaging and memorable. Now I don’t try to hide my accent, and have been more successful using my natural, distinct style of communication.
People in power can sense insecurity and weakness, which often diminishes their respect for someone who is trying to influence them. Stop questioning yourself and remember that you deserve to be in the room with the big guys. When people are older or have seniority, it’s easy to think that you don’t have what it takes to sway their opinions. But you may have valuable ideas that someone in a position of power might not have considered, no matter how successful he or she is. You may have attributes and perspectives that make you more interesting than most of the people around you. A great mentor once told me, “You don’t have the right to be afraid. You’ve been granted the right to be in the room and therefore the right to influence, and you owe it to the rest of us to provide your thoughts.” Every opportunity is a chance to employ your potential and demonstrate your talents. Make the most of your opportunities by showing the confidence you have in your ideas, and in yourself.
Be ready to change approaches
The most effective communicators know how to use a number of different approaches to maximise their influence. When situations and circumstances change, you should be able to alter your approach. Different styles resonate with different kinds of people. Be ready with a number of arrows in your quiver, and prepare several approaches to use depending on the reactions of your audience. Some people respond to humour, while others appreciate gravitas. Read nonverbal cues, be aware of your surroundings, and tailor your presentation accordingly. Ask yourself: what tactics appear to work with this group, in this particular environment? If you rely exclusively on logical persuasion, for example, you’ll miss the chance to engage people who respond to emotional appeals that emphasise values and relationships, or those who appreciate humour.
Remember: when it comes to influencing people who are in a position of authority, one size does not fit all. Gauge their reactions and craft your presentation to emphasise the qualities that most persuade that particular audience – whether it’s passion, humour, individual stories, or overall data. Be ready to play a number of notes, and you’ll find them dancing to your song.