The Herald (Harare)

26 July 2012

Zimbabwe: Mastering the Art of Persuasion

opinion

GIVEN the direction of business transactions, the magical power to capture your audience, sway the undecided and convert opponents is a must have skill for modern-day managers. In an era of cross- functional teams and inter-company partnerships, masters of persuasion exert far greater influence than formal power structures.

Persuasion works by appealing predictably to deeply rooted human needs. I recently enrolled in a toastmasters professional club after realising that I needed to fill the gap in my public speaking skills.

The club was designed to train adults to think on their feet and express their ideas with more clarity, more effectiveness and more poise, both in business interviews and before groups through actual experience. But gradually, as time passed, I realised that as a manager I still needed more training in the fine art of getting along with people in everyday business and social contacts.

As I look back over the years, I am appalled at my own frequent lack of finesse and understanding.

How I wish I had worked on these skills a long time ago. Dealing with people is probably the biggest challenge you face, especially if you are in business.

Yes, and that is also true if you are a housewife, architect or engineer. Research done by a group of behaviourists revealed that even in such technical lines as engineering, about 15 percent of one's financial success is due to one's technical knowledge.

The remaining 85 percent is due to skill in human engineering, to personality and the ability to lead people. In his book, Robert B. Cialdini said that the "because I am the boss type of management" no longer works.

Behavioural scientists have conducted experiments that shed considerable light on the way certain interactions lead people to concede, comply or change.

This research shows that persuasion works by appealing to a limited set of deeply rooted human drives and needs, and it does so in predictable ways.

Persuasion, in other words, is governed by basic principles that can be taught, learned and applied.

People can learn to secure consensus, cut deals, win tenders by artfully applying six scientific principles of winning friends and influencing people.

Liking: People like those who also like them. If you create early bonds with new peers, bosses you might establish goodwill and trustworthiness.

Sometimes customers are willing to purchase a product from a salesperson who is akin to them in age, religion, politics or social habits.

Informal conversations during the workday create an ideal opportunity to discover at least one common area of enjoyment, be it a hobby or passion.

Reciprocity: People repay in kind. In its more sophisticated uses, it confers a genuine first-mover advantage on any manager who is trying to foster positive attitudes and productive personal relationships in the office.

Consistency: Good turns are one reliable way to make people feel obligated to you.

Other studies reinforce that finding and going on to show how even a small, seemingly trivial commitment can have a powerful effect on future actions.

People fulfil written, public and voluntary commitments. If you supervise an employee who should submit reports on time, get that understanding in writing; make the commitment public.

Social proof: Use peer power to influence horizontally, not vertically. Testimonials from satisfied customers work best when the satisfied customer and the prospective customer share similar experiences.

That lesson can help a manager faced with the task of selling a new corporate initiative.

Authority: People defer from experts who provide shortcuts to decisions requiring specialised information.

Don't assume your expertise is self-evident. Instead, establish your expertise before doing business with new colleagues or partners for example in conversations before an important meeting, describe how you solved a problem similar to the one on the agenda.

A consumer action group reported that a single TV expert-opinion news story aired generates a not less than 10 percent shift in public opinion.

Scarcity: People value what's scarce. Influence and rivet key players' attention.

You might remember the news headline stories . . . "In information just received . . . Some supermarkets have experienced huge businesses by creating shortages." This makes me remember the era of hoarding in Zimbabwe. Some unscrupulous dealers cashed in on the shortages that existed them.

This is the art of persuasion, a lucky few have it, and most of us do not. The frustrating part of the experience is that these born persuaders are often unable to account for their remarkable skill or pass it on to others.

No leader can succeed without mastering the art of persuasion -it takes skill to influence people.

Shelter Hamandishe-Chieza is a Management Consultant.

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