The Route to More Persuasive Business Communication
Read time: 4 minutes
In communication, emotion leads and logic follows. Science tells us that as much as we like to think of ourselves as rational actors, the truth is that we make decisions first with our hearts or guts and then milliseconds later come up with reasons to justify our emotional responses.
Communicating persuasively is a balancing act between demonstrating capability and connection. By effectively presenting both, you can increase the persuasiveness of your business communication.
First is the question of capability. “Does this person know their stuff? Can they get things done?” If someone thinks you’re capable, you’re on your way to being able to persuade them.
Second is connection. Remember that when you’re trying to persuade someone, the person you’re reaching out to already has a sense of the way the world works. When you show up on the metaphorical doorstep in a business setting, that person wants to know if you share that sense — if you’re an insider (“one of us”) or an outsider (“them”). Before they can hear what you have to say, people have to decide that you’re in the “us” circle. In short, the second requirement of persuasive communications is the ability to connect quickly.
Social science tells us that about 80% of people’s judgment of others boils down to those two qualities. There is no perfect capability/connection formula; everyone approaches this differently. It’s a matter of finding the right balance. Here are some tips to help you improve persuasiveness through both of these qualities.
- Be provocative. To get people’s attention and demonstrate that you really know what you’re talking about, go against the conventional wisdom and offer some bold thinking. For example, conventional wisdom says that artificial intelligence is the future. What if you say it isn’t? If you can offer compelling reasons to think differently about the subject, people will remember what you said.
- Ask an impact question. These are questions designed to elicit a reflection or uncover an emotional response. What surprised you about something? What’s keeping you up at night? What must happen over the next few months? These are the kinds of questions that draw people out and demonstrate that you’ve thought about what needs to get done.
- Listen actively. Connecting isn’t only about sending messages — it’s also about receiving them, which means you must listen. To show people that you can be the best listener possible, adopt a position of humble inquiry. Don’t just take in what people are saying — go further by asking them about what they said, which shows you’re truly trying to understand their position. The more you do this, the better you will be able to respond with solutions that others will recognize as relevant to them.
- Maximize reciprocity. One of the best ways to get people to agree with you is by finding ways to agree with them first. If someone is argumentative, challenging, or emotional, which certainly can inhibit agreement, here’s a tactic that works: first, identify the emotion or legitimate concern behind their challenge. Then, narrow the issue to something very specific on which you can agree with without lying or compromising your beliefs. Then say, “You know what? You’re right about that.” Or, “There’s no question about X.” By doing this, you validate their point of view.
- Admit mistakes. When you hold yourself accountable for some sort of failure or a mistake and then explain what you learned from the mistake, you show that you are not only accountable but also trustworthy and human.
- Invite criticism. An unusual and memorable way to connect with someone is to ask them to challenge you. When presenting an idea, instead of trying the usual efforts to reach agreement, say something like, “Tell my why this won’t work for you.” Besides giving you more information, this approach shows that you’re open and interested in their concerns.
One final thought: getting good at this requires repetition. Video yourself in action, have others give you feedback, and practice, practice, practice.
About Matthew Kohut
Matthew Kohut is the Managing Partner of KNP Communications and co-author of Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential. He has prepared CEOs, entrepreneurs, ambassadors, scientists, and best-selling authors for events ranging from television appearances to TED Talks. Prominent clients include Fortune 500 firms and three of the world’s top ten business schools. He has held appointments at George Washington University and Bennington College, and his writing has appeared in publications ranging from Harvard Business Review to Newsweek. His next co-authored book, The Smart Mission, will be published by MIT Press in 2022.