Influencing a Senior ManagerGenerally, the best way to increase your odds of persuading your boss to see something your way is to present your case in a way that matches the boss's preferred approach to decision-making.
In a May 2002 article in the Harvard Business Review, Gary A. Williams and Robert B. Miller (CEO and Chairman, respectively, of Miller-Williams, Inc., a customer research firm) report on research that led them to differentiate five styles of decision-making, based on such factors as how long a person takes to reach a decision, willingness to make a risky choice, and desire to have others educate them about the issues involved.
Each decison-making style corresponds to a particular type of executive, and each type of executive is most open to a corresponding approach to persuasion. The five executive types are:
- Charismatics "... easily intrigued and enthralled by new ideas, but experience has taught them to make final decisions based on balanced information, not just emotions."
- Thinkers "... impressed with arguments that are supported by data. They tend to have a strong aversion to risk and can be slow to make a decision." This type of person is generally the most difficult to persuade because they tend to look at things from a range of points of view, which makes it hard to discern and cater to their own personal point of view.
To persuade: "Have lots of data ready [and be ready to explain your methodology]. Thinkers ... want to understand all perspectives of a given situation."
- Skeptics "... tend to be highly suspicious of every data point presented, especially any information that challenges their worldview. They often have an aggressive, almost combative style and are usually described as take-charge people."
To persuade: "If you haven't established enough clout [credibility] with a skeptic, you need to find a way to have it transferred to you prior to or during the meeting for example, by gaining an endorsement from someone the skeptic trusts."
- Followers "... make decisions based on how they've made similar choices in the past or on how other trusted executives have made them. They tend to be risk-averse." Because they are often quite free in challenging things they're told, followers may be mistaken for skeptics. Followers can be the easiest type of decision-maker to persuade because they respond positively if you present credible precedents for what you are proposing.
To persuade: "... references and testimonials are big persuading factors. [Followers] need to feel certain that they are making the right decision specifically, that others have succeeded in similar initiatives."
- Controllers "... abhor uncertainty and ambiguity, and they will focus on the pure facts and analytics of an argument. They are both constrained and driven by their own fears and insecurities [which they don't admit having]."
To persuade: "Your argument needs to be structured and credible. The controller wants details, but only if presented by an expert. Don't be too aggressive in pushing your proposal. Often, your best bet is to simply give him the information he needs and hope that he will convince himself."
To persuade: "... fight the urge to join in [the charismatic's] excitement. Focus the discussion on results. Make simple and straightforward arguments, and use visual aids to stress the features and benefits of your proposal."