!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Persuading an Internal Audience

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Persuading an Internal Audience

I'm not entirely comfortable with the way in which Jay Conger, now the Henry R. Kravis Research Chair in Leadership Studies at Claremont McKenna College, defines the concept of "persuasion" in a useful 1998 article in the Harvard Business Review. Still, I have no problem agreeing with the process he describes for winning the support of an internal audience for an initiative one is trying to move forward.

I generally use the term "persuasion" in the same way Robert Cialdini does in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (included in the suggested readings listed at right). Cialdini conceives of persuasion as what a person does in order to induce someone else to comply with a request.

Conger conceives of "persuasion" in the specialized context of getting others in an organization to join in a collaborative effort to achieve a goal, such as proceeding with development of a new product. In Conger's view:
Effective persuasion becomes a negotiating and learning process through which a persuader leads colleagues to a problem's shared solution.... it involves careful preparation, the proper framing of arguments [to show those you are seeking to persuade how they will share in the benefits of what you are advocating], the presentation of vivid supporting evidence, and the effort to find the correct emotional match with your audience.
An important implication of Conger's concept of persuasion is that it involves considerable dialogue and eschewing of any sort of dogmatism:
Before the process begins, effective persuaders use dialogue to learn more about their audience's opinions, concerns, and perspectives. During the process, dialogue continues to be a form of learning, but it is also the beginning of the negotiation stage. You invite people to discuss, even debate, the merits of your position, and then to offer honest feedback and suggest alternative solutions. ... the best persuaders not only listen to others but also incorporate their perspectives into a shared solution.1
Conger wraps up by reiterating that "people must understand persuasion for what it is — not convincing and selling but learning and negotiation." Somehow, I believe Conger would be better off if he called this process "advocacy" or "gaining buy-in" rather than "persuasion," but I nonetheless admire the cogency of his explanation of the best way to mobilize support for a proposal or recommendation.

1 In retrospect, one of Conger's examples — the push two Microsoft employees made to persuade colleagues to support development of the ill-fated BOB interface — actually illustrates a situation Conger doesn't explicitly address, namely, cases in which dialogue with colleagues should lead persuaders to abandon the idea they're advocating.


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