Richard Shell on PersuasivenessThe most recent discussion of Richard Shell's views on persuasion that I've come upon is an interview by MoneyWatch.com's Editor in Chief Eric Schurenberg published on July 7. Shell, a professor law and business ethics at the Wharton School, co-authored The Art of Woo: Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas (2007) with Mario Moussa, a management consultant and co-director of Wharton's Essentials of Management program.1
Schurenberg asks Shell to talk about several central points made in the book, which "is directed specifically at how to be effective at persuading people within a complex organization."
First and foremost is the importance of discerning the other person's point of view and then using that knowledge to shape your approach to persuading the individual that something you're proposing is a good idea. (This principle applies to groups of people as well. You need to be able to determine the general perspective of your audience so that you can design what you say in a way that maximizes the audience's receptiveness.)
A related proposition is that you can't force the other person to change his/her mind. What you can do is remove barriers to the other person's actually hearing what you are trying to get across.
Schurenberg proceeds to step into the other person's shoes and asks about how to resist persuasion. Shell argues,
The best antidote to persuasion is a skeptical attitude. People who get persuaded [to do things they regret] tend to get caught up in ideas that appeal to their self-interest or hold out the promise of a simple solution to a big problem. The best antidote to that is critical thinking.For a more detailed summary of the The Art of Woo, you can read the article Knowledge@Wharton published at the time the book came out. Key points include the four-step process Shell and Moussa recommend for selling an idea internally:
- Polish your idea, and survey the social networks that will get you to decision makers.
- Address the barriers to having what you say actually heard. Shell and Moussa call out five barriers as the most common:
- Contrary beliefs
- Conflicting interests
- Negative relationships
- Lack of credibility
- Use of a persuasion channel that is a poor fit to the audience and situation (see below)
- "Pitch the idea in a compelling way." I.e., the person doing the persuading needs "to figure out exactly what problem their idea addresses, how their idea will solve it and why their idea is better than both the status quo and available alternatives."
- Secure both individual and organizational commitments a largely political process.
The five persuasion styles Shell and Moussa measure in the Persuasion Styles Assessment are laid out in the graphic below.
Source: Mario Moussa (pdf)
Shell emphasizes, "Whatever your style is, it can be effective. It all depends on the fit with the person across the table and the circumstances."
The Six Channels Survey is intended to help Woo readers "understand both how these six channels work and when they should adjust their pitch ... to appeal to different kinds of audiences."2 The six channels are:
- Authority emphasis on using formal position or rules.
- Rationality emphasis on using reasons.
- Vision emphasis on organizational goals, purposes, and aspirations.
- Relationship emphasis on liking, similarity, and reciprocity.
- Interests/Incentives emphasis on using trades and compromises.
- Politics emphasis on managing perceptions and building consensus.
1 Shell published an earlier book on negotiation Bargaining for Advantage : Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People (Penguin, 2006) that has been quite well-received. The book has gone into a second edition; the first edition, published in 1999, has been translated into 14+ languages.
2 Shell and Moussa have adapted their six persuasion channels from schemas defined by previous researchers, notably, David Kipnis and Stuart Schmidt (see, "Profile of Organizational Influence Strategies," University Associates, San Diego, 1985), and Gary Yukl and Cecilia Falbe (see "Influence Tactics and Objectives in Upward, Downward and Lateral Influence Attempts," Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 75, 1990, pp. 132-140).