ECESSARY ART OF

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ECESSARY ART OF

GThe language of leadership is misunderstood,and more essential than ever.underutilizedTECESSARY ART OFOBY ]AY A. CONGER


THERE EVER WAS A TIME for businesspeople to learn the fine artof persuasion^ it is now. Gone are the command-and-control days ofexecutives managing hy decree. Today husinesses are run largely hyeross-functional teams of peers and populated hy hahy hoomers andtheir Generation X offspring, who show little tolerance for unquestionedauthority. Electronic cominunication and glohalization havefurther eroded the traditional hierarchy, as ideas and people flow morefreely than ever around organizations and as decisions get made closerto the markets. These fundamental changes, more than a decade inthe making hut now firmly part of the economic landscape, essentiallycome down to this: work today gets done in an environment where


THE NECESSARY ART OF PERSUASIONTWELVE YEARS OF WATCHING AND LISTENINGThe ideas behind this article spring from three streamsof research.For the last 12 years as both an academic and as aconsultant, I have been studying 23 senior businessleaders who have shown themselves to be effectivechange agents. Specifically, I have investigated howthese individuals use language to motivate their employees,articulate vision and strategy, and mobilizetheir organizations to adapt to challenging businessenvironments.Four years ago, I started a second stream of researchexploring the capabilities and characteristics of successfulcross-functional team leaders. The core of mydatabase comprised interviews with and observationsof 18 individuals working in a range of U.S. and Canadiancompanies. These were not senior leaders as inmy earlier studies but low- and middle-level managers.Along with interviewing the colleagues of thesepeople, I also compared their skills with those of otherteam leaders-in particular, with the leaders of lesssuccessful cross-functional teams engaged in similarinitiatives within the same companies. Again, my focuswas on language, but I also studied the influence ofinterpersonal skills.The similarities in the persuasion skills possessedby both the change-agent leaders and effective teamleaders prompted me to explore the academic literatureon persuasion and rhetoric, as well as on the art ofgospel preaching. Meanwhile, to learn how most managersapproach the persuasion process, I observed severaldozen managers in company meetings, and I employedsimulations in company executive-educationprograms where groups of managers had to persuadeone another on hypothetical business objectives.Finally, I selected a group of 14 managers known fortheir outstanding abilities in constructive persuasion.For several months, I interviewed them and their colleaguesand observed them in actual work situations.people don't just ask What should I do? but Whyshould I do it?To answer this why question effectively is to persuade.Yet many businesspeople misunderstandpersuasion, and more still underutilize it. The reason?Persuasion is widely perceived as a skill reservedfor selling products and closing deals. It isalso commonly seen as just another form of lnanipulation-deviousand to be avoided. Certainly, persuasioncan be used in selling and deal-clinchingsituations, and it can be misused to manipulatepeople. But exercised constructively and to its fullpotential, persuasion supersedes sales and is quitethe opposite of deception. Effeetive persuasion becoinesa negotiating and learning process throughwhich a persuader leads colleagues to a problem'sshared solution. Persuasion does indeed involvemoving people to a position they don't currentlyhold, but not by begging or cajoling. Instead, itinvolves careful preparation, the proper framing ofarguments, the presentation of vivid supportingevidence, and the effort to find the correct emotionalmatch with your audience.Jay A. Conger is a professor of organizational behavior althe University of Southern California's Marshall Schoolof Business in Los Angeles, where he directs the LeadershipInstitute. He is the author of Winning 'Em Over:A New Model for Managing in the Age of Persuasion(Simon &) Schuster, 1998).Effective persuasion is a difficult and timeconsumingproposition, but it may aiso be morepowerful than the command-and-control managerialmodel it succeeds. As AlliedSignal's CEOLawrence Bossidy said recently, "The day whenyou could yell and scream and beat people into goodperformance is over. Today you have to appeal tothem by helping them see how they can get fromhere to there, by establishing some credibility, andby giving them some reason and help to get there.Do all those things, and they'll knock down doors."In essence, he is describing persuasion-now morethan ever, the language of business leadership.Think for a moment of your definition of persuasion.If you are like most businesspeople I haveencountered [see the insert "Twelve Years of Watchingand Listening"), you see persuasion as a relativelystraightforward process. First, you stronglystate your position. Second, you outline the supportingarguinents, followed by a highly assertive,data-based exposition. Finally, you enter the dealmakingstage and work toward a "close." In otherwords, you use logic, persistence, and personalenthusiasm to get others to buy a good idea. The realityis that following this process is one surefireway to fail at persuasion. (See the insert "Four WaysNot to Persuade.")What, then, constitutes effective persuasion? Ifpersuasion is a learning and negotiating process,then in the most general terms it involves phases of86 ARTWORK BY DAVID JOHNSON


THE NECESSARY ART OF PERSUASIONdiscovery, preparation, and dialogue. Getting readyto persuade colleagues can take weeks or months ofplanning as you learn about your audience and theposition you intend to argue. Before they even startto talk, effective persuaders have considered theirpositions from every angle. What investments intime and money will my position require from others?Is my supporting evidence weak in any way?Are there alternative positions I need to examine?Dialogue happens before and during the persuasionprocess. Before the process begins, effectivepersuaders use dialogue to learn more about theiraudience's opinions, concerns, and perspectives.During the process, dialogue continues to be a formof learning, but it is also the beginning of the negotiationstage. You invite people to discuss, even debate,the merits of your position, and then to offerhonest feedback and suggest alternative solutions.That may sound like a slow way to achieve yourgoal, but effective persuasion is about testing andrevising ideas in concert with your colleagues' concernsand needs. In fact, the best persuaders notonly listen to others but also incorporate their perspectivesinto a shared solution.Persuasion, in other words, often involvesindeed,demands-compromise. Perhaps that iswhy the inost effective persuaders seein to sharea common trait: they arc open-minded, never dogmatic.They enter the persuasion process preparedto adjust their viewpoints and incorporate others'ideas. That approach to persuasion is, interestingly,highly persuasive in itself. When colleagues seethat a persuader is eager to hear their views andwilling to make changes in response to their needsand concerns, they respond very positively. Theytrust the persuader more and listen more attentively.They don't fear being bowled over or manipulated.They see the persuader as ficxible and arethus more willing to make sacrifices themselves.Because that is such a powerful dynamic, good persuadersoften enter the persuasion process withjudicious compromises already prepared.Four Essential StepsEffective persuasion involves four distinct and essentialsteps. First, effective persuaders establishcredibility. Second, they frame their goals in a wayFOUR WAYS NOT TO PERSUADEIn my work with managers as a researcher and as aconsultant, I have had the unfortunate opportunity tosee executives fail miserably at persuasion. Here arethe four most common mistakes people make:1. They attempt to make their case with an up-fiont,hard sell. I call this the |ohn Wayne approach. Managersstrongly state their position at the outset, andthen through a process of persistence, logic, and exuberance,they try to push the idea to a close. In reality,setting out a strong position at the start of a persuasioneffort gives potential opponents something tograb onto-and fight against. It's far better to presentyour position with the finesse and reserve of a liontamer, who engages his "partner" by showing himthe legs of a chair. In other words, effective persuadersdon't begin the process by giving their colleagues aclear target in which to set their jaws.2. They resist compromise. Too many managers seecompromise as surrender, but it is essential to constructivepersuasion. Before people buy into a proposal,they want to see that the persuader is flexible enoughto respond to their concerns. Compromises can oftenlead to better, more sustainable shared solutions.By not compromising, ineffective persuaders unconsciouslysend the message that they think persuasionis a one-way street. But persuasion is a process ofgive-and-take. Kathleen Reardon, a professor of organizationalbehavior at the University of Southern California,points out that a persuader rarely changes anotherperson's behavior or viewpoint without alteringhis or her own in the process. To persuade meaningfully,we must not only listen to others but also incorporatetheir perspectives into our own.3. They think the secret of persuasion lies in presentinggreat arguments. In persuading people tochange their minds, great arguments matter. No doubtahout it. But arguments, per se, are only one part of theequation. Other factors matter just as much, such asthe persuader's credibility and his or her ahiUty to createa proper, mutually beneficial frame for a position,connect on the right emotional level with an audience,and communicate through vivid language thatmakes arguments come alive.4. They assume persuasion is a one-shot effort. Persuasionis a process, not an event. Rarely, if ever, is itpossihle to arrive at a shared solution on the first try.More often than not, persuasion involves listening topeople, testing a position, developing a new positionthat refiects input from the group, more testing, incorporatingcompromises, and then trying again. If thissounds like a slow and difficult process, that's becauseit is. But the results are worth the effort.HARVARD BUSINESS KEVIEW May-|uno 1998 87


THE NECESSARY ART OF PERSUASIONthat identifies common ground with those they intendto persuade. Third, they reinforce their positionsusing vivid language and compelling evidence.And fourth, they connect emotionally w^iththeir audience. As one of the most effeetive executivesin our research commented, "The most valuablelesson I've learned about persuasion over theyears is that there's just as much strategy in howyou present your position as in the position itself.In fact, I'd say the strategy of presentation is themore eritical."Establish credibility. The first hurdle persuadersmust overcome is their own credibility. A persuadercan't advocate a nev^' or eontrarian position withouthaving people wonder, Can we trust this individual'sperspectives and opinions? Such a reaction isunderstandable. After all, allowing oneself to bepersuaded is risky, because any new initiative demandsa commitment of time and resources. Yeteven though persuaders must have high credibility,our research strongly suggests that most managersoverestimate tbeir own credibility - considerably.In the workplace, credibility grows out of twosources: expertise and relationships. People are consideredto have higb levels of expertise if they bavea history of sound judgment or have proven tbemselvesknowledgeable and well informed abouttheir proposals. For example, in proposing a newproduet idea, an effeetive persuader would need tobe perceived as possessing a tborougb understandingof tbe product-its specifications, target markets,customers, and competing products. A historyof prior successes would further strengthen tbe perivi^'iVtsironeiv >si.^.rs are in Ihcovereslimi: thesuadcr's perceived expertise. One extremely suecessfulexecutive in our research bad a track recordof 14 years of devising higbly effective advertisingcampaigns. Not surprisingly, be bad an easy timewinning colleagues over to bis position. Anotbermanager bad a track record of seven successfulnew-product launcbes in a period of five years. He,too, bad an advantage wben it came to persuadingbis coUeagiies to support bis next new idea.On tbe relationsbip side, people witb bigb credibilityhave demonstrated-again, usually overtime - tbat they can be trusted to listen and to workin tbe best interests of otbers. Tbey bave also consistentlysbown strong emotional cbaraeter and integrity,-tbat is, tbey are not known for mood extremesor inconsistent performance. Indeed, peoplewho are known to be bonest, steady, and reliablebave an edge wben going into any persuasion situation.Because tbeir relationsbips are robust, tbeyare more apt to be given tbe benefit of tbe doubt.One effective persuader in our researcb was consideredby colleagues to be remarkably trustwortbyand fair; many people confided in her. In addition,she generously shared credit for good ideas and providedstaff witb exposure to tbe company's seniorexecutives. This woman bad built strong relationsbips,which ineant her staff and peers were alwayswilling to consider seriously wbat sbe proposed.If expertise and relationships determine credibility,it is crucial that you undertake an bonest assessmentof wbere you stand on both criteria beforebeginning to persuade. To do so, first step baek andask yourself tbe following questions related to expertise:How will otbers pereeive my knowledgeabout tbe strategy, product, or change I am proposing?Do I have a track record in tbis area tbat otbersknow about and respect? Tben, to assess thestrength of your relationship credibility, ask yourself.Do tbose I am boping to persuade see me ashelpful, trustwortby, and supportive? Will tbey seeme as someone in sync witb tbem-emotionally,intellectually, and politically-on issues like thisone? Finally, it is important to note that it is notenough to get your own read on tbese matters. Youmust also test your answers witb colleaguesyou trust to give you a realitycbeek. Only tben will you bave acomplete picture of your credibility.In most eases, tbat exercise helpspeople discover tbat tbey bave somemeasure of weakness, eitber on tbeexpertise or on tbe relationsbip side ofcredibility. Tbe challenge tben becomesto fill in sueb gaps.In general, if your area of weaknessis on the expertise side, you bave several options:• First, you can learn more about tbe complexitiesof your position tbrougb either formal or informaleducation and tbrougb conversations witb knowledgeableindividuals. You migbt also get more relevantexperience on the job by asking, for instance,to be assigned to a team that would increase yourinsight into particular markets or products.• Anotber alternative is to birc someone to bolsteryour expertise-for example, an industry consultantor a recognized outside expert, such as a profes-88HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW May-June 1998


THE NECESSARY ART OF PERSUASIONsor. Either one may have the knowledge and experiencerequired to support your position effectively.Similarly, you inay tap experts within your organizationto advocate your position. Tbeir credibilitybecomes a substitute for your own.• You can also utilize other outside sources of inforlnationto support your position, such as respectedbusiness or trade periodicals, books,independently produced reports, andlectures by experts. In our research,one executive from the clothing industrysuccessfully persuaded his companyto reposition an entire productline to a more youthful market afterbolstering his credibility with articlesby a noted demographer in two highlyregarded journals and with two independentmarket-research studies.• Finally, you may launch pilot projects to demonstrateon a small scale your expertise and the valueof your ideas.As for filling in the relationship gap:• You should make a concerted effort to meet oneon-onewith all the key people you plan to persuade.This is not the time to outline your positionbut rather to get a range of perspectives on the issueat hand. If you have the time and resources, youshould even offer to help these people with issuesthat concern them.• Another option is to involve like-minded coworkerswho already have strong relationships with youraudience. Again, that is a matter of seeking out substituteson your own behalf.For an example of how these strategies can be putto work, consider the case of a chief operating officerof a large retail bank, whom we will call TomSmith. Although he was new to his job. Smith ardentlywanted to persuade the senior managementteam that the company was in serious trouble. Hebelieved that the bank's overhead was excessiveand would jeopardize its position as the industryentered a more competitive era. Most of his colleagues,however, did not see the potential seriousnessof the situation. Because the bank had beenenormously successful in recent years, they believedchanges in the industry posed little danger.In addition to being newly appointed. Smith hadanother problem: his career had been in financialservices, and he was considered an outsider in theWorld of retail banking. Thus he had few personalconnections to draw on as he made his case, norWas he perceived to be particularly knowledgeableabout marketplace exigencies.As a first step in establishing credibility. Smithhired an external consultant with respected credentialsin the industry who showed that the bank wasindeed poorly positioned to be a low-cost producer.In a series of interactive presentations to the bank'stop-level management, the consultant revealedhow the company's leading competitors were takingaggressive actions to contain operating costs.He made it clear from these presentations that notA pei'siiader should make aconceited effort to meet one-on-onewith all the key people he or sheplans to persuade.cutting costs would soon cause the bank to falldrastically behind the competition. These findingswere then distributed in written reports that eirculatedthroughout the bank.Next, Smith determined that the bank's branchmanagers were critical to his campaign. The buy-inof those respected and informed individuals wouldsignal to others in the company that his concernswere valid. Moreover, Smith looked to the branchmanagers because he believed that tbey could increasehis expertise about marketplace trends andalso help him test his own assumptions. Thus, forthe next three months, he visited every branch inhis region of Ontario, Canada-135 in all. Duringeach visit, he spent time with branch managers, listeningto their perceptions of the bank's strengthsand weaknesses. He learned firsthand about thecompetition's initiatives and customer trends, andhe solicited ideas for improving the bank's servieesand niinimizing costs. By the time he was through.Smith had a broad perspective on the bank's futurethat few people even in senior management possessed.And he had built dozens of relationships inthe process.Finally, Smith launched some small but highlyvisible initiatives to demonstrate his expertise andeapabilities. Eor example, he was eoncerned aboutslow growth ill the company's mortgage businessand the loan offieers' resulting slip in morale. So hedevised a program in which new mortgage customerswould make no payments for the first 90days. The initiative proved remarkably successful,and in short order Smith appeared to be a far moresavvy retail banker than anyone had assumed.Another example of how to establish credibilityconies from Microsoft. In 1990, two product-developmentmanagers, Karen Fries and Barry Linnett,HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW May-juuc 1998 89


THE NECESSARY ART OF PERSUASIONcame to believe that the market would greatly welcomesoftware that featured a "social interface."They envisioned a package that would employ animatedhuman and animal characters to show usershow to go ahout their computing tasks.Inside Microsoft, however, employees had immediateeoneerns about the eoneept. Software programmersridiculed the eute characters. Animatedcharacters had been used before only in software forchildren, making their use in adult environmentsIn some situations, no sharedadvantages are readily apparent.In these cases, effective persuaderspositions.hard to envision. But Fries and Linnett felt theirproposed product had both dynainlsm and complexity,and they remained convinced that consumerswould eagerly buy such programs. Theyalso believed that the home-computer softwaremarket-largely untapped at the time and withfewer software standards-would be open to suchinnovation.Within the company. Fries had gained quite a bitof relationship credibility. She had started out as arecruiter for the company in 1987 and had workeddirectly for many of Microsoft's senior executives.They trusted and liked her. In addition, she hadheen responsihle for hiring the company's productand program managers. As a result, she knew all thesenior people at Microsoft and had hired many ofthe people who would be deciding on her product.Linnett's strength laid in his expertise. In particular,he knew the technology behind an innovativetutorial program called PC Works. In addition, hothFries and Linnett had managed Publisher, a productwith a unique help feature called Wizards, whiehMicrosoft's CEO, Bill Gates, had liked. But thosefactors were sufficient only to get an initial hearingfrom Microsoft's senior management. To persuadethe organization to move forward, the pair wouldneed to improve perceptions of their expertise. Ithurt them that this type of social-interface softwarehad no proven track record of success and that theywere both novices with such software. Their challengebecame one of finding substitutes for theirown expertise.Their first step was a wise one. From within Microsoft,they hired respected technical guru DarrinMassena. With Massena, they developed a set ofprototypes to demonstrate that they did indeed understandthe software's technology and could makeit work. They then tested the prototypes in marketresearch, and users responded enthusiastically. Finally,and most important, they enlisted two StanfordUniversity professors, Clifford Nass and BryonReeves, hoth experts in human-computer interaction.In several nieetings with Microsoft seniormanagers and Gates himself, they presented a rigorouslycompiled and thorough body ofresearch that demonstrated how andwhy social-interface software was ideallysuited to the average computeruser. In addition. Fries and Linnettasserted that considerahle jumps incomputing power would make morerealistic cartoon characters an increasinglymalleable technology.Their product, tbey said, was the leadingedge of an incipient software revolution.Convinced, Gates approved a full productdevelopmentteam, and in January 1995, theproduct called BOB was launched. BOB went on tosell more than half a million copies, and its conceptand technology are being used within Mierosoft asa platform for developing several Internet products.Credibility is the cornerstone of effective persuading;without it, a persuader won't be given thetime of day. In the best-case scenario, people enterinto a persuasion situation with some measure ofexpertise and relationship credibility. But it is importantto note that credibility along either linescan be built or bought. Indeed, it must be, or thenext steps arc an exercise in futility.Frame for common ground. Even if your credibilityis high, your position must still appealstrongly to the people you are trying to persuade.After all, few people will jump on hoard a train thatwill hring them to ruin or even mild discomfort.Effective persuaders must he adept at descrihingtheir positions in terms that illuminate their advantages.As any parent can tell you, the fastestway to get a child to come along willingly on a tripto the grocery store is to point out that there arelollipops by tbe cash register. That is not deception.It is just a persuasive way of framing the benefits oftaking such a journey. In work situations, persuasiveframing is obviously more complex, but theunderlying principle is the same. It is a process ofidentifying shared benefits.Monica Ruffo, an account executive for an advertisingagency, offers a good example of persuasiveframing. Her client, a fast-food chain, was institutinga promotional campaign in Canada; menu90 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW May-fune 1998


items sueh as a hamburger, fries, and eola were tobe bundled together and sold at a low price. Thestrategy made sense to eorporate headquarters. Itsresearch showed that consumers thought the company'sproducts were higher priced than the competition's,and the eompany was anxious to overeomethis perception. The franchisees, on the other hand,were still experieneing strong sales and were farmore concerned about the short-termimpact that the new, low prices wouldhave on their profit margins.A less experienced persuader wouldhave attempted to rationalize headquarters'perspective to the franchisees-toeonvince them of its validity. But Ruffoframed the change in pricing to demonstrateits benefits to the franchiseesthemselves. The new value eampaigii,she explained, would aetually improvefranchisees' profits. To baek up thispoint, she drew on several sources. Apilot project in Tennessee, for instance,had demonstrated that under the newpricing scheme, the sales of french friesand drinks-the two most profitableitems on the menu-had markedly inereased.In addition, the company hadrolled out medium-sized meal packagesin 80% of its U.S. outlets, and franchisees'sales of fries and drinks hadjumped 26%. Citing research from a respectedbusiness periodical, Ruffo alsoshowed that when customers raisedtheir estimate of the value they receivefrom a retail establishment by 10%, theestablishment's sales rose by 1%. Shehad estimated that the new meal planwould increase value perceptions by100%, with the result that franchiseesales could be expected to grow 10%.Ruffo closed her presentation with aletter written many years before by thecompany's founder to the organization.It was an emotional letter extolling thevalues of the eompany and stressing the importaneeof the franehisees to the company's success. Italso highlighted the importance of the company'sposition as the low-price leader in the industiy. Thebeliefs and values contained in the letter had longbeen etched in the minds of Ruffo's audience. Hearingthem again only confirmed the company's coneeriifor the franchisees and the importance of theirwinning formula. They also won Ruffo a standingovation. That day, the franchisees voted unanimouslyto support the new meal-pricing plan.THE NECESSARY ART OF PERSUASIONThe Ruffo ease illustrates why-in choosing appropriatepositioning-it is critical first to identifyyour objective's tangible benefits to the people youare trying to persuade. Sometimes that is easy. Mutualbenefits exist. In other situations, however, noshared advantages are readily apparent-or meaningful.In these cases, effective persuaders adjusttheir positions. They know it is impossible to en-When a fast-food chain needed to persuade its franchisees to buyinto a meal-pricing plan that had the potential to eat into profits,headquarters framed the initiative to accent the positive.gage people and gain eommitment to ideas or planswithout highlighting the advantages to all the partiesinvolved.At the heart of framing is a solid understanding ofyour audience. Even before starting to persuade, thebest persuaders we have encountered closely studythe issues that matter to their eolleagues. They useconversations, meetings, and other forms of dialogueto collect essential information. They aregood at listening. They test tbeir ideas with trustedconfidants, and they ask questions of the peopleHARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW May-June 1998 91


THE NECESSARY ART OF PERSUASIONthey will later be persuading. Those steps helpthem think through the arguments, the evidence,and the perspectives they will present. Oftentimes,this process causes them to alter or comproinisetheir own plans hefore they even start persuading.It is through this thoughtful, inquisitive approachthey develop frames that appeal to their audience.Consider the case of a manager who was in chargeof process engineering for a jet engine manufacturer.He had redesigned the work flow for routineturbine maintenance for airline clients in a mannerNumbers do not make anemotional impact, but storiesand vivid language do.that would dramatically shorten the turnaroundtime for servicing. Before presenting his ideas tothe company's president, he consulted a good friendin the company, the vice president of engineering,who knew the president well. This conversation revealedthat the president's prime concern wouldnot be speed or efficiency but profitability. To getthe president's huy-in, the vice president explained,the new system would have to improve the company'sprofitahility in the short run by lowering operatingexpenses.At first this information had the managerstumped. He had planned to focus on efficiency andhad even intended to request additional funding tomake the process work. But his conversation withthe vice president sparked hiin to change his position,hideed, be went so far as to change the workflowdesign itself so that it no longer required newinvestment but rather drove down costs. He thencarefully documented the cost savings and profitabilitygains that his new plan would produce andpresented this revised plan to the president. Withhis initiative positioned anew, the manager persuadedthe president and got the project approved.Provide evidence. With credihility establishedand a common frame identified, persuasion becomesa matter of presenting evidence. Ordinaryevidence, however, won't do. We have found thatthe most effective persuaders use language in a particularway. They supplement numerical data withexamples, stories, metaphors, and analogies tomake their positions come alive. That use of languagepaints a vivid word picture and, in doing so,lends a compelling and tangible quality to the persuader'spoint of view.Think about a typical persuasion situation. Thepersuader is often advocating a goal, strategy, or initiativewith an uncertain outcome. Karen Fries andBarry Linnett, for instance, wanted Microsoft to investmillions of dollars in a software package withchancy technology and unknown market demand.The team could have supported its case solely withmarket research, financial projections, and the like.But that would have been a mistake, heeause researchshows that most people perceive sueh reportsas not entirely informative. They arc too abstract tobe completely meaningful or memorable.In essence, the numbers don'tmake an emotional impact.By contrast, stories and vivid languagedo, particularly when they presentcoinparable situations to the oneunder discussion. A marketing managertrying to persuade senior executivesto invest in a new product, forexample, might cite examples of similar investmentsthat paid off handsomely. Indeed, we foundthat people readily draw lessons from such cases.More important, the research shows that listenersabsorb information in proportion to its vividness.Thus it is no wonder that Fries and Linnett hit ahome run when they presented their ease for BOBwith the following analogy:Imagine you want to cook dinner and you must first goto the supermarket. You have all the flexibiUty youwant - you can cook anything in the world as long asyou know how and have the time and desire to do it.When you arrive at the supermarket, you find all theseoverstuffed aisles with cryptie single-word headings like"sundries" and "ethnic food" and "condiments." Theseare the menus on typical computer interfaces. The questionis whether salt is under condiments or ethnic foodor near the potato chip section. There are surroundingracks and wall spaces, much as our software interfacesnow have support buttons, tool bars, and lines around theperimeters. Now after you have collected everything,you still need to put it all together in the correct order tomake a meal. If you're a good cook, your meal will probablybe good. If you're a novice, it prohahly won't he.We [at Mierosoft] have heen selling under the supermarketcategory for years, and we think there is a bigopportunity for restaurants. That's what we are trying todo now with BOB: pushing the next step with softwarethat is more hke going to a restaurant, so the user doesn'tspend all of his time searching for the ingredients. Wefind and put the ingredients together. You sit down, youget comfortable. We bring you a menu. We do the work,you relax. It's an enjoyable experience. No walkingaround lost trying to find things, no cooking. 'Had Fries and Linnett used a literal description ofBOB's advantages, few of their highly computer-92HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW Mi!y-|unc 1998


literate colleagues at Mierosoft would have personallyrelated to the menu-searching frustration thatBOB was designed to eliminate. The analogy theyselected, however, made BOB's purpose both concreteand memorable.A master persuader, Mary Kay Ash, the founderof Mary Kay Cosmeties, regularly draws on analogiesto illustrate and "sell" the business eonductshe values. Consider this speech at the company'sannual sales convention:Back in the days of the Roman Empire, the legions ofthe emperor conquered the known world. There was,however, one hand of people that the Romans never conquered.Those people were the followers of the greatteacher from Bethlehem. Historians have long since discoveredthat one of the reasons for the sturdiness of thisfolk was their hahit of meeting together weekly. Theyshared their difficulties, and they stood side by side. Doesthis remind you of something? The way we stand side byside and share our knowledge and difficulties with eachother in our weekly unit meetings? I have so often observedwhen a director or unit memher is confrontedwith a personal problem that the unit stands together inhelping that sister in distress. What a wonderful circle offriendships we have. Perhaps it's one of the greatest fringebenefits of our company.Through her vivid analogy. Ash links collectivesupport in the company to a courageous period inChristian history. In doing so, she accomplishesseveral objeetives. First, she drives home her beliefthat collective support is crucial to the success ofthe organization. Most Mary Kay salespeople areindependent operators who face the daily challengesof direct selling. An emotional support systemof fellow salespeople is essential to ensure thatself-esteem and eonfidenee remain iiitaet in theface of rejection. Next she suggests by her analogythat solidarity against the odds is theTHE NECESSARY ART OF PERSUASIONFirst, they show their own emotional commitmentto the position they are advocating. Sueh expressionis a delicate matter. If you act too emotional,people may doubt your clearheadedness. But youmust also show that your commitment to a goal isnot just in your mind but in your heart and gut aswell. Without this demonstration of feeling, peoplemay wonder if you actually believe in the positionyou're championing.Perhaps more important, however, is that effectivepersuaders have a strong and accurate sense oftheir audience's emotional state, and they adjustthe tone of their arguments accordingly. Sometimesthat means coming on strong, with forcefulpoints. Other times, a whisper may he all that isrequired. The idea is that whatever your position,you match your emotional fervor to your audience'sability to receive the message.Effeetive persuaders seem to have a second senseabout how their colleagues have interpreted pastevents in the organization and how they will probablyinteipiet a proposal. The best persuaders in ourstudy would usually canvass key individuals whohad a good pulse on the mood and emotional expectationsof those about to be persuaded. They wouldask those individuals how various proposals mightaffect colleagues on an emotional level-in essence,testing possible reactions. They were also quite effectiveat gathering information through informalconversations in the hallways or at lunch. In theend, their aim was to ensure tbat the emotional appealbehind their persuasion matched what theiraudience was already feeling or expecting.To illustrate the importance of emotional matchmakingin persuasion, consider this example. Thepresident of an aeronautics manufacturing companystrongly believed that the maintenance costsbest way to stymie powerful oppres- . -. «_ 1 1 * 1Ash's sors to ehoice wit, the of competition. analogy imbues Finally, a A persuadcr liiust matcli Jiis 01" Hersense of a heroic mission to the workof her sales force.You probably don't need to invokethe analogy of the Christian struggleto support your position, but effeetivepersuaders are not afraid of unleashing the immensepower of language. In faet, they use it totheir utmost advantage.Connect emotionally. In the business world, welike to think that our colleagues use reason to maketheir decisions, yet if we seratch below the surfacewe will always find emotions at play. Good persuadersare aware of the primacy of emotions andare responsive to them in two important ways.emotional fervor to the audience'sability to receive the message.and turnaround time of the company's U.S. and foreigncompetitors were so much better than his owncompany's that it stood to lose customers and profits.He wanted to communicate his fear and his urgentdesire for change to his senior managers. Soone afternoon, he called them into the boardroom.On an overhead screen was the projeeted image ofa smiling man flying an old-fashioned biplane withhis searf blowing in the wind. The right half of theHARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW May-June 1998 93


THE NECESSARY ART OF PERSUASIONtransparency was covered. When everyone wasseated, the president explained that he felt as thispilot did, given the company's recent good fortune.The organization, after all, had just flnished itsmost successful year in history. But then with adeep sigh, he announced that his happiness wasquickly vanishing. As the president lifted theremaining portion of the sheet, he revealed an imageof the pilot flying directly into a wall. The presidentthen faced his audience and in aheavy voice said, "This is what I seehappening to us." He asserted that thecompany was headed for a crash ifpeople didn't take action fast. He thenwent on to lecture the group ahout thesteps needed to counter this threat. \ [The reaction from the group wasimmediate and negative. Directly afterthe meeting, managers gathered insmall clusters in the hallways to talkabout the president's "scare tactics." They resentedwhat they perceived to be the president's overstatementof the case. As the lnanagers saw it, they hadexerted enormous effort that year to break the company'srecords in sales and profitability. They wereproud of their achievements. In fact, they had enteredthe meeting expecting it would he the momentof recognition. But to their absolute surprise,they were scolded.The president's mistake? First, he should havecanvassed a few meinbers of his senior teain to ascertainthe emotional state of the group. From that,he would have learned that they were in need ofthanks and recognition. He should then have helda separate session devoted simply to praising theteam's accomplishments. Later, in a second meeting,he could have expressed his own anxietiesabout the coining year. And rather than blame theteam for ignoring the future, he eould have calmlydescribed what he saw as emerging threats to thecompany and then asked his manageincnt team tohelp him develop new initiatives.Now let us look at someone who found the rightemotional match with his audience: Robert Marcell,head of Chrysler's small-car design team. Inthe early 1990s, Chrysler was eager to produce anew subcompact-indeed, the company had notintroduced a new model of this type since 1978. Butsenior managers at Chrysler did not want to go italone. They thought an alliance with a foreign manufacturerwould improve the car's design and protectChrysler's cash stores.Marcell was convinced otherwise. He believedthat the company should hring the design and productionof a new subcompact in-house. He knewthat persuading senior managers would be difficult,hut he also had his own team to contend with.Team members had lost their confidence that theywould ever again have the opportunity to createa good car. They were also angry that the UnitedStates had once again given up its position to foreigneompetitors w^hen it came to small cars.Marcell decided that his persuasion tactics had tobe built around emotional themes that wouldll's important for people Lo'stand persuasion for whats-noi convincing and scUingnegolialingtouch his audience. From innumerable conversationsaround the company, he learned that manypeople felt as he did-that to surrender the subeompact'sdesign to a foreign manufacturer was to surrenderthe company's soul and, ultimately, its ahilityto provide jobs. In addition, he felt deeply thathis organization was a talented group hungry fora challenge and an opportunity to restore its selfesteemand pride. He would need to demonstratehis faith in the team's abilities.Marcell prepared a 15-minute talk built aroundslides of his hometown. Iron River, a now defunctmining town in Upper Michigan, devastated, inlarge part, by foreign mining companies. On thescreen flashed recent photographs he had taken ofhis boarded-up high school, the shuttered homesof his childhood friends, the crumbling ruins of thetown's ironworks, closed churches, and an abandonedrailroad yard. After a description of each ofthese places, he said the phrase, "We couldn't compete"-likethe refrain of a hymn. Marcell's pointwas that the same outcome awaited Detroit if theproduction of small cars was not brought back tothe United States. Surrender was the enemy, hesaid, and devastation would follow if the group didnot take immediate action.Marcell ended his slide show on a hopeful note.He spoke of his pride in his design group and thenchallenged the team to build a "made-in-America"suhcompact that would prove that the UnitedStates could still compete. The speech, whichechoed the exact sentiments of the audience, rekindledthe group's fighting spirit. Shortly after thespeech, group members began drafting their ideasfor a new car.94 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW May-|um; 1998


THE NECESSARY ART OF PERSUASIONMarcell then took his slide show to the eonipany'ssenior management and ultimately toChrysler chairman Lee Iaeoeea. As Marcell showedhis slides, he could see that Iacocca was touched.Iacocca, after all, was a fighter and a strongly patrioticman himself. In fact, Marcell's approach wasnot too different from Iacocca's earlier appeal to theUnited States Congress to save Chrysler. At the endof the show, Mareell stopped and said, "If we dare tohe different, we could be the reason the U.S. autoindustry survives. We could be the reason our kidsand grandkids don't end up working at fast-foodchains." Iacocca stayed on for two hours as Marcellexplained in greater detail what his team was planning.Afterward, Iaeoeea changed his mind and gaveMarcell's group approval to develop a car, the Neon.With both groups, Marcell skillfully matched hisemotional tenor to that of the group he was addressing.The ideas he conveyed resonated deeply withhis largely Midwestern audience. And rather thanleave them in a depressed state, he offered themhope, which was more persuasive than promisingdoom. Again, this played to the strong patrioticsentiments of his American-heartland audience.No effort to persuade can succeed without emotion,but showing too much emotion can be as unproductiveas showing too little. The importantpoint to remember is that you must match youremotions to your audience's.The Force of PersuasionThe eoneept of persuasion, like that of power, oftenconfuses and even mystifies businesspeople. It is soeomplex-and so dangerous when mishandledthatmany would rather just avoid it altogether. Butlike power, persuasion can be a force for enormousgood in an organization. It can pull people together,move ideas forward, galvanize change, and forgeconstructive solutions. To do all that, however,people must understand persuasion for what it isnotconvincing and selling but learning and negotiating.Furthermore, it must be seen as an art formtbat requires commitment and practice, especiallyas today's husiness contingencies make persuasionmore neeessary than ever. 9Reprint 98304To order reprints, see the last page of this issue.'Do you have anything that smells like a stock portfolio with a lot of growth potentiaU"HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW May-June 1998 95


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