The Art Of Persuasion

As a vice president at Baltimore-based T. Rowe Price Group, Inc., Jerome Clark, 45, has found that selling is a critical part of managing more than 400 clients and over $11.5 billion. Throughout his career, he’s learned that all business exchanges involve sales — not just products and services, but ideas and even character.

Clark’s instincts eventually taught him that the most effective persuasion techniques required redirecting his focus. In the earlier days of his career as a portfolio manager, he focused more on his company’s accolades than benefits to the clients during presentations. “I could tell from their body language and glazed-over eyes. It immediately hit me that I needed to make a shift from me to them. Based on those experiences in the beginning, I never start off a presentation without defining what I see as the issues of the client.

“Your audience will be appropriately me-focused,” he continues. “The key [when it comes to persuasion] is knowing what the benefit is to your prospective client or even to management within your company. Internally or externally, the same factors come into play.”

Whether it’s asking for a promotion or proposing a business initiative, your influence on such decisions is determined by your presentation. Understanding the nuances of your delivery to the right person is a key component in the art of persuasion. “Persuasion is simply leading someone to their own best conclusion,” says Dave Lakhani, a business consultant and author of Persuasion: The Art of Getting What You Want (Wiley; $24.95). “We’re constantly evaluating people to see if they’re safe, to see if they’re someone we should talk to. It’s a survival mechanism that goes to the very deepest level of our biological being.”

Laurie Puhn, communications expert and author of Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life (Penguin; $14.95), suggests that the ability to truly listen is paramount to coming up with solutions to satisfy the other person’s needs.

“Often, people don’t realize that they lack persuasive skills until they need somebody to do something for them,” she adds.
So before engaging a colleague, client, or boss in a business exchange requiring a certain outcome, consider the
following information:

  • It’s about relationships. “As the relationship develops, your critical analysis of what the other person is saying or doing goes down dramatically,” says Lakhani.
  • Persuasion is not manipulation. The difference lies in intent, offers Lakhani. Puhn concurs: “For long-term success, you want to practice principled persuasion based on honesty and integrity. It means what’s good for me is good for you.”
  • Embrace the law of reciprocity. Remembering your employees’ birthdays or supporting a team member’s project builds a foundation of mutual respect. “The most persuasive person is the person who knows how to speak in a way that says, ‘I appreciate you’ and ‘I value you’,” explains Puhn. “That’s self-empowerment and it gives other people the power to do their best.”