Q: I've never been a good persuader. It didn't matter much before, but now I'm in a managerial position, I'm desperate to improve my influencing skills. Do you have any tips?
A: Much the most important skill to master is the art of seeing things through the eyes of others. (In professional jargon, this is called 'a theory of mind'.)
Every would-be act of persuasion starts from a point where you and another party may not agree on what action should be taken. Claims, arguments and statistics, however bomb-proof and however forcibly delivered, are unlikely in themselves to convert another to your point of view. There will almost always be some emotional roadblock in place; some element of loyalty or previous commitment or prejudice that's making a change of mind emotionally uncomfortable. Unless and until you have the deepest possible understanding of those emotional elements, the most compelling numbers in the world are unlikely to help you. Re-read Mark Antony's famous speech in Julius Caesar, 'Friends, Romans, Countrymen', for a master-class in the art of persuasion.
Once you've understood the roadblocks in another's mind - and also understood with some sympathy why and how they got there - your task will be infinitely easier.
Some managers find coercion more efficient than persuasion; and in the short-term it may be. In the longer term, it leads to a staff mainly made up of the bloody-minded or the demotivated.
- Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office? is published by Penguin at ú6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: email@example.com. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.