Elements of Executive Persuasion: Agreement and Trust

September 20, 2007

In answer to a question about how to get a CFO or COO to measure performance with from a broad perspective, Bob Lewis at InfoWorld wrote the following: 

The one-word answer is “salesmanship.” In both cases, the challenge is to foster a multidimensional view of the company. Budget-minded CFOs focus solely on cost for a reason. Understand the reason and you can encourage a broader perspective. The same is true of process-minded COOs.

Part of the secret of successful persuasion is to always start by agreeing with the other person. Another technique, which is complementary, is assuming agreement in return. It works like this:“I agree with the point you’re making – we can’t simply spend indiscriminately on every good idea.” [Start by agreeing.] “My point is simply that cost-control by itself doesn’t get us where we need to go – it’s a necessary condition, but not a sufficient one. My point – and I recognize I’m telling you what you already know – is that to accomplish what we need to accomplish we’re going to need to make a couple of key hires.” [Assume agreement in return.]

Or, to the COO: “You’re absolutely right – as a company we need to be more disciplined about how we define and execute well-defined processes.” [Start by agreeing.] “I know you and I both recognize that for us to get there just publishing new flow charts won’t make them real. We’re going to need strong leadership to turn our goal into action.” [Assume agreement in return.]

Underneath the conversations is always the need for the strong relationships that let the conversations take place. Which is to say, persuasion is much easier when it builds on pre-existing trust.

Two things strike me as particularly helpful in this answer:  First, when you start by validating the other person’s perspective, you reduce defensiveness and sets establishes a foundation for an effective discussion.  Second, any attempt at persuasion is easier and more successful in the framework of trust and credibility.  The time you spend establishing trust and credibility is invaluable to yoru career.  To read more about the elements of credibility (which impact persuasion), see http://www.incrediblemessages.com/Articles/cr-04-five-keys.htm   To view Bob’s entry, see http://weblog.infoworld.com/lewis/archives/2007/09/persuading_the.html


How to Achieve the Ultimate Credibility

September 18, 2007

I had planned for this message to continue my series on styles of influence, but a significant event interrupted me.  My 13-year-old daughter experienced a serious accident while biking along a rails-to-trails path in the Laurel Highlands, 70 miles outside of Pittsburgh, PA.  Stopped short by a piece of plastic debris on the path, Meagan flew over her handlebars and down an embankment, resulting in a spinal cord contusion. 

Shortly after, we were driven from the trail by ambulance to a waiting helicopter, and rushed to Children’s Hospital trauma center.  During the trip, Meagan was lacking feeling in her left arm and leg, and went in and out of consciousness.

Whew!  This is an experience I don’t wish on any parent.  I’m grateful to report that Meagan, while in pain and strictly confined a neck brace, is expected to recover fully.

Reflecting on this experience, I’ve had a myriad of thoughts and emotions, many of them about the importance of focusing on things of permanent value.  The nature of this situation, however, also made me realize my dependence on strangers for help. 

We were on a trail in the woods, miles from our car, without cell phone service.  An unidentified woman lent me a phone with service.  An nameless fisherman was able to tell the 911 dispatcher our exact location.  A park ranger took care of Meagan’s sobbing teenage friend as I flew off with Meagan.  While I was calm and competent in this crisis, I was no match for the situation.  I needed the kindness of strangers.

The strangers who left the most indelible impression were the EMT folks in both the ambulance and the helicopter.  Their names are lost to me now, but as soon as the professionals arrived, they took over, and I yielded, both grateful and relieved.  Looking back, I see that I had complete confidence in these EMT professionals to save my child.  Now that the crisis is over, I realize that the emergency workers had achieved the ultimate in credibility.  I can’t help but wonder how!
For one thing, I assumed the EMT professionals were well-trained in emergency medicine.  I knew they came to the rescue of sick and injured people regularly.  They were competent to handle a situation that was well beyond me.  And, of course, it was a life or death situation. 

Perhaps even more important—from the standpoint of perception—is that the EMT professionals exuded confidence.  They were calm, strong, and busy the entire time they were with us.  They asked questions and told me what would happen next.  They inserted an IV, performed neurological tests, and spoke through radios.  These guys weren’t tentative about a single thing. 

Within seconds of his arrival, the ambulance EMT said, “I’ll tell you right now.  You are going to take a helicopter ride.  Children’s Hospital is the place best equipped to handle an injury of this nature.”  I nodded, never dreaming of questioning his expertise.  The EMT didn’t ask what I thought, and based on his level of confidence, I didn’t see the need for an opinion.

Looking back, I feel I was superfluous in this situation, except to Meagan, who was mostly unconscious.  Yet, the EMTs communicated with me in short bursts, knowing that I needed them too.  In the ambulance, the EMT explained that Meagan’s reflexes were working.  That was a good sign.  The helicopter EMT told me when we had four minutes left to arrive at Children’s Hospital.  More importantly, at various points in the flight, he let me know he was talking to doctors through a microphone attached to his helmet.  The doctors would be ready when we arrived. 

It almost seems too neat to have three Cs to cover the secrets behind the ultimate credibility I assigned to the EMT professionals:  competence, confidence, and communication.  In this crisis, it is the confidence that left the most indelible mark.  It was the key ingredient in ultimate credibility.

Competence, confidence, and communication play a part in perceived credibility in all kinds of situations.  I’m still reflecting on how they work together in non-crisis situations, especially when the other person is competent too and has opinions of his or her own.  What’s the key ingredient in ultimate credibility in those situations?  Let me know your thoughts.