Elements of Executive Persuasion: Agreement and Trust

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

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