Persuasion can be effective in situations where both parties care about the result in similar ways. Persuasion is an egalitarian technique that leaves intact the free choice of the person persuaded. Persuasion is effective, requires little expenditure of resources, and (given a skillful inner leader), involves little risk. It is nothing more than logical argument—successful argument. It is a relationship in which one person independently weighs and accepts the ideas, instructions, and values of another who elaborates his position to the first. In this technique, the decision to accept the leader’s argument is essentially unconstrained by considerations of penalty or reward (except via the logical results of this “desired” behavior).
When inner leaders use argument, they suspend use of force or the authority of position. Persuasion is a form of give and take in which both parties interact in relative equality. It partakes of the following characteristics, which also constitute steps in the persuasion process.
The individuals in a given communications situation typically begin with different views, information, ideas, values, biases, and the like. Interactive dialogue convinces one of the other’s point of view and therefore causes that person to take action that that person would not otherwise have taken. The members of a given work community almost always differ in their talents, experiences, information, intelligence, and logical capacities. As they interact, they engage in relationships that employ the techniques of persuasion, negotiation, and selling others on their ideas. The context of persuasive communications is in the collaborative unit characterized by shared values, information, and goals. The skills are those of logic, argument, and negotiation.
Persuasion depends on capacities and abilities inner leaders have or control that give them an advantage in rhetoric. In a word, persuasion is the art of expressive speech. It is oratory. The middle-level leader must be more eloquent, convincing, and verbal than others to use it successfully in interpersonal situations. Properly directed, persuasion is an effective technique leaders master as they prepare to lead. It is one of the most effective and reliable leadership techniques in existence precisely because it is so common in social interaction. Almost every communication exchange involves both parties in trying to persuade the other to laugh, to cry, to like them, or in any other way to get the other to do what they want as a result of their words.
Persuasion is a discipline of the mind. It asks leaders to reason, analyze, and examine ideas, information, situations, and possibilities. It asks them to integrate sometimes seemingly disparate information into an integrated whole that is internally consistent and reflective of the core vision and values guiding the work community. Inner leaders are successful in building a work community when they can induce members to endorse, accept, and then incorporate the leader’s vision and values into their own personalities. This task requires that leaders know their followers, know the work processes and the end results sought, and merge all into an intellectually coherent unity.
Part of the technique of persuasion is skill in the techniques of creating communications patterns between the inner leader and each work community member that encourages the free flow of discussion between them. Inner leaders share their core values, but they also share information about the joint tasks and encourage followers to do the same. Sharing data and information can take several forms:
Meetings—both formal and informal
Informal conversations with individuals
Electronic and printed newsletters
Inner leaders adopt an open, sharing, egalitarian mind-set about information, one of the most valuable resources under their control. Sharing work related data freely, however, is not the normal pattern of communications in many corporations. Rather, the norm is to hold data and release it only on a “need-to-know” basis. The pattern for many top leaders is to provide information to coworkers only if their task assignments specifically require a piece of information or other data. Psychologically, it is safer to keep information to yourself—especially negative information.
On the other hand, inner leaders share information about the history of the corporation, current status and practices, and future plans and alternative scenarios of action. They also couch these data in language that attracts others, excites their emotions, and arouses feelings of commitment to the work community. All information about the corporation—its work programs, methods, people, and plans—is potentially useful, even critical, to individual member success. Perhaps the most critical is future information. Inner leaders share their ideas about what the future of the corporation and its workers might be through their vision and all other statements they make.
On that measure alone, the vision statement becomes a vital element in leadership and a tool for persuading others to adopt it as their own. Indeed, keeping information about what future outcomes the leader envisions for the work community effectively thwarts any other efforts the leader makes to secure follower commitment to work-community effort, as this action effectively denies followers direction and purpose.
Communicating to persuade others engages the leader in a complex interactive communication process. Besides learning to be expert logicians and debaters, inner leaders understand and practice sophisticated techniques of interpersonal communication (Bedell, 2001). They are experts in selecting the message, coding it appropriately, determining the mode of transmission, and assessing the fidelity of the information to be received by followers. Indeed, they are expert in all aspects of this core human process.
Feedback mechanisms insure that leaders’ desired messages are in fact received by followers. Feedback loops must be established and must be continually in play in any persuasive communication event. Feedback is an aspect of any communication that lets inner leaders learn how fully and authentically their messages have been received and understood by the receivers of those messages. Feedback mechanisms include active listening, requiring reports from receivers, observing resultant behavior, attitudes, body language, the manner of speaking, and a myriad of detailed actions falling into one or the other of these processes.
Persuasion is an interactive process that can enliven, animate, and invigorate followers and inspire them to achieve the leader’s vision. Both people in this communication exchange are active participants. Each is free to influence the other as he or she sees fit and as his or her skills permit. Inner leaders’ success, therefore, is the result of the quality of their ideas and their skill in persuading others to their point of view. While feedback is important in any communication exchange, it is essential in persuasion. The leader cannot know what his hearers are receiving unless direct steps are taken to find out what they think was said. Argument is futile—maybe, not even argument—unless both parties understand the logic of the other person. Only then can they set in motion further debate to make their case.