Persuasion Styles - Barry Johnson

We all need to persuade other people sometimes. Some of us may be fortunate (or unfortunate!) enough to be in a position of authority in our jobs, to know that the organisation’s chain of command dictates that when we say, “Jump,” those who report to us should ask exactly how high we had in mind. But any manger can tell his or her subordinates to jump; not every manager can convince them that jumping is the best course of action in the current circumstances. A lot of managers would claim that this distinction doesn’t matter. Your employees have to do what you tell them – you’re the boss. Anyone refusing to jump can be subject to disciplinary action. But passing orders down in this way without bothering first to win over hearts and minds is dangerous – a lot of managers who employ this strategy may find themselves inspiring compliance but not commitment. If you want your employees or co-workers to continue to jump when no one’s watching them, you’re going to need to do some persuading.

The Persuasion Styles
There are many methods and techniques that can be used to persuade another person, but they all tend to fall into three main styles or roles adopted by the persuader: The Thinker, The Helper, and The Driver. Each of us tends to use one style more readily than the others, and to respond more strongly to it when it is employed by other people. (The style that we naturally prefer to use is almost always the style we respond most strongly to when others attempt to persuade us.) It is important to remember that every person can make use of every style. Most people tend to have a preference, and knowing the preferred style of both you and the target of your persuasive efforts is very useful. Let’s take a look at the three main styles:

- The Thinker -
The Thinker persuades using facts, data, reasons, and logic. He or she tries to win over others using rational arguments, often supported by data or statistics, and sometimes to the exclusion of other considerations such as personal feelings or the ‘chain of command.’

People who favour this style tend to:
• Work systematically through an argument.
• Seek clarification and try to clarify the ideas of others.
• Accompany arguments with facts, data, or statistics.
• Appeal to ‘logic’, ‘reason’, or ‘common sense.’

“It makes sense that we should merge the two teams. A lot of the team members have previously worked in the other team’s department, and merging them will cut down on unnecessary overheads.”

When used positively, this style can make someone seem: Methodical, Analytical, Impartial, Pratical, Thorough.
When used negatively, this style can make someone seem: Rigid, Cold, Pedantic, Arrogant, Unimaginative.

- The Helper -
The Helper persuades by building a rapport and using suggestions, empathy, warmth, humour, and an understanding of others’ moods, sometimes to the exclusion of cold, hard data and practical realities, and occasionally by blurring the line between colleague and friend.

People who favour this style tend to:
• Encourage others to express their points of view.
• Express appreciation for other people’s ideas and suggestions.
• Consider their co-workers’ feelings.
• Maintain amicable relationships.

“The two teams both gave positive feedback the last few times they worked together on a project, so I think everyone would be happy if they were to merge. I know a lot of them are already good friends with people in other teams.”

When used positively, this style can make someone seem: Caring, Trusting, Empathetic, Human, Team-spirited, Genuine.
When used negatively, this style can make someone seem: Naïve, Impractical, Spineless, Sentimental, Pandering.

- The Driver -
The Driver persuades by applying deadlines and pressure and by reiterating or emphasising the necessity to complete certain tasks or uphold certain standards. This is sometimes done without consideration for people’s feelings or other possible approaches, and often relies on The Driver being in a position of authority.

People who favour this style tend to:
• Instigate action.
• Press others to agree with them.
• Emphasise results.
• Push targets and deadlines.

“The budgets for both departments are being cut, so the teams need to be merged. Everybody needs to pull their socks up and make sure that the new team hits the ground running.”

When used positively, this style can make someone seem: Motivating, Confident, Organised, Hardworking, Decisive.
When used negatively, this style can make someone seem: Arrogant, Controlling, Closed-minded, Bullying, Heartless.

Reframing to the Positive
The Driver style probably sounds familiar to most people who have worked in a large corporate organisation. It’s the style often chosen by those in positions of authority, and it’s also the style that’s the easiest to misuse. If you want to be an effective Driver and be seen as a motivating force rather than as a bully who must be appeased, it’s essential that you practise reframing to the positive. This doesn’t mean that you need to mollycoddle your employees or that you should avoid delivering a tough message when necessary; it simply means that all your targets should refer to things that you want people to do rather than not do. “Don’t slow down now” is generally less motivating than “Keep up the good work,” for example, and “Let’s make sure we meet this deadline” tends to go down better than “We can’t afford to miss this deadline.” Don’t phrase things negatively Always reframe to the positive!

Your preferred style
By now, it’s likely that you’ve identified which style you use most regularly. (Whichever style’s “When used positively...” entry sounded most how you would like others to see you is often a good indicator of your preferred style.) You’ll also be able, through observation, to recognise the preferred styles of others in your workplace. It’s important to remember that anyone can switch between all three styles as the situation dictates, becoming more successful in the use of each one with practice, although most people find that one comes more naturally than the other two. We’re going to take a look at one more element of the art of persuasion before we get into how to apply your new knowledge.

‘Push’ and ‘Pull’ Behaviours
An important element of effective persuasion is knowing when to push and when to pull – when should you coax and when should you be firm? These two types of behaviours are known as ‘push’ and ‘pull’ behaviours, and they have different objectives.

‘Pull’ behaviours are used to draw out information, facts, and feelings. Asking someone how they feel about the impending reshuffling of their team is a ‘pull’ behaviour, as is asking them what they think is the best course of action. When persuading, it’s often useful to start off by using ‘pull’ behaviours. Not only do you gain valuable information on how people feel about a potential course of action or situation – information you can then use to work out which methods of persuasion they might be most receptive to – but people are much more likely to listen to you if you listen to them first! Asking questions puts people at ease and makes them feel that their opinions are valued.

‘Push’ behaviours are used to express feelings and to impart information and facts. Telling somebody how the upcoming reorganisation of their team is necessary is a ‘push’ behaviour, as is explaining to them the rationale behind the decision. Although it’s often tempting to jump straight into ‘push’ behaviours when persuading – after all, the whole objective of persuading somebody is usually to bring them around to our way of thinking – leading with ‘pull’ behaviours tends to be much more effective. Once you’ve established how the other person feels, then you can tell them how you feel – they’re likely to be much more receptive!

Putting it All Together
You may have noticed that the ‘pull’ behaviours fit quote closely with the strengths of The Helper, and that the ‘push’ behaviours sound as though they might come more naturally to The Driver. It is possible to imagine the three persuasion styles being used in sequence when attempting persuade someone: first, in the role of The Helper, we might ask the person whom we are trying to persuade some open questions concerning their thoughts and feelings on the current situation (using ‘pull’ behaviours) and perhaps test their receptivity to ideas. Once an amiable rapport has been established, switching to The Thinker allows us to work with the person to establish the facts of the situation, and to let them see the reasoning behind what we are about to ask them to do. With these foundations in place, the person is much more likely to be receptive to the results-oriented inspiration of The Driver, and will go away feeling able and ready to achieve.
Of course, there’s no need to use all of the styles in every situation or to use them in any specific order. Every person and situation is different. Different people also respond better to different styles: someone who is a strong Helper themselves may see the people-oriented reasoning put forth by The Helper as sufficient on its own without requiring the facts and statistics of The Thinker or the go-getting push of The Driver. Equally, a strong Driver may have no problem whatsoever with someone Driving them in turn, and may even regard attempts to use The Helper style on them as patronising or wishy-washy. Bear in mind that most people will be more receptive to your suggestions if you first establish that you are receptive to theirs!

• Even if we are in a position of authority, persuasion is still a useful tool – people work best when given more of a reason than “Because I told you to”!
• Remember the three main persuasion styles: The Helper, The Thinker, and The Driver. Work out your natural style and practise using the others when appropriate.
• Be aware of when you’re using ‘push’ and ‘pull’ behaviours. It’s often better to ‘pull’ before you try to ‘push’!
• Follow these rough steps for effective persuasion, adapting to the person and situation as necessary:
- Explore how the person feels about the current situation. Use ‘pull’ behaviours. Test their receptiveness to potential change.
- Ask questions. Tell them why you want them to do whatever it is you are trying to persuade them to do and seek their thoughts and feelings.
- Explain clearly what it is you want to happen and why. Now is the time to use ‘push’ behaviours.
• Remember to reframe to the positive!