How much time do you spend every week presenting new ideas? Working on getting buy-in from your boss for a special project? Competing for new clients? We all spend an increasingly significant portion of our workdays drawing on our persuasive communications skills to build relationships, earn trust, and align to shared objectives.
These communications skills, along with other “soft skills” such as creativity and critical thinking, will only become more critical as we move further along into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. These transferable skills are essential to keeping up with the pace of change as our technical skills become obsolete faster and faster. Consider this projection from the World Economic Forum: Within the next decade, the adoption of automation and AI will affect 1.2 billion workers globally, disrupting an estimated US$14.6 trillion in wages.
Your ability to communicate effectively, persuade and influence directly affects your success at work and opportunity for impact in this environment. Here are five ideas that will help you develop your persuasive communication skills.
Abandon Negative Stereotypes
When many people think about “sales,” they think about a bad buying experience that usually includes an overly eager or aggressive sales rep. We may associate sales with manipulating people into making decisions they’re not comfortable with when, in fact, professional selling is all about understanding another person’s needs and helping them solve problems or accelerate opportunities. When you start thinking about sales as a collaborative, problem-solving effort, you expand your perspective and new opportunities to advance a relationship.
If you know how to improve something on a team, being an influencer is a coveted skill. No matter your function, the ability to communicate your ideas in a compelling way that resonates and helps challenge people’s assumptions is valuable. If you believe in what you’re doing and that what you’re doing is right, you’re not just selling — you’re being helpful.
Persuasive communication is essential to your ability to advance your position. You can’t contribute something valuable without convincing someone why you’re right.
Focus on Being Helpful
I call this the “service mentality.” When your goal is to convince or persuade someone, don’t focus on how you can get them to do something. Instead, focus on how you can be helpful. Think about the other person’s goals and objectives and how you can help get them there.
When trying to understand where someone else is coming from, follow this classic communication principle: Seek first to understand. Then be understood. Leaders are listeners, and active listening is an essential part of effective communication.
The best salespeople are both helpers and teachers. They’re trustworthy, likable, collaborative and curious. They make an effort to uncover and describe someone’s problem and then demonstrate how their solution can help.
Content might be king, but context closes deals. If you’re presenting a new concept to your boss, for example, come prepared with a detailed business case, competitive intelligence, research, projected ROI, and any additional insight you can leverage.
Ideas need context to be relevant. When you have a good idea or a belief system, you’re going to meet resistance along the way. How do you overcome this resistance? By coming prepared. Providing context to your ideas means being credible, well-researched, and able to produce examples that will convince others to jump on board.
Plan for Overcoming Resistance
In any exchange of information, you should prepare to meet with resistance. I’m talking about that N-O word. Your natural reaction may be to give up or shut down. But so often, resistance can be an opportunity to move the exchange to the next level of engagement. Understanding concerns, objections and barriers is critical to making forward progress. Great sellers view resistance as an opportunity to learn, understand and advance the dialogue.
So, show up prepared to meet the resistance when challenging the status quo. Think through what you expect the resistance to be and how you will respond when it occurs. That level of preparation may just provide you with the level of confidence and conviction to help evolve the perspective. However, it’s also important to recognize that once a decision has been made, even if it doesn’t land in your favor, we need to lend support and move forward. Change is a process, not an event and having the ability to disagree and commit is critical to getting things done.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Asking good questions is one of the most important ways to communicate more successfully. Often, when I’m trying to sell, I do it through the lens of a question. When you meet with resistance, probe. Go deep enough so that you walk away from the conversation with new information and insight. Learn more — their position, challenges, needs and areas of confusion — so that you can help them move beyond their resistance and into their comfort zone.
It’s possible to skillfully guide a conversation by asking the right questions. You’re able to open up many more possibilities by having someone examine their plans and goals through open-ended questions. That way, you can both see the big picture together and figure out how you or your product can best fit into their grand idea.
Show up prepared with intelligent questions. Being prepared for tough conversations beats winging it every time.
Persuasive communication skills are crucial to working from a position of influence. Developing your communication skills will help you navigate your work more effectively, build better relationships and thrive during increasingly challenging and changing times.