Mastering Persuasive Communication at Work: Four Steps to Influence and Success

In business persuasion, most people think when you use logic, persistence and personal enthusiasm, others will buy into your good idea. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong! This simple approach doesn’t work. Read in this article about the successful four steps in persuasive communication at work.

Most business people see persuasion as a straightforward process. They think it comprises:

  • a strong statement of your position
  • an outline of the supporting arguments, followed by a highly assertive, data-based explanation
  • entering into discussion with others and obtaining their ready agreement

Effective workplace persuasion was studied closely by Professor Jay Conger, Professor of Organizational Behavior at the University of Southern California. Over a 12-year period he reviewed the characteristics of successful business leaders and change agents, and studied the academic literature on persuasion and rhetoric. Conger summarized his research in a 1998 Harvard Business Review article, “The Necessary Art of Persuasion.” Although more than 20 years have gone by since then, his conclusions are timeless because humans still have the same motivations.

Conger’s interest focused on persuasion as a process rather than as a single event, ie one presentation. He formed definite conclusions about the necessary qualities of effective persuasion:

“Effective persuasion becomes a negotiating and learning process through which a persuader leads colleagues to a problem’s shared solution.” It is a difficult and time-consuming process.

Four necessary steps in persuasive communication at work

Conger’s research indicated that effective persuasion comprises four distinct and necessary steps:

  1. Establish your credibility
    In the workplace, credibility comes from expertise and relationships. People are considered to have high levels of expertise if they have a history of sound judgment or have proven themselves knowledgeable and well informed about their proposals. They have demonstrated over time that they can be trusted to listen and to work in the best interests of others.
  2. Frame your goals in a way that identifies common ground with those you intend to persuade.
    It is a process of identifying shared benefits in which it is critical to identify your objective’s tangible benefits to the people you are trying to persuade. If no shared advantages are readily apparent, it is better to adjust your position until you find a shared advantag. The best persuaders closely study the issues that matter to their colleagues. They use conversations, meetings and other forms of dialogue to collect essential information. They are good at listening. They test their ideas with trusted contacts and question the people they will later be persuading. Often this process causes them to alter or compromise their own plans before they even start persuading. It is through this thoughtful, inquisitive approach they develop frames that appeal to their audience.
  3. Reinforce your positions using vivid language and compelling evidence.
    Persuasive people supplement data with examples, stories, metaphors and analogies to make their positions come alive. Vivid word pictures lend a compelling and tangible quality to the persuader’s point of view.
  4. Connect emotionally with your audience.
    Although we like to think decision-makers use reason to make their decisions, we will always find emotions at play if we scratch below the surface. Good persuaders are aware of the primacy of emotions and are responsive to them in two important ways. Firstly, they show their own emotional commitment to the position they are advocating (without overdoing it, which would be counter-productive). Secondly, they have a strong and accurate sense of their audience’s emotional state, and they adjust their tone and the intensity of their arguments accordingly.

Avoid the four big errors of persuasion

From his painstaking research, Conger concluded that the big four mistakes in major persuasion projects are:

  1. Attempting to make your case with an up-front hard sell.
    Setting out a strong position at the outset actually gives potential opponents something to grab on to and to fight against. It’s far better not to give opponents a clear target at the start.
  2. Resisting compromise.
    Too many people see compromise as surrender, but compromise is essential to constructive persuasion. Before people buy into a proposal they want to see that the persuader is flexible enough to respond to their concerns. Compromises can often lead to better, more sustainable, shared solutions.
  3. Thinking the secret of persuasion lies in presenting great arguments.
    Great arguments matter, but they are only one component. Other factors matter just as much, such as the persuader’s credibility and their ability to create a mutually beneficial position for themselves and their audience (win:win), to connect on the right emotional level and to communicate through vivid language that makes arguments come alive.
  4. Assuming persuasion is a one-time effort.
    Persuasion is a process, not an event. Shared solutions are rarely reached on the first try.
    More often than not, persuasion involves listening to people, testing a position, developing a new position that reflects input from the group, more testing incorporating compromises, and then trying again. If this sounds like a slow and difficult process, that’s because it is. But the results are worth the effort.

Here’s another aspect of persuasive communication at work

When you are seeking to persuade people to your point of view, you can use positive emotions to influence and gain their trust.

Kim Harrison

Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.

Content Authenticity Statement. AI is not knowingly used in the writing or editing of any content, including images, in these newsletters, articles or ebooks. If AI-produced content is contained in any published form in future, this will be reported to readers.

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Further Reading

Harness powerful emotions in your messaging

Napoleon said, “Men are moved by two levers only: fear and self interest.” Not quite as simple as that, but fear and loss still feature prominently. Many people agree that the two most powerful emotions, especially in business, are people’s desire for gain – their...


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