“Persuasion is often more effective than force.” – Aesop, ancient Greek writer.
Personal power comes in a number of different forms, from the positional power of the manager and high-level executive to personal power, where you use your individual influence to help accomplish team goals. Influence itself comes in a variety of flavors: for example, collaboration, consultation, inspirational appeals, rational persuasion, and a number of less team-friendly options. All have circumstances where they represent the best choice, but the best overall influence pattern for team use—especially if you’re not the official leader of your team—is rational persuasion.
Rational persuasion is exactly what it sounds like: without making threats, misusing your position, or ingratiating yourself to your team members, you present a logical, well-reasoned explanation of why you believe your idea represents the best option in a particular situation. During the process, you give your teammates good reasons to make your idea their idea. The more effectively you can do this, the less likely they’ll fight you. As a debate tactic, rational persuasion typically makes the most sense and often works best.
While you can persuade people quite effectively with inspirational appeals—consider the real life Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, or the fictional Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is Good” speech in the film Wall Street—the best influential motivators in the office tend to be those grounded in logic. However, this remains true only if they’re used genuinely. Many of us have been influenced by consultation and collaboration arguments, only to realize later that the colleague has fooled us with a superficial claim. Some co-workers will consult you but not take one whit of your advice into account. I recall one company that put its entire staff through a TQM program that lasted days and cost tens of thousands of dollars—and then ignored the training altogether. They basically just wanted to say they’d done it.
Rational persuasion requires you to be absolutely genuine for it to work. Know the subject so well you can make your ideas appeal to coworkers and leaders alike; and most importantly, have your facts straight, because one falsehood or misinterpretation, and you’ll lose your audience. You can’t get buy-in for your ideas if people don’t trust you, or if you’re simply wrong. Facts are easily checked; and when you bring them together in charts, graphs, and similar summaries, it helps your teammates more easily grasp the data.
You’ve probably used rational persuasion before, though you may not have called it that. A classic SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) represents one form of rational persuasion. Web-based, scientific, software, and similarly logic- and data-driven companies usually respond especially well to rational persuasion. Though collaboration, consultation, and inspirational appeals all have their places, they work best when used in combination with rational persuasion, in particular when directed toward those with the greatest amount of influence on the team.
Bringing About Change
Many of us prefer not to change what we already understand, in the fear that whatever replaces it will be more confusing than before. Here’s where rational persuasion really shines. No doubt you have at a least a reasonable, if not deep, understanding of your organizational and team culture. Given a little thought and metacognition, you can craft your argument to best influence your teammates on whatever subject or idea you really want to change their minds on or otherwise have them adopt.
You can also use rational persuasion to win over your prospects in a sales environment. Is this manipulative? Yes, but debate, marketing, and selling always are, since you want to bring others over to your way of thinking. This doesn’t make it a bad thing, at least if you’re doing so in an attempt to do what’s best for the team or the prospect.
At some point, especially in the team environment, your ideas may suddenly become our ideas. That’s the primary purpose of rational persuasion, after all. Don’t feel left out or offended if no one acknowledges that our ideas were once yours. If you’re worried about getting credit, then you’re less likely to succeed in the first place. Team success is ultimately more important than individual success, and it’s easier to achieve when everyone’s working toward it. In the end, you’ll bask in the glow of accomplishment anyway; and you’ll find yourselves surrounded by a group much more likely to listen to your ideas and achieve your favored goals in the future.
© 2016 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (January 18, 2016). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or visit her website.
 Gary A. Yukl, Leadership in Organizations, 7th edition. Pearson Education Inc., Upper Saddle River. NJ: 2010.