Just Do as You’re Told!


How to Persuade People to Do What You Want.

Ahh, skills of persuasion. A perennial favourite. How to get people to do what we want them to do. Well it can be tricky because adults are autonomous and self-directed and they won’t do what you want just because you ask them, unless they like you, but that’s not a strategy.

This takes me back to the old ICI competency handbook. Competencies have fallen out of fashion recently amongst the human resource fraternity, but that’s just because they, like most people, like new shiny stuff every now and again. But for me, competencies are timeless, elegant classics. Like a gin martini…

So, what are these persuasion competencies? Well, there’s three –


The first is rational persuasion or, as an ex-boss calls it – LOGIC.

Logic is all about building persuasive arguments based on logic, data and the merits of the situation. Great. Good start. Is this enough? Maybe. Probably not. A lot of rational, technical people never get beyond this because they believe that being “right” is all that matters. This is one of my favourite limiting beliefs. If logic was all that was needed, think how different the world would be. For a start, everyone would be like me. But they’re not.

Here’s something to do – check your assumptions. Regard them and those of others as things that need testing.


The second competency is called strategic influencing, or DIPLOMACY (thanks ex-boss).

Diplomacy is all about being aware of the different forms and sources of influencing in choosing between different influencing strategies.

This is a subtle art indeed and I am not sure it is taught outside of the, er, diplomatic corps. Real diplomacy is rare – it is actual work and it takes time and patience.

Diplomacy is about lobbying key people, but it is also about considering a host of issues, like the politics of the situation, the cultures involved, what the personal relationships are and the importance of hierarchical positions.

Here’s something to do – rehearse the way you wish to influence a situation, identify possible alternatives and then discuss them with someone who likes you.


The third persuasion competence is called concern for impact, or as the same ex-boss calls it, EMPATHY.

Actively anticipating and responding to the feelings, needs and concerns of others. Your logical argument may offer the greatest good for the greatest number of people, but if it’s my garden that’s being turned into the high speed rail link, forgive me for not seeing your point of view. Now that’s extreme and concern for impact is often more subtle.

Here’s something to do – ask yourself what it might be costing others to agree with you and build their concerns into your proposals.

Take this a bit further – in agreeing with you and supporting you, what’s in it for them? Nothing? No organisation ever did anything. People do stuff. And if can give them a personal win out of the decision you will be attractive.

I’m not talking underhand here – I’m talking about them getting something that is congruent with their self-image, their identity. If they want to be seen as innovative, make agreeing with you the innovative thing to do. If they want to be seen as offering security to their organisation, make your offer representative of security. If they are sufficiently senior to be turned on by courses of action that are transformational or dare I even say transcendent, and what you propose is these things, you have cracked it indeed. You are a master persuader.

Now this is all a bit of a performance and you won’t want to take it to the n-th degree for the small stuff, but when there’s big stuff at stake, it’s worth spending the time.

Logic, diplomacy and empathy – it’s usually takes all three to get what you want.

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