One of the most interesting and indeed useful aspects of learning and activating emotional triggers for the purpose of influence and persuasion is that they tend to cut through more intricate or complex approaches; those offered by, say, behavioral or sociological observation. The neurological mechanisms of the human brain are not subject to external constructs like cultural cues or personality styles.
One of our consultants tells the story of a senior sales vice president at a large and well-known corporation who had invested in an elaborate and costly process of customer segmentation as a way to improve selling performance. I wish I could report that our consultant didn’t have to heart to tell him that from a customer persuasion standpoint, the effort and expense was a waste. But he told him. We didn’t get the account.
The research reported by Chris Musselwhite and Tammie Plouffe in a Harvard Business Review article on “Influencing Styles” is an example of how, without a central neurological framework to use as a reliable driver for what actually works in persuading others, we are relegated to interesting but ultimately vague classifications.
These categories are behavioral, not neurological – useful, perhaps, in determining what our “go-to” approaches might be, assuming we lack any real knowledge or insight into the science of emotional triggers:
Rationalizing: Do you use logic, facts, and reasoning to present your ideas? Do you leverage your facts, logic, expertise, and experience to persuade others?
Asserting: Do you rely on your personal confidence, rules, law, and authority to influence others? Do you insist that your ideas are heard and considered, even when others disagree? Do you challenge the ideas of others when they don’t agree with yours? Do you debate with or pressure others to get them to see your point of view?
Negotiating: Do you look for compromises and make concessions in order to reach an outcome that satisfies your greater interest? Do you make tradeoffs and exchanges in order to meet your larger interests? If necessary, will you delay the discussion until a more opportune time?
Inspiring: Do you encourage others toward your position by communicating a sense of shared mission and exciting possibility? Do you use inspirational appeals, stories, and metaphors to encourage a shared sense of purpose?
Bridging: Do you attempt to influence outcomes by uniting or connecting with others? Do you rely on reciprocity, engaging superior support, consultation, building coalitions, and using personal relationships to get people to agree with your position?
As a self assessment I think this is potentially useful. “We are all aware that people use different influencing tactics,” the authors suggest, “but did you realize that we each naturally default to the same tactics every time?” Yes, humans are habitual. And it takes effort to develop new and more effective skills and techniques.
If you see yourself in this list, just know that any success you have in persuasion and influence comes not from your style itself but from the emotional triggers that are likely to emerge from, or be employed as a result of, that particular style.
The “Inspiring” style for example, is very likely to be activating one or more of the Friendship, Contrast, and Hope Triggers. Even “Rationalizing,” which we know from neurological studies is definitively not influential on its own, can nevertheless play an important role in activating the Authority and Consistency Triggers if properly deployed.
HBR’s “influencing styles” is an interesting exercise, but hardly applicable if your goal is to actually become more influential and persuasive.