The Impact of Incremental Persuasion
Kathleen Kelley Reardon is Professor Emerita of Management at University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.
She earned her Ph.D. summa cum laude and with distinction at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst after receiving her BA degree with honors from University of Connecticut at Storrs. Kathleen is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi and Mortar Board.
Her primary areas of scholarly interest have been leadership communication, persuasion, politics in the workplace, negotiation and interpersonal communication. Public Opinion Quarterly described her first book, Persuasion in Practice, as a landmark contribution to the field.
Kathleen has taught negotiation, leadership and politics in the MBA, Executive MBA, and International MBA. For 15 years, she served on the USC Preventive Medicine faculty, developing interventions aimed at changing health habits among high-risk populations. She also served as associate director with Warren Bennis of the USC Leadership Institute.
She has authored 10 books and numerous articles, including three for The Harvard Business Review. Her 2001 book The Secret Handshake: Mastering the Politics of the Business Inner Circle (Currency, Doubleday) became an Amazon.com nonfiction and business best seller. It was followed by The Skilled Negotiator (Jossey-Bass, 2004), It’s All Politics: Winning in a World Where Hard Work and Talent Aren’t Enough (Currency, Doubleday, 2005), Childhood Denied: Ending the Nightmare of Child Abuse and Neglect (Sage, 2008), and Comebacks at Work: Using Conversation to Master Confrontation (Harper Business, 2010).
Her first novel, Shadow Campus, is an inside look at the politics of academia, a mystery-thriller and a love story. Forbes described it as a “masterful debut.” The sequel is underway for publication in 2015.
Kathleen was awarded the 2013 Humanitarian Award by the University of Connecticut Alumni Association based on her contributions to underserved groups, especially in originating and working to develop college prep academies for foster teens (www.firststar.org).
Kathleen is a signature blogger at Huffington Post (since 2005) and also blogs at her website (www.kathleenkelleyreardon.com).
People often think of one great strategy or compelling argument as an effective means of persuasion. In actuality, persuasion of any import is rarely accomplished by a single argument. If that were the case, persuasion would look much like the diagram below, where A is the starting point and C represents the desired change:
A → C
Actually, getting from A to C usually requires at least a step B, and perhaps even multiple steps between A and B and between B and C. A more realistic view of persuasion looks something like this:
A → 1 → 2 → 3 → 4 → B → 1 → 2 → 3 → 4 → C
Most people don’t like to change things that they believe work for them. So, resistance is natural. People also face obstacles and limitations that interfere with their acceptance of even the strongest reasoning. A sure way to fail at persuasion is to underestimate the steps necessary to deal with these challenges.
While the model above is too static to capture the back-and-forth, quid-pro-quo nature of most persuasion, it does provide a guide for your planning.
Suppose your supervisor won’t listen to your concerns about project overload. It may be that A1 represents getting him to talk about the issue. A2 might entail convincing him to listen to your views, A3 allowing you to provide evidence, and A4 discussing the problems created by the status quo. Step B could be achieving his appreciation of the situation. Therefore, B1 might be gaining a willingness on his part to consider a change and B2 a discussion of how to either lighten the total load or prioritize projects to provide better focus on each one. B3 and B4 could then be specifics of the change, and C his ultimate agreement.
Granted, this is a static view of the complexity of persuasion, but it sure beats going in without a plan. Any actual persuasive effort may involve fewer steps than these -- or far more. Adaptability is usually necessary, as well as a willingness to redefine C.
In some cases, reaching B may be the most challenging part of the total effort. Once your supervisor appreciates the situation, reaching C could turn out to be a piece of cake. Perhaps the supervisor believes that discussions about workload are a form of whining. Once that perception is altered, he or she may move quickly to rectify the situation. By contrast, you may work for someone who is quite willing to listen, even agrees with you, but who sees no way around the problem. Getting to B is easy; it’s the journey to C where you’ll need to concentrate your efforts.
The next time you want to persuade someone, consider mapping out what you can reasonably obtain at each point in a discussion, or over a number of conversations. Being right or in possession of compelling evidence often is not as important to effective persuasion as recognizing what steps need to be taken along the way.
Here's the science of black holes, from supermassive monsters to ones the size of ping-pong balls.
- Bonus fact: If the Earth became a black hole, it would be crushed to the size of a ping-pong ball.
Protected animals are feared to be headed for the black market.
- The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
- Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.