Lisa McLeod: Become the most persuasive person in the room

  • Posted: Sunday, April 21, 2013 12:01 a.m.

We know who they are. They’re the people who have such charisma and persuasiveness that their ideas get supported, their programs get funded, and they immediately engage friends, customers and colleagues alike.

What do they know that you don’t?


The answer might surprise you. We tend to believe that master persuaders are goal-oriented people who are intensely focused on getting their way.

Yet when I studied highly persuasive communicators and salespeople I discovered a surprising paradox. The most powerful and influential communicators are intensely focused on their purpose and they embrace uncertainty at the same time.

Read that again. Master persuaders embrace purpose and uncertainty at the same time.

Here’s what I observed shadowing hundreds of top performing salespeople.

The most successful and persuasive salespeople — defined as those who drove the most revenue and had the best long-term relationships with their customers — had clear goals for their interactions, AND (this part is really important) they were also open to the idea that things might not play out the way they planned.

Here’s why this mindset works so well.

If these super persuaders had been just intensely focused on their purpose, they would strike people as arrogant or unyielding, and they would get less done. Instead, these powerful persuaders paradoxically welcome uncertainty, and it actually helps them. It enables them to stay flexible, and hold a space for other perspectives.

Simultaneously embracing both purpose and uncertainty enables them to better engage colleagues and customers.

Here’s how you can apply the purpose and uncertainty mindset to a personal situation.

Imagine that you want to persuade your spouse to take a fabulous vacation. You come to the conversation prepared with all the reasons why — You’ll relax, you’ll see a new place, have umbrella drinks, etc.

But what happens if you enthusiastically lay out the details determined to close the deal?

Your spouse may be so taken with your fabulous idea that they immediately agree. Or they might feel railroaded.

Either way, it’s chancy. If they agree, it will be your plan, not our plan. If anything goes wrong, it’s on you.

If your spouse feels railroaded, he or she will put up obstacles. Often it’s not an obstacle to your plan; their rejection of your idea may be a reflexive emotion to feeling like they had no voice.

Newton’s Law of Motion says that to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.

You’ve probably seen situations where someone is overly attached to having things go their way.

People respond by disengaging or resisting.

Master persuaders approach their interactions differently.

They have a plan and they’re also flexible. They mentally hold a space, for the other person’s perspective. They’re OK with not knowing exactly how it will play out, so this makes them more open, and the other person can feel the difference.

Instead of jumping into specifics, the master persuaders start out conceptually. Instead of laying out flight times, they’re more likely to say, “I’d like to spend time together doing something fabulous.”

Then they listen to the other person’s perspective, knowing that they may need to adapt and change their plans accordingly.

Master persuaders are comfortable with uncertainty, because they know being open to unknown information makes the other person feel heard, and more likely to engage.

Acknowledging and appreciating uncertainty doesn’t make you less powerful. It makes you more powerful.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership consultant for companies like Apple, Kimberly-Clark and Pfizer.

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