Advanced Communication Skills: Bring People to the Table and Keep Them There

The person who can bring people to the table and facilitate a consensus has influence and power because the pool of people who already agree with and want what you have to offer is relatively shallow. But, if you’re skilled at persuading those who are undecided or even hostile to your point of view, the pool of people you can work with is deep and wide.

If you’re in business – no matter the business – you’re in the business of communication.

In this context, all communication is about persuasion.

Persuasion vs. Manipulation

Everything you say, write, and do should persuade the other party to engage with and eventually work with you in some way, but it’s critical to understand that persuasion is a process that results in them changing their mind from one way of thinking to your way of thinking and that action must be taken in line with that shift.

You can get people to act the way you want without persuading them. People will act against their goals and values when forced or manipulated to do so. We’ve all seen how people who yell, threaten, and subvert can get their way. Force and manipulation are ways to get results and gain power quickly, but that way is never acceptable or a good long-term strategy because as soon as the victim can get away, they’ll revert to their former way of thinking and doing. We all know that once the pressure is off or more information comes to light, the victim of that behavior goes right back to the way they thought about and did things before.

I define persuasion as respectful communication based on pure motives the result of which is an action that benefits all parties.

What’s your move?

Why Persuasion Matters

If you’re self-employed or a salesperson, you must be able to articulate the value of your product or service and make sales.

If you’re a leader in a company or the chair of a committee, you must inspire confidence in those who follow you and empower them to act quickly and enthusiastically to get things done.

Unless you’re selling on price alone, this is not a one-time thing. You must continually be engaged in conversations that demonstrate the value of your proposition and partnership to everyone around you.

Persuasion requires mindful interaction.

People, not Facts, Persuade

Persuasive people understand that facts alone do not persuade. It is how the facts are presented and how well they fit with the other person’s perspective that matters because if the other party views the facts as irrelevant to their situation or the solution presented as too onerous, they’ll look elsewhere for a better solution to their problem.

Worse, if they agree on the facts and solution proposed and are willing to take the action required to solve their problem but do not like the presenter or the idea of entering a strategic partnership with that person, they will go elsewhere. The result of that is frustration and lack of results and possibly income for the presenter/would-be persuader.

Therefore, your communication must be strategic, based on shared values, and solution-oriented. It cannot be those things if you don’t identify the most pressing problem the person you want to work with is facing, what motivates them (personally and morally), and exactly where and how you who you are and what you do overlaps those things.

To identify the needs and wants of the other party, you must gather around the table.

Bring People to the Table

The table can be conversations on social media, email exchanges, phone calls, or in-person meetings. The platform doesn’t matter as much as the interaction that happens when you meet there. To attract people to and keep them at your table, you must demonstrate your professionalism and that you have the social skills to be good to work with.

Here are some tips:

• Find common ground.
• Use language that appeals to the person you’re trying to persuade. For example, when I talk to athletes, I use sports metaphors and language that includes “finish line,” “competition,” “win,” etc. When I talk to a new father or mother, I use words and phrases that connect to their concerns and our shared experience as parents.
• View yourself and your offering from the perspective of the person you’re talking to.
• Anticipate challenges and offer options that address the real obstacles the other party may have implementing your solution.

It is during these conversations that you will come to understand the needs and wants of the other party and how what you have to offer can satisfy both. You will also be building a connection and trust with the other party and offering a solution to their problems. The goal of this stage is agreement. However, verbal agreement alone doesn’t get the job done, nor does it mean you’ve persuaded.

The True Test of Your Powers

A call to action is the true test of your persuasive powers because many humans are agreeable by nature, finding it difficult to challenge others in conversation. However, when it comes to a buying or buy-in decision, something that requires them to act in a way that costs them something, people are more likely to say “no” or put the decision off. This may seem like a failure, but it’s not the end of the discussion. This is an opportunity to ask more questions and to verify that you’ve understood the problem as the other party sees it. It’s an opportunity to creatively solve a problem together using the skills and resources at your mutual disposal.

However, this may also be an indication that you’ve given all you can and should, and now the other person needs time to digest and answer your call to action after they’ve tested your ideas and verified your credibility.

Give People Space to Digest and Reflect

Persuasive people understand that time can be their friend and that high-pressure tactics are the tools of forcers and manipulators. Few people have the stomach to stay at the table with manipulators. Keeping people at the table requires respect and patience.

Always leave a seat at and keep inviting people back to the table because those who return are often the ones who become the most loyal clients and vocal supporters.

Remember, negotiation is a process of communication. Persuasion is a series of small yeses, the result of which is action and long-term, meaningful change.

Whether you’re a board member, executive, committee chair, salesperson, or freelancer, the better communicator you are and the longer you can keep people at the table, the better your chance of creating long-term success for all parties and being recognized by others as a true leader and someone worth working with or buying from.

Cristen Iris

Cristen Iris is a book editor and collaborator, author coach and manager, and communications expert. Her clients include a New York Times bestselling debut novelist; a GRAMMY Award ® winner; entrepreneurs; and disability, social justice, and environmental advocates and activists. When not working directly with clients, Cristen speaks and teaches workshops about strategic thinking and communication related to writing, marketing, personal branding, health and wellness, and social and environmental movements. To recharge, she goes to the wilderness to mountain bike, hike, and listen to the music of birds and bugs.

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