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The Negotiation Blog

Stop trying to “persuade”

I’ve come to a rather important realization about persuading people:  it’s really freaking hard.

Not only that, when we fail, we tend to fail hard.   Don’t believe me?

Well, how do you feel about the last guy who tried to talk you into buying something you didn’t want?  When was the last time you heard an “elevator pitch” that didn’t make you want to jump out the window?

Despite our repeated failures we believe that persuading or changing others is a necessary part of life, and a core part of business.  But there is something wrong with our concept of persuasion.  There is something deeply troubling that lies behind most of the persuasion theorists’ work and advice.

Take, for example, this excerpt from an article in the BBC today“[I] have drawn four universal lessons about how to get people to do things they don’t want to do. This, after all, is what management is all about, and jolly difficult it is, too.”

Getting people to do things they don’t want to do is what management is all about???  This is a ludicrous assertion.  I couldn’t believe anyone still really believed that, yet at the time of writing this post the article is the second most read and shared on the BBC.

Contrast it with a very different approach taken from Derek Halpern’s recent blog post where he talks, among other things, about his sales strategy:   “I know changing peoples minds is damn near impossible, so instead of wasting time trying to “change” someone, I go after the people who already like me… and focus on making them happy.”   

Derek, I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Instead of focusing on persuading people who don’t like your idea, your product or company, find people that do and focus on making them happy.

That is what management is all about.

About the author: Hi I’m Dan Green, blogger, entrepreneur, documentary film producer and negotiation specialist. I’ve helped executives negotiate deals worth up to 400 million USD. But before you read on…

4 comments… add one

  • Daniel – I actually just read Derek’s post as well, so I got a bit of a jolt when you mentioned it. :)

    I think you make a good point that in the marketing world you should focus on your fans and ignore detractors who are outside your target audience, but how would that work in a negotiation? Would you just avoid negotiations with people who don’t at least have some common interests with you? I’ve read “Getting to Yes” and been in actual business negotiations, but I’d be interested to learn more of the theory behind negotiation strategy and how your point fits in.

    • Thanks for your comment, Grant. I think effective negotiation is the same as good marketing- focusing on common interests and creating value based on them. Even in the most intractable conflicts, common interests exist. I have a colleague, for example, who worked with the Israeli army during the first withdrawal of settlers from the west bank nearly 10 years ago now and the main reason they were able to do this effectively was by focusing on shared interests in their approach- preventing violence and loss of life. In most negotiations there are, of course, conflicting interests. However by focusing on shared interests and creating value first, addressing conflicting ones becomes an issue of problem solving. This, in my mind, is very different than attempts to persuade. Does that ring true based on your experiences?

  • I agree, thanks for the clarification and sorry it took so long to get back to you – been busy. Your point about how focusing on shared interests makes obstacles into problem solving exercises instead of tug-of-war matches is brilliant. Interesting. I wonder we should *ever* use persuasion if we haven’t first established common ground and common interests?

    I’ll definitely be applying this to our expert recruiting strategy at Viibrant. I owe ya :)

  • Indeed. I have recently bought a phone. The amount of time I spent saying No to their insurance offer, made me realize I am a very tolerant and polite person. Sales people are thought so many strategies for persuasion I think that analyzing points of resistance have been completely overlooked. He just made me feel uncomfortable, would I go back? Probably not! Sales for loyalty is not a very good strategy in my opinion…

    What about persuading when you negotiate a job offer? What is your opinion on this? http://blogpuzzlepr.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/negotiation-asking-the-right-question/

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