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Jane Pak Headshot

The Art of Persuasion

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I recently spoke to a group of first year MBA students at USC Marshall School of Business. Being a top tier school, the students I had the pleasure of addressing were bright, educated and talented. As you can imagine, I rightfully assumed these were an intelligent group with the best education 6 figures can pay for.

My approach was simple -- understanding how to get someone to do something you want them to do. Persuasion, as many would assume, is defined as a method of selling. My belief is that, while to some it may seem like semantics, it is less about selling and more about buy-in. You see, we live in a world of anti-sales: we prevent pop-ups, we enlist ourselves on national do-not-call lists, we are informed consumers and when we feel confident in a brand, we buy. Rather, we buy-in.

So to say persuasion is about selling is antiquated and frankly anti-persuasive. I explained to these students, many of whom had just come in from a huge job-fair at the university, that persuading someone to (in my case) give/invest money in your organization/business or (in their case) to hire/promote you, required people to buy-in to why they should, not sell them on what you're touting.

*sidebar*
At this very moment I wish I had the brilliant and well organized bullet points I had written before I spoke. I threw them in the trash hoping some eager and ambitious young MBA candidate would find my advice so illustrious that they would forgo their pride and rummage through the bin. My mistake now glows before me on my screen.
*end sidebar*

Never the less, I spoke from my experience. I don't insinuate that I am smarter than the average Jane, any more clever than your typical non-profit manager or any more advantaged than the next guy or gal. But by understanding this simple concept before I went into any situation where I would need to walk away with a win has helped prepare me a great deal. Which leads to my next pearl of wisdom -- know, to the absolute best of your ability, the situation you're walking in to. Luck favors the prepared. One word -- GOOGLE.

The thing to realize about the entire situation, no matter what it may be, is everything boils down to people. Even the most mundane and seemingly unnecessary situation may require some quick persuasive action. I'm reminded of a situation where I overheard a very powerful friend negotiation with what I believed to be a terrorist on the phone -- it was the customer service person at a cable company. What would normally send most sane people into a fit of frustrated rage, sent him into a zen-like persuasion mode. By the end of the conversation, not only had he received a real apology, he had the cable guy coming after-hours and a free month of service. I was shocked. When I asked him -- 1) how did you manage to be so civilized with this person? and 2) how did you manage to get all those concessions without asking for them? His response to me was "Jane, I just remember that even with someone I'll probably never meet or never talk to on the phone again -- the person on the other side is a person. And you can negotiate with people, you just have to do it the right way."

Wise words -- remember the golden rule and when talking to someone who makes $11 an hour, treat them like you would the CEO. If you empower them, they will want to help you. They will buy-in to your problem and want to fix it.

Another bit of outdated advice is making the ask, I never make the ask -- because the second you come out with the ask, you've now become someone who's trying to sell. If you persuade properly, the decider will ask you and that's how you know they are buying-in. Now, that's not to say you never ask because then...well...what's the point? But don't pitch to sell, don't lead into the inevitable ask -- be authentic, show the real risk and the preparation to mitigate it and paint a real picture. There is no such thing as the fail-proof idea -- smart people know that and for the most part -- smart people have all the decision making power.

Lastly -- and most importantly -- none of this can be accomplished until you have some level of self-awareness. Reading other people is about first knowing and being comfortable with yourself. There are a number of persuasion killers that are all attributed to a lack of self-awareness. For example, some people are too aggressive -- because they have no idea and can't read others and they come off too strong. (completely unrelated, more often than not, I meet these people at bars) If you aren't self-aware, you can't self-regulate. And unless you were born the luckiest SOB on the planet, there's no real sustainability in that plan of attack -- because that's exactly what that is -- an attack. I don't know about you -- but I don't tend to buy-into assaults.

There's a real possibility that this point of view doesn't have a broad application. It's possible. I just know what worked for me. Perhaps, I've persuaded you it might work for you too. At least you read the whole thing.