The Two Types of Persuasion

Persuasion isn’t a knack reserved for confidence men and back-room gamblers. It’s not a tool that’s used exclusively by smooth talkers and charismatic leaders. It’s a necessary skill that leaders must understand and implement in order to get people on their side. Persuasion is a skill not an art. It can be learned and mastered without a muse.

There are two types of persuasion:

1. Tacit Approach: Has the subtlety of an informal after-thought, a side conversation, a by-the-way mentality.

2. Explicit Approach: Is thought out in advance, and the main focus of a conversation.

As a leader you have two very different strategies you can implement in order to persuade and feel out potential coalition members.

When you are communicating tacitly, you are searching for potential allies, like-minded colleagues, and people who share your basic organizational perspective. These tacit conversations happen anywhere and are seemingly impromptu. They are held over quick coffees and in unscheduled meetings. They are casual back-and-fourth’s that hint at your goals, plans, and agenda while searching for help and support. It can be a simple conversation that transpires on the street or a quick chat after a meeting in the Oval Office. The process isn’t framed and there is no time limit.

On the other hand, explicit communication is an in-your-face confrontation that’s public and defined. It mirrors negotiating and bargaining procedures. All the cards are laid on the table and the question is public, “Will you or won’t you join my coalition?” Corporations, countries, and unions use explicit communication when they sit around the bargaining table. It’s a no-holds-barred interaction that demands a question and response.

Both approaches can help leaders get people on their side, but neither are perfect. By looking at the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, leaders can decide what their organizational needs demand.

Tacit communication chats can help leaders quickly assess initial reactions and agreements. Tacit conversations also limit the potential public rejection. Leaders who push plans on a face-to-face basis that end up failing won’t have to suffer the embarrassment of wide-spread public rejection. Purposing a plan informally and in a small organizational setting can get initiatives rolling with little personal risk.

However, the tacit approach can’t promise timely results. Rather, the tacit approach works on its own schedule and gets things done in small steps. Leaders who persuade tacitly need to be ready to make an ambiguous time investment. Further, tacit conversations are ambiguous and don’t guarantee buy-in. While a leader might assume his colleagues are on his side as a result of a tacit agreement she can be setting herself up for a bad surprise. Agreements made using a tacit approach should not be depended on or assumed solid. They are malleable agreements that are subject to breaking.

Explicit communication builds stable agreements that are public. Since explicit communication doesn’t beat around the bush leaders can rely on the buy-in it generates with more confidence. Better yet the explicit approach forces conversations to have a very specific beginning, middle, and end. Time is saved and everyone gets on the same page.

The explicit approach can be too public and demand a large spot light. The increased attention has the potential of hurrying leaders and forcing mistakes and bad calls. Worse, the added attention can back-fire and create a politically embarrassing situation. Simply because leaders state their goals and objectives doesn’t mean they will get buy-in and agreement.

Leaders need to be aware of the two types of persuasion and their inherent strengths and weaknesses. Persuasion doesn’t require hidden, indefinable, social skills, but rather a clear understanding of your organizational context and what persuasion approach is best for you.

Picture Credit: State Library and Archives of Florida

 

Samuel B. Bacharach

I'm a professor at Cornell University's Institute for Workplace Studies in NYC. I write about the importance of proactive leadership in the office..(read more)

 

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