Leadership Series: Influence and Persuasion

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Developing skills around influence and persuasion is one of the core components of our leadership development programs at the Schulich Executive Education Centre. Mark Bowden is a key coach/facilitator in both Open Enrolment and custom programs at SEEC, which partners with many of Canada’s top corporations in the development of a pipeline of leadership talent.

So what do we mean by “Influence and Persuasion” and why does it matter?

Bowden can get a bit primitive when he talks – but make no mistake, what he says is no monkey business. It’s his way of getting us to understand the unspoken secrets of influence and persuasion.

A senior facilitator at SEEC and a renowned leader and speaker in both European and North American training, Bowden likens interactions between people to behaviour among primates and primitive tribes and shows how our basic survival instincts can affect otherwise straightforward communication. It’s a matter of what’s not being said, rather than what is, that gets in the way of being listened to and having your ideas accepted.

In a business, being able to influence and persuade people is an advantage that can help you achieve career goals as well as your company’s.

“A lot of the communication work I do,” he explains, “is about how you can come across as a friend of the ‘family’, in other words a friend of the tribe. We have this fundamental part of our brain that is just checking out all the time, ‘are we safe, are we okay here? Are you okay, is this [meeting] going to be good or bad for me?'”
Before you can influence a person or group, Bowden says, you need to “join” their side and show yourself as a friend and not a competitor or, worse, a predator.

“When you influence someone, you’re essentially joining them and there comes the moment of persuasion when there’s some direction they could go, and you say, why don’t we go hard in that direction.”

“People have free will and can make choices,” Bowden explains. “When they come to that moment of choice, can you and your business be top of mind for them? Or, can what you said have a bearing on the choice that they make? If you can achieve that, you’ve got an advantage.”

Many A-types might wonder if it’s faster to just present a better argument for why a client should do business with them and not waste time thinking about primal behaviour, but, as Bowden points out, that is a critical mistake. In a relaxed setting, people may respond to a well-reasoned presentation, but in a work setting, where competitive stresses come into play, it’s a non-starter.

People size you up before you’ve had a chance to say more than a few words; they want to know, “do you come across as being a resource for them and not a resource taker?”

“They’re not doing that calculation based on ever hearing your arguments,” Bowden explains. “They’ll use a lot of non-verbal clues, for example, to work out, ‘is your offer worth their time?'” In other words, ‘are you a powerful servant to them, or are you a predator?'”

“The non-verbal is the first key part,” says Bowden. “If I don’t do that right…I might be able to sit with you for an hour, giving you the pitch about my business idea, or why I should get this project. And you might smile and nod your head – but you see me as a predator and you won’t return any of my calls from now on.”

One example of a better approach is to appeal to people’s instincts and demonstrate that you are a friend by raising their status. The case for selling an investor on an idea for a better mousetrap demonstrates the principal. A direct approach, in which you demonstrate your expertise in developing such a brilliant new product, can generate a negative response that turns into a battle over who outranks who. The better way, says Bowden, is to ask questions not answer them.  “Instead of presenting at you, I start to draw data from you, present you as the smart guy. That raises your status.” When a person experiences this elevation in status, it produces dopamine in their brain and stimulates them and their interest in what you are saying. “Now you like me and you’re bound to give me something.”

Learning about peoples’ behaviour and using it to increase your advantage increases the success of your communication with people and saves time, Bowden says. “I like influence and persuasion because it’s smarter; it’s less energy. Argument is expensive, so influence and persuasion is more cost effective. It’s more pleasant too.”
SEEC offers a number of programs that can develop your understanding of the underlying behaviour affecting good communication and help you to develop the skills to recognise and use it to your advantage, several of which are taught by Bowden himself.

In addition to being a popular facilitator at SEEC, Mark Bowden is the author of a number of books, including his latest, Tame the Primitive Brain.

To learn more about the development of leadership skills visit our Custom Leadership Programs page, contact an adviser by phone, 416-360-8850, or by e-mail.

Check out these courses featuring Mark Bowden on influence and persuasion:

Broadening Opportunity Through Leadership Diversity (B.O.L.D.)

Masters Certificate in Marketing Communications Leadership

Masters Certificate in Public Management

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