Persuasion – They Have to Want the Water

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You’ve heard the expression, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” This is particularly true when it comes to persuading your employees to embrace a new policy or procedure that will affect the way they do their jobs.

You can send everyone off to training, but you can’t make everyone learn the new skills and procedures. You can install new technology, but you can’t make employees use it to its fullest extent.

The question isn’t, “How can you make the horse drink?” The question is, “How can you make the horse want to drink?” The answer to that question is the key to effective persuasion. When you persuade someone to want to do a particular thing, you are changing their attitude. Once they want to do it, they will do it, whether they are being monitored or not. Making behavioral changes relies on changing the way people think or feel. The classic example is the story of Tom Sawyer enticing his buddies to help paint the picket fence. He made it look like so much fun, and was so convincing about the special nature and importance of the task, that his friends practically begged him to let them help. Now that’s persuasion!

When we obtain the behavior we want from others by changing their attitudes, rather than using control, our jobs are much easier and morale is much higher.

The Two Arms of Persuasion

Persuasion has two arms – one arm points to our strengths, hopes, and dreams and the other arm tugs at our weaknesses, fears, and nightmares. When we are trying to change peoples’ attitudes, both arms of persuasion are powerful if they are used carefully and responsibly. Use one arm to enlist the support of stakeholders and show the positive aspects of the change initiative. Use the other arm to show the negative effects that will occur if the needed changes are not made.

Some of the best examples of persuasion’s two arms are the posters promoting support of World War II. Remember the poster of Uncle Sam looking right into your eyes, and pointing his finger at you? It said: “I Want You for the U.S. Army. Enlist Now.” This poster was one of the most successful forms of persuasion used to encourage enlistment. The image stirred up feelings of patriotism and the serious look in Uncle Sam’s eyes said, “This is a matter of life and death.” This one poster depicted both arms of persuasion simultaneously.

To view an online exhibit of World War II Posters, click here.

Like this example, your communication campaign should include powerful persuasive pieces that wisely employ both arms of persuasion. Illustrate the benefits of making the change and the drawbacks of maintaining the status quo. And remember the horse analogy. Your goal is not to make them drink the water. Your goal is to make them want to drink the water.

Steps for Changing a Stakeholder’s Attitude

  • Determine how the stakeholder feels about the way things are currently being done.
  • Find out the stakeholder’s most pressing needs and greatest desires concerning the change project. Without having this information, creating a relevant persuasive case will be next to impossible.

    Look at this in terms of “voids” and “values.” Voids are whatever the stakeholder feels he or she is “missing” or “lacking.” Values are whatever the stakeholder feels is most important. Often the biggest void and highest value will match. For instance, if someone’s biggest void is “not enough time,” their highest value is frequently “more time.”

  • Using words and visual images, illustrate how the change initiative can satisfy the stakeholder’s voids and values.

    For example, if the stakeholder’s most pressing void is that he doesn’t have enough time to process the daily piles of paperwork, explain how the new system will save time and show him a brochure or paint a visual picture of a work area that is free from paper clutter.)

  • Reinforce the stakeholder’s positive attitude about the change by using a combination of logic and emotion.

    Providing sound reasoning is imperative, but don’t stop there. As advertisers know, people’s actions are often driven by their feelings. For instance, most men know that buying a case of “X Beer” won’t turn their living room into a beach party complete with gorgeous women in bikinis. But many of these men still buy “X Beer” because of the positive emotional response the commercial produces.

Helping people to connect with their positive feelings associated with a change initiative, is often more important than reiterating facts and figures. Make sure your change communication includes “feel good” stories and testimonials, as well as positive visual images.

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Jim Canterucci

I don't know everything. But I want to. The focus of our firm, Transition Management Advisors, is to develop leadership capabilities to create a championship culture, generate innovation, and successfully lead the resulting changes.

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On June 9, 2008
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