The Power of Persuasion

A bestselling author explains how to get results by winning people over.

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Your entire MBA application should communicate the qualities and strengths that are relevant to those you are trying to persuade.

Bob Burg is a bestselling author whose four books have sold over more than 250,000 copies each. He is best known for "The Go-Giver," coauthored with John David Mann. Translated into 21 languages, "The Go-Giver" shot to number six on The Wall Street Journal's Business Bestsellers list just three weeks after its release. On BusinessWeek, the book reached number nine.

An expert on topics vital to the success of today's executives, Burg speaks internationally at Fortune 500 companies, franchises and direct sales organizations. His audiences range in size from 50 to 16,000, and he has shared the stage with notables including top thought leaders, broadcast personalities, Olympic athletes and political leaders including a former United States president.

Burg's latest book, "Adversaries into Allies: Win People Over Without Manipulation or Coercion" launches today. I interviewed Bob Burg this week.

Tell me about your new book,  "Adversaries into Allies: Win People Over Without Manipulation or Coercion."

The basic premise of the book is that rather than utilizing intimidation, manipulation, coercion and compliance to get the results you want from others (those only work to a very limited degree anyway, and only in the short-term, if at all), you can get the results you want from others while making them feel genuinely good about themselves, about the situation and about you. This way, you are earning their commitment, both immediate and long-term. It's really about "people skills."

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

While talent, competence and high character are all vitally important, it's people skills that makes the big difference. It's been said that 20 percent of success is based on technical skills and 80 percent on people skills. I believe there's a lot of truth to that statement. And, really, that's what this book is about. Not only mastering these skills, but mastering them the right way, for outcomes that benefit everyone involved.

What is influence, and why is it so important?  Can it be taught? 

On a very basic level, influence can be defined as the ability to move a person (or persons) to a desired action, usually within the context of a specific goal. On a bit deeper level, one could say that influence is an unseen "flow of power." And, while both definitions work, I don't think either one really captures the essence of influence. Influence is "pull." It's an attraction.

Great influencers attract people to themselves and to their ideas. Again though, it's through pull as opposed to push. Top influencers don't push. Notice that you never hear people say that someone who is influential has a lot of push. No, they have a lot of pull.

Fortunately, it can be taught. It's simply a matter of understanding why people make decisions and how to tap into that. Always remember that. Dale Carnegie taught this in his classic, "How to Win Friends and Influence People." Ultimately, people do things for their reasons, not our reasons.  

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Is it a realistic goal to make everyone happy all of the time?

Great question! No, it isn't realistic. However, we can always do our best to create the environment for win/win. Fortunately, this can be accomplished much more often than not. The important element here is to continually ask, "How does what I'm asking this person to do align with their goals, needs, wants, desires and values?"

To the degree you can connect other people's needs with the outcome you desire, that's the degree to which everyone involved will be happy with the results. Of course, even when the other person cannot have exactly what they want from the outcome, by you treating them with genuine and authentic respect, they will still feel much better about it than they otherwise would have.

What is the difference between persuasion and manipulation?

I loved Dr. Paul Swets' explanation from his book, "The Art of Talking So That People Will Listen" (which was much more about listening than it was about talking, and an absolutely brilliant book). He wrote that, "manipulation aims at control, not cooperation. It does not consider the good of the other party and results in a win/lose situation. In contrast to the manipulator, the persuader seeks to enhance the self-esteem of the other party. The result is that people respond better because they are treated as responsible, self-directing individuals."

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

I agree with Dr. Swets. It's about the difference in intent. It's also about the difference in results. A manipulator can have employees but not a team. A manipulator can have customers but not loyal ones who will be their walking ambassadors. And, hey, a manipulator can have a family who loves them, but rarely a functional one. When we persuade we aim at win/win and those are typically the results.

You talk about five principles of "Ultimate Influence." Please help us understand:

Principle 1 - Control your own emotions. This is where it all begins. Unless you are in control of yourself and your emotions, then you are most likely going to react to the other person rather than respond. As Zig Ziglar so wonderfully explained, responding is positive while reacting is negative. My Dad refers to this as being "the boss of yourself." When you are in control of your emotions rather than they being in control of you, only then are you in a position to take an otherwise potentially negative situation and turn it into a win for all involved.

Of course, this doesn't mean we shouldn't have emotions. Emotions are a terrific part of life. But, as leadership speaker Dondi Scumaci says: Make sure you are the one driving your car and your emotions are sitting in the passenger's seat.

Principle 2 - Understand the clash of belief systems. Our belief systems are simply the lens through which we view the world. We could define beliefs as "the truth ... as WE see it, not necessarily how it is." Our belief system is a combination of everything we learn and experience from birth. It begins with family and continues through environment, friends, news media, popular entertainment, etc. And, of course, much of it we had little to do with, and certainly did not make the critical decisions regarding what entered our minds. So, in a sense, we are controlled by our beliefs... without even realizing we are controlled by our beliefs.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

Well, so is the other person. And, to top things off, as human beings we tend to also believe that everyone sees the world as we see the world. You can see how that adds up to a huge potential clash. It's very important to know that, while you don't necessarily have to understand the other person's belief system, you do have to understand that it is most likely very different from yours. And, that is a very productive starting point.

Principle 3 - Acknowledge their ego. The ego is simply the "I." It's that sense of self that understands that we are a unique individual. There's nothing wrong with having an ego. In fact, when utilized correctly it helps us to accomplish great things. The problem is that, much like emotions and belief systems, we tend to give little thought to this powerful motivator of thought and action and, when it controls us rather than we controlling it, havoc can occur.

It's very important to understand that the other person is most likely controlled by their ego and is totally unaware of such. Thus, if we say or do something to insult them or offend them, it is very unlikely that they will buy into our idea, even if doing so will benefit them. So, keep in mind that their ego must be acknowledged because it very likely will come into play during any potentially difficult interpersonal transaction.

Principle 4 - Set the proper frame. The frame is the premise, the foundation from which everything else will occur. A frame of gratitude and helpfulness will elicit much the same. An adversarial frame will also elicit much of the same. When you go into a transaction or negotiation with the frame of friendship and cooperation, that other person will most likely respond accordingly. The opposite is also true.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

There is nothing magical about this. It's actually very logical. Most people, being naturally reactive rather than responsive, will simply take on the attitude you bring to the table. So, realize that in every interpersonal situation a frame will be set. The only question is: Who will set the frame? You or they? If they set it (usually unconsciously), then you are depending upon luck. If you set it, you have taken a conscious step toward the win/win result you want. One more thing: Even if they come in with a negative frame, you can reset that frame through your attitude, as well as your learned skill-set.

Principle 5 - Communicate with tact and empathy. This is what ties it all together. You can apply the first four principles with excellence, but without communicating with tact and empathy, it's most likely all for naught. The good news is that doing so is very gratifying and quite to simple to do. My Dad has always referred to tact as, "The language of strength." And, I agree completely.

Speaking to someone in a way that honors them and helps them to feel genuinely good about themselves is really the key to bringing out the best in them. This also elicits commitment. After all, for anything significant, the other person must first buy into you before they will buy into your ideas. Empathy, which is simply genuinely and authentically focusing on and identifying with their feelings, along with tact, creates that powerful interpersonal connection. That is influence!

Lisa Chau is a private consultant focused on social media and cross–platform marketing. Previously, she spent five years working for her alma mater Dartmouth College, as assistant director of alumni affairs and assistant director of PR for the Tuck School of Business. She has also taught at MIT, and guest lectured MBA and undergraduate courses in e-business Strategy at Baruch College and The New School.

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