the Art and Science of Persuasion
Persuasion is a vital skill every project manager needs to learn. Every team leader must be able to "sell" - to his team, his board members and his boss. We’re not talking about manipulation.  Learn how to present your suggestions well, and you will improve your ability to deliver projects on time and budget.

Learn the Art of Persuasion

Persuasion is a vital skill every project manager needs to learn. Every team leader must be able to “sell” – to his team, his board members and his boss. We’re not talking about manipulation. Underhanded techniques and lying won’t get you anywhere (actually it can get you very rich, but let’s not go there).

If you can present your suggestions in ways that make people more receptive, not only are they likely to follow your advice, but you will find that meetings are quicker and the project is easier to deliver.

1. Empathize

The worst thing you can do is enter a meeting with a personal agenda. Sometimes too much research is a bad thing because your mind is already made up about the direction the project should go. Instead, seek to understand their needs and respond to your team and your stakeholders, and you will find others more cooperative.

Start by Listening

Anyone who knows me, is aware of how difficult I find listening – it doesn’t FEEL efficient! I can process vast amounts of written information, but face-to-face meetings are something I avoid whenever possible.

A team member has a brand new, killer idea… which you know has been tried (and failed) numerous times before. Three minutes into the conversation, and you have have a sense of de ja vu. You know what the next sentence is going to be; in fact you know what the next 3 months on this project is going to be.

But it’s always worth listening – they might have some new angle, some understanding of the industry or market that will be the difference between success and failure.

Every project manager pays lip service to the “idea” of listening.  But you have to hear what your team member is REALLY saying. It might just lead to a breakthrough that determines the project’s success.

Demonstrate the benefits to them AND management

Explaining how your idea or project will help the company isn’t enough. You have to demonstrate how your ideas help the actual people you are speaking to.

Will this wonderful e-commerce site replace staff? For the CEO that is a benefit; for the manager who will lose half his big department, this is a good reason to scupper the project.

Will this self-maintenance website allow in-house maintenance? Management will love the idea of saving costs, but you are not going to get a favourable response from the team members if that is the only benefit you present.

Once you understand and have thought about everyone’s real needs, your next step is to form a relationship with them.

2. Earn their Respect

If you have a strong relationship with your users, boss or team based on mutual respect, they will be more inclined to consider your suggestions. Certain approaches hold true across the board.

Get Them Nodding

It’s a silly little thing, but when I explain an idea, I try to get people to nod. Find some point of agreement – whether it’s the greed of banks, fact that IT people can’t spell or how suppliers have to be monitored constantly. Being able to find something in common demonstrates that you’re on the same wave length.

Hint: when dealing with a web developer try berating IE6. It will get them nodding in agreement right away. You will have succeeded in making a connection by understanding one of the big frustrations of being a web developer. Having decided that you are smart and knowledgeable, they will drop all other work when you need that urgent web update!

Be Enthusiastic

Clients want to know you care about their project. Bosses want to know you are motivated to work, and users want to know you care about the new IT system they will have to use. So many people lack enthusiasm when communicating their ideas. They come across either as defeated before they even begin. Or worse they are overly aggressive and defensive

Overwhelming enthusiasm is infectious, and people get caught up in it. More importantly, saying “No” to somebody who is oozing excitement from ever pore is not easy.

Mirror Them

You have probably heard how mirroring a person’s body language helps establish a positive connection. Whatever you do, do not do it – it comes across as creepy!

But if your client talks about “return on investment” or “critical success factors,” do it yourself. And if you suspect the other party is not familiar with certain terminology, make sure to avoid it. Our way of speaking associates us with a certain “tribe.” If we share the same language, we are more likely to build a rapport.

Make Them Smile

Another trick for building relationships is to inject humour into the proceedings. If you can make the other person smile, you’ve gone a long way to breaking down any barriers. Of course, this has to be done with care.

Although all of these approaches are great for building relationship, one trumps them all: openness.

3. Be Open

You may be reading this thinking, “This lady is mad. What if her clients read this stuff?” My answer is I expect my clients to read this, because there is nothing manipulative or secret in the way I work.

Two key components help build open relationships and create a receptive audience.


I regularly acknowledge in sales situations that I am there to sell. The client obviously knows this already but verbalizing it shows a kind of honesty that people rarely encounter in technology OR marketing companies.

I am always absolutely honest with clients. They will already have had a dozen presentations from web designers who can deliver anything, to any deadline. Who promise massive e-commerce sales overnight, and the top google ranking in a week.

Without drowning the project in cynicism, I try to tell them what to expect. I never agree to a deadline I can’t meet, and if I plan to outsource some portion of the project I make that clear. If theirs isn’t “my kind of project” I am quick to say so. And then suggest where they should look and more importantly what they should look for, to meet their needs.

Be willing to accept other points of view

We can sometimes be so desperate to make a point that we become unwilling to admit even the slightest weakness in our argument. If you stop long enough to listen – you might find that there is validity in the client’s point of view because he knows his market much better than you ever could. The project will always be far better when you take an expert’s specific understanding of the product into account.

4. Be Confident

As humans we are drawn to confident leaders. We follow those who have a clear vision and a strong belief in what they are saying. Communicating your message with confidence is important. Study your subject continually, establish yourself as an expert, and then speak with authority. The only way to counter idiocy and ignorance is with facts, not opinions and feelings.

I said confident, not arrogant

Be prepared to admit “I don’t know”. It demonstrates integrity and can defuses anger.

Being confident also means having the strength to admit when you are wrong. Of course, that takes a lot of confidence… a lot more than being pig-headed.

You do not ALWAYS have to win

Pick your battles. Conceding some points to achieve the greater aim is okay. Don’t allow your ego to get in the way. don’t be the person who argues every small point to death, until people give up – not because you are right, but because they are exhausted.

Besides if someone feels good about having won an argument, then they will more likely be accommodating when you suggest an alternative.

5. Be Positive

Whether dealing with a demanding boss, difficult client or finicky users, you have to impress them with your attitude and service. Always be helpful and keen to leave a positive impression.

In customer service, that sometimes involves going the extra mile. With your client, it might mean supporting and researching their latest mad scheme. Whatever the situation, develop a reputation for being helpful and positive and you will be the resource they contact first with their big idea.

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