Want to be Great at Persuasion? Become More Agile

Effectively persuading the most stubborn or disagreeable colleagues is a theme that comes up frequently in coaching conversations. It’s partly because we are living with a great deal of uncertainty and change and partly because we expect people to act consistently from one situation to the next. The reality is that we respond to different scenarios with different personality traits and strengths.

Fortunately, even the most stubborn can be flexible, and the most disagreeable can be open-minded. Great leaders pay attention to these instances. They notice when and how people change their minds. Organizational psychologist Adam Grant, PhD, author of Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know (Viking, 2021) describes this as “predictable if…then responses.”

In my last post, I wrote about how to overcome arrogance and navigate narcissism for effective persuasion. Now let’s turn our attention to dealing with stubbornness and disagreeableness, and how to harness predictably for effective persuasion.

Persuading the Stubborn

In the 1970’s, researchers surveyed college students on their locus of control—the degree to which they believe that outcomes can be subject to their will, from internal (choice and effort) to external (luck or fate) and their successes (and failures.) Predictably, those who scored higher on EXTERNAL control were more open to external persuasion, including light and forceful arguments. Those who scored higher on INTERNAL control were not persuaded by light argument and moved in the opposite direction during forceful arguments.

An effective approach that softens resistance is to ask open-ended questions to spark creativity, such as “What if…?” Asking, rather than telling, plants a seed and can generate new ideas. Then, take a cue from Improvisation, and respond with “Yes, and” to keep the discussion moving forward.

Persuading the Disagreeable

Those who have a strong drive or competitive nature, can come across as Disagreeable or argumentative. The reason being, they are energized by conflict, and enjoy a good debate. Smart leaders seek out people who are willing to debate ideas (aka: the Disagreeables) to ensure they aren’t surrounded by “yes-people.”

However, if you need to persuade them, be prepared for a bit of a rumble (queue West Side Story). If you urge them to back down, they’ll double down. You see, they want you to fight for your ideas and persuade them. To persuade the Disagreeable, you’ll need to refine your ideas, test assumptions, and step into their shoes by updating your SWOT analysis, proofs of concept, and garner buy-in from other stakeholders.

The people I work with take pride in their knowledge and expertise, and they align their actions with their beliefs and opinions. But a rapidly changing world requires a certain amount of thinking, and rethinking. This requires cognitive flexibility and effective persuasion that takes into consideration understanding stakeholders and resolving differences.

My goal is to give my clients that deep sense of being seeing and heard, of helping them find the confidence that comes from being grounded in their own wisdom instead of being pulled by the forces around them.

 Let’s explore ways for you to navigate your leadership path from the strength of who you are.