Excerpt: The 5 Paths to Persuasion

In business, even the best proposals face overwhelming resistance and rejection. Good ideas do not always sell themselves, and how you say something can actually be more important than what you say. Read more in this excerpt from The 5 Paths to Persuasion.

The 5 Paths to Persuasion
by Robert B. Miller, Gary A. Williams and Alden M. Hayashi
Published by Warner Books
ISBN: 0446532398
$25.00/U.S., $37.00/CAN 

Chapter 1: Introduction

 It was a tense weekend. Jason Wheeler and Ed Reynolds, entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, kept on trying to reach their new business partner, Rick Pearson. They called frantically, first Pearson’s office, next his home, and then his place in Palm Springs, hoping he might be spending the weekend there. But Pearson was nowhere to be found, and Wheeler and Reynolds had been counting on him for the $100,000 investment he had promised to give them that Friday.

Earlier, Pearson had been ecstatic about the deal. A self-made multimillionaire, he was bored and had been looking for new business opportunities. So when Wheeler and Reynolds told him about this new urban recording artist who had just broken from her recording company, Pearson was instantly enthralled with the idea of signing her up and launching a new label to advance her career. He had promised Wheeler and Reynolds the $100,000 as an initial investment—money that the two men were now counting on to finance some promotional work for her. But then Friday rolled around and Pearson had all but disappeared. What happened?

In today’s tough business environment, deals are being lost, promotions are being scuttled, and raises are being denied because people lack the necessary skills to effectively persuade others. Even win-win proposals that should have been no-brainers are instead being tabled—the victims of intense scrutiny and skepticism. Indeed, especially in tough times, good ideas do not sell themselves; they need help.

In The Five Paths to Persuasion, we present a new framework for understanding how best to influence others. From our two-year study of nearly seventeen hundred executives, we have found that persuasion is most effective when it’s tailored to one of five types of people:

•  Charismatics, like Jack Welch and Oprah Winfrey, who are easily enthralled with new ideas, particularly bold and innovative ones, but will not make a move until they are sure that others have thought through the details

•  Thinkers, like Bill Gates and Michael Dell, who need to cautiously and methodically work through each pro and con of every conceivable option before rendering a decision

•  Skeptics, like Larry Ellison and Ted Turner, who are highly suspicious of every piece of information and will rarely trust anything that doesn’t fit with their worldview

•  Followers, like Carly Fiorina and Peter Coors, who make decisions based mainly on how other trusted people, including themselves, have made similar decisions in the past

•  Controllers, like Martha Stewart and Ross Perot, who must be in charge of every aspect of the decision-making process and need to have some ownership of an idea before proceeding with it

The five styles of decision making span a wide range of behavioral characteristics. Controllers, for instance, shun risk, whereas Charismatics actively seek it out. But in spite of such differences, people often mistakenly use a one-size-fits-all approach when trying to persuade others, concentrating too much on the content of their argument and not enough on how the intended recipient wants to receive that information. In fact, we know of numerous companies that force their salespeople to use canned presentations, with the same format and order of information—down to the exact number of PowerPoint slides!—for different customers in diverse industries. Another common mistake is that people misapply the Golden Rule: They try to sway others as they themselves would like to be persuaded.

Such tactics simply don’t work. In our research, we have found that far too many decisions have gone the wrong way because of a crucial mismatch in how information was presented versus how it should have been presented. An argument geared for a Follower, for instance, might easily flop when delivered to a Skeptic, no matter how terrific the ideas. Instead, people should tailor their presentations to the executives they are trying to persuade, using the best language to deliver the right information in the most effective sequence and format. After all, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey do not make important business decisions in the same way. Knowing the differences can dramatically improve your ability to sway executives like them.

Human behavior is far too complex for cookie-cutter approaches. But the breakthrough of our new framework is that you don’t have to start from scratch every single time you’re dealing with someone new. Our study shows that executives tend to make big decisions in one of five predictable ways, and through empirical research we have determined the strategies that are the most effective for influencing each. Paths to Persuasion helps you to understand—and adapt to—the different ways in which your colleagues, partners, bosses, and others make decisions. In particular, you will learn how the five types of executives prefer to hear (or see) specific types of information at different stages in their decision-making processes.

With this information, you can tap into the full power of persuasion. You will be both seen and heard, even by busy top executives. You will push through your initiatives and close deals. And you will successfully argue for the raises and promotions you deserve. In short, by learning how to make your arguments stick, you’ll avoid the type of costly mistake that the entrepreneurs Wheeler and Reynolds committed, and you will get business done.

Copyright © 2004 by Robert B. Miller and Gary A. Williams

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