The Art of Influencing and Persuasion: How Managers Can Put ‘Square Pegs’ into ‘Round Holes’

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2013

21 Pages



The ability to influence and persuade others at work has become an increasingly important managerial skill to achieve work goals and objectives to drive businesses forward in today’s demanding and competitive work environments.This paper investigates and provides a deeper understanding of what positive effects knowledge and application of the concepts of influencing amd persuasion can have on managers, the people they manage and the organisations they work for. The results show that the performance of managers is positively influenced by how they influence and persuade people at work. The outcome of a literature review suggests that there is no conclusive evidence of what makes an effective manager at work that is good at influencing and persuading others. Outputs from face to face and a focus group meeting with final year social psychology students from the Universidad de Oriene in Santiago de Cuba closed this gap by suggesting an effective influencing and persuasion skills set that, when applied appropriately, could guide managers how to influence and persuade others successfully.The outcome of this research is applicable and relevant to managers in any working environment such as Telecommuncations, Utilities, Banking or Automotive. The proposed skills set of what makes an effective influencing and persuading manager at work can be applied globally although the prevailing cultural diversities in different countries should be considered.

Keywords: Influencing, persuading, attitudes, work performance, managing people

1. Introduction

1.1 Introduction

According to Fisher and Santana Gonzalez (2013), the role of managers has changed from just being responsible for the delivery of work and the day to day management of their team members to creating opportunities for companies to grow their business. It appears that Human Resources (HR) departments within organizations have delegated more of the day to day management of people to managers, too. This means that managers need to focus their attention much more on how to get the best out of their team members to meet the new demanding business challenges set by key stakeholders. Senior management in many companies is now expecting their managers to optimise available resources. In business terms, this means delivering more in less time, with fewer people , within reduced budgets and to higher levels of quality This has created tensions at work that need to be managed effectively and appropriately and must not be ignored. Companies need motivated and productive staff that carry out their duties effectively and therefore ensure that the business remains profitable and prosperous.To get the best out of their people, managers need to find new ways and means of motivating and leading team members to achieve these new challenges successfully. Figure 1 is a graphical presentation of the relationship between managers’ attitudes and behaviours, influence and persuasion and how this affects the performance levels of people at work.This research investigates how a better understanding and the practical application of the concepts of influencing and persuasion can provide managers with improved managing people skills to deliver the new expectations. In the context of this research, the researchers adopted the definitions for ‘persuasion’ and ‘influence’ considered by Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) and Carnegie (2011) . According to Aristotle, successful influencers strive to blend three criteria in order to achieve the goal of moving people from A to B: first, ethos relates to the source credibility of the influencer and their sincerity that exudes from them; second, pathos relates to the stirring of the emotions in other people, in other words, to have empathy and third logos which refers to the actual words used by the influencer. This includes stories, quotations and facts. Effective influencing means to show open respect for the values, needs and desires of others, affirm these with them and then offer these to them in a mutually beneficial package (Carnegie, 2011). Effective influencers leave others a little bit ‘better off’ after each interaction with them. Regular small opportunities to influence a little bit at a time will achieve the biggest differences in the long term. In the context of this research, the researchers suggest that persuasion is for immediate application and that influencing is more concerned with long term/ long lasting desired outcomes. Influencing and persuading skills can be applied universally and irrespective of the industry managers operate within. Managers must consider cultural differences and make appropriate modifications to their approach to take into account the different values, beliefs and constructs people from diverse cultural backgrounds hold.

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Figure 1 The Relationship between Managers’ Attitude, Influencing/Persuading Others and Achieving Higher Levels of Productivity within their Teams

A review of contemporary and classic literature is presented next, followed by the main research questions, research hypotheses and the knowledge gap from the literatue review.This forms the theoretical framework of this research and is followed by a presentation of the outputs from face to face interviews and a focus group meeting with final year students of social psychology to try and close the knowledge gap considered in section 1.3. The research methodology is presented next, including details of the research data analysis.This is followed by the research results and the discussion of what the research found. This is concluded in the final section which includes this research’s limitations and suggestions for future research.

1.2 Literature Review

1.2.1 Influencing and Persuasion

According to Gardner (2006), the phenomenon of changing minds is one of the least examined and perhaps least understood of familiar human experiences. Gardner suggests that that some aspects of mind changing are likely to remain an art of the foreseeable future. Minds are hard to change. And yet so many aspects of, for example, working lives are oriented towards doing just that-convincing a team member to approach a task in a new way or for a leader to eradicate one of their own prejudices. Leaders almost by definition are people who change minds. Gardner defines changing minds as a situation ‘where individuals or groups abandon the way in which they have customarily thought about an issue of importance and henceforth conceive of it in a new way. Gardner quotes Koch (1998) who suggests that the approach developed by the Italian economist and sociologist Vilifredo Pareto should be applied to become more effective and efficient. He questions the need to spend equal time, for example, on all work activities. The 80/20 principle is best described as a concept. Human beings think in concepts. The 80/20 principle may seem at first abstract or elusive but soon becomes familiar and comfortable.To achieve, for example, the timely delivery of some programming work, one should put one’s efforts where the greatest achievements can be delivered.

Koch suggests that 80% of what is important can be achieved with only 20% of effort (Fig.2).

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Figure 2: The 80/20 Principle adapted from Koch (1998)

Benoit and Benoit (2008) consider that an understanding of how persuasion works is useful for people because people both send messages as sources and receive persuasive messages as audiences or targets for both situations. It is important to understand what persuasive communication is and how it works. Whenever people want to influence others through messages (speaking, writing or using pictures and symbols), they need to understand how persuasion works in order to increase the likelihood that people’s messages will be successful. It is of equal importance to understand that persuasion is also reciprocal-others are trying to influence the influencer, too. Persuasion should be thought of as something, for example, leaders or managers want as the achievement of a goal often depends on others. Benoit and Benoit further consider that messages affect people’s attitudes. They suggest that there are four possibilities for this:

1. Learning a message and not being persuaded by it
2. not learning a message but still being persuaded by the topic of the message
3. to learn a message and be persuaded
4. not to learn a message and fail to be persuaded

It appears that persuasion is related to what we think. It is important to consider that attitude change occurs when people think favourable thoughts about a message and/or its topic. The reverse applies to unfavourable messages. Petty et al. (2005) point out that some persuasive messages that people confront, have direct personal implications for their lives. For example, the need to achieve more in less time with fewer resources at work will be of high interest to people as it will affect them personally. Petty et al. consider that post-message attitudes as a function of personal relevance and argument quality are important. For example, argument quality is a more important determinant of persuasion when personal relevance is high rather than low.

Petty et al. consider in conclusion that many variables can influence persuasion by affecting either the number of thoughts that are generated or whether those thoughts tend to be positive or negative. The more favourable thoughts that people have, the greater the likelihood o persuasion; the more negative thoughts that people have, the greater the likelihood of resistance or even a boomerang effect, for example, changing in a direction opposite to the one advocated. Sampere (2011) suggests that influencing others is about the force or psychological induction that a person exercises over another person to influence them to do something or to believe in something the other person wants them to believe in. It is necessary to engage a person’s cognitive system to achieve these desires. Influencing will be much stronger and longer lasting by using this approach. The influencer will be able to convince the other person much easier and with conviction to, for example, follow a concept or idea without questioning its possibility or viability. Couto (2000) suggests that influencing involves convincing another person to accept one’s point of view in a voluntary way and for the right reasons. In the day to day life people constantly influence themselves how they think and feel about things but rarely persuade themselves to actually follow this through. The difference between both influencing and persuading in this context is how people’s will to do something is applied and engaged. People often influence unintentionally, based on how they come across to other people and how others perceive, for example, their social standing or professional standing in the world. Being envious of other people can also lead to people letting themselves being influenced so they can become like the other person. Perloff (2003) suggests that just about anything that involves moulding or shaping attitudes involves persuasion. Persuasive communications have been used by good people to implement change. Persuasion is applied in business to bring about desired changes of, for example, how to work or think differently when it comes to business practices. A person with good persuasion skills can also become a more effective speaker or presenter, and a more critical judge of social influence attempts. Perloff defines persuasion as “a symbolic process in which communications try to convince other people to change their attitudes or behaviours regarding an issue, through the transmission of a message, in an atmosphere of free choice” (p. 8). Borg (2010), based on the outcome of some research in the behavioural sciences, considers that empathy and sincerity are the building blocks for successful persuasion. Borg considers that empathy is the ability to identify and understand the other person’s feelings, ideas and situation. It is about being able to read emotions in other people, it is about understanding how the other person feels about things and being able to experience another person’s perspective. An important point Borg makes is that this motivates people to reach for outcomes that not only leave people feeling good but also leave the other person in the same frame of mind. Borg refers to this as a detached involvement (Fig.3).


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The Art of Influencing and Persuasion: How Managers Can Put ‘Square Pegs’ into ‘Round Holes’
Universidad de Oriente in Santiago de Cuba
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Research into the practical application of influenicng and persuasion skills in today's business environments.
Influencing, persuading, attitudes, work performance, managing people
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Prof Dr Eddie Fisher (Author)Yorkys Santana Gonzalez (Author), 2013, The Art of Influencing and Persuasion: How Managers Can Put ‘Square Pegs’ into ‘Round Holes’, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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