Harvard Business Review’s Management Tips of the day on 21st July included ‘3 Ways to Convince a Skeptic‘. Overall I agreed with two out of three but I honestly don’t think that stroking egos works more than the first time you try it (unless your sceptic is unperceptive and stupid). That’s because ‘convincing’ is about more than persuading.
In the worlds of marketing, fundraising, communications, sales and lots of other organisational affairs, it’s about engaging with the sceptics sufficiently so that they will act in the way you need them to.
Engagement doesn’t have to be about life-long loyalty to your ideas or cause from the sceptic but in the ideal world it will mean support for the particular initiative as well as at least a good strong baseline of support for the next one, or changes to the first one down the line. With this in mind, here are my top 10 proven suggestions for convincing (ie; engaging enough to act) sceptics:
- Plan your approach. You’re most likely to be successful if you have a strategy for sceptics, particularly if they are influential in you achieving your outcomes. This simply means selecting the tactics most likely to succeed, getting your timing and follow-up right, depending on your circumstances
- Use facts and objective information wherever possible. It’s difficult to argue with hard facts and it builds credibility for you and your idea
- Translate this information into the sceptic’s ‘language’ and present it in a way that supports your case and links to their objectives if possible
- Take the personalities out of the debate / discussion if possible. Your idea is not about you or them, it’s about what it can accomplish for the organisation and, if relevant, mutually for your teams or areas
- That said, learn something about your audience’s goals and couch your argument in support of achieving them
- Don’t try to manipulate your sceptic! If they’re experienced, they will notice, you’ll undo any credibility you have with them and potentially risk their future cooperation. Let the strength of your argument do the persuading
- Using examples from other relevant people (that they respect or admire) or organisations to show how this idea has worked elsewhere can be useful, particularly for risk-averse people. But how about sharing another example of what happened to an organisation that didn’t make the right choice (ie; this one) when they should have. NB – use this sparingly as sceptics don’t generally warm to scare-mongering either
- Find a champion (whether overt or not) to support your cause in the circles that the sceptic pays attention to
- Use questions to steer the sceptic towards action… sales people call this a presumptive close. “What would I need to share with you to help you agree…”
- Don’t give up the first time they tell you ‘no’. But do get a trusted colleague or friend to help make sure your eagerness and commitment doesn’t become belligerence; there will be other opportunities and we don’t have to win every point to be successful overall.
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