Researchers like me have long studied how best to persuade. We’ve learned a lot over the years about which elements to build into a message and which psychological strings to strum with that message to elevate its success. But, recently, we’ve begun to realize that by focusing so intently on the message, we’ve missed a crucial component of the process.
Communicators don’t achieve their greatest success by changing a person’s mind with a cleverly crafted appeal but, rather, by changing the person’s state of mind in the moment before the appeal, so the recipient becomes more sympathetic to a cleverly crafted message. They do so through pre-suasion: the practice of arranging for an audience to favor a message before experiencing it.
Let’s explore a few ways CLOs could employ pre-suasion to advance their professional goals. And let’s begin by examining how you could obtain your dream job, one that would put you in the best position to achieve your goals.
When interviewing for a new job in front of an evaluator or team of evaluators, and after saying that you want to answer all questions as fully as possible, say one more thing: “But, before we start, I wonder if you could answer a question for me. I’m curious, what was it about my background that attracted you to my candidacy?” As a consequence, your evaluators will hear themselves saying positive things about you and your qualifications, putting themselves in a state of mind favorable to your candidacy before you make your case for it. I have an acquaintance who swears he has gotten three better jobs in a row by employing this pre-suasive technique.
Now that you’ve secured the new position, suppose you have an idea for an initiative that, if successful, would establish your reputation within the organization. You realize that for the idea to succeed, you’ll need the buy-in of a strategically placed colleague, Jim, with whom you’ll need to work closely to ensure learning has a pulse on the business. So, you ask for his feedback on the idea.
It will be crucial to request Jim’s advice concerning your planned project, not his opinion about it. Individuals asked to provide advice, versus opinion, on a plan are put in a cooperative state of mind, which makes them more likely to want the plan to succeed. There’s an old saying, “When we ask for advice, we are usually looking for an accomplice.” On the basis of scientific evidence, if we get that advice, we usually get that accomplice.
But, there’s one more hurdle to clear: how to get your project approved and funded at the budget level necessary for success. Let’s say you’ve done your homework, examining every element from every angle, and you’ve arrived at a $75,078 figure. Like most of us, you’ll typically round it off to $75,000 before submitting the proposal. That’s a mistake. Specific rather than rounded numbers in your proposal are more likely to be accepted — even if they are for somewhat larger amounts — because that specificity makes it clear they come from precise thinking rather than some pie-in-the-sky estimate. Not only should you use an exact number as your proposal’s budget figure, you should put it at the top of the first page of the proposal, which will establish you, pre-suasively, as a hard thinker and honest communicator about the financial issues involved.
There’s an additional benefit to knowing about pre-suasion: We can use it to influence ourselves in desired ways. Suppose you want to think creatively, perhaps about a problem that has resisted several traditional efforts in your now-funded project. There’s a simple pre-suasive step you can take to increase the chance you’ll find a novel solution: Before you begin, go to a place with high ceilings. Studies show that rooms with high ceilings lend themselves to more creative problem solving. Open, expansive spaces stimulate open, expansive thinking.
Pre-suasion offers an important lesson to anyone wishing to persuade more effectively. For maximum impact, it’s not only what you do; it’s also what you do just before you do what you do.
Robert B. Cialdini is a behavioral scientist and author of the book “Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade.” Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.