Persuasion and Assertion

WHY DO WE sometimes fail in our efforts to influence another person? It may be because we are not focusing our attention on the right thing. The natural tendency is to look at every situation from our own point of view. We consider first the ways we need help, believe our own recommendations are best and set agendas that cater to our personal priorities. 

In other words, when dealing with other people, we are usually thinking: “What's in it for me?” When two people approach a conversation with this same mindset, it is not surprising that the chances of reaching agreement diminish. 

To get someone to accept your advice or opinions, you need to put yourself in their shoes. In doing this, you must speak their language and talk about the values or potential benefits that will mean most to them. 

For example, if you want a colleague to back a new strategy for client contacts, it would be better not to focus on what it means to you. Instead, concentrate on how the proposed strategy will help your colleague and the rest of the team. 

You might start by saying you need their support, and then point out how the reorganisation will create more opportunities to cross-sell and that other companies have been able to increase revenue by 15 per cent using a similar process. 

This approach uses a “persuasive cycle”, which should contain three main parts. The first is the “statement”, which outlines in your own terms the main idea, recommendation or initiative. In the case above, it is the request for your colleague to support the new contact strategy. 

The second part is “value”. This should be delivered in terms most readily understood by the person you are trying to influence. The objective is to refer to the benefit they will get, or to give a compelling reason why your statement is important to them. Here, it is the chance to capitalise on cross-selling opportunities. 

The final part of the cycle is “evidence”. Saying that something is a benefit is not always enough. You should back up your statement with facts, statistics, visual aids or even testimonials to provide added meaning and make it easier for the other person to take action. 

But as we all know, persuasion is not always effective. Sometimes in these situations, no amount of emotional or rational justification, clarification or evidence will sway a fixed opinion. When this happens, you may want to try being assertive. 
This is the concept of saying “do this” constructively while maintaining a positive and friendly tone. After all, if your aim is to continue working with the other person, you do not want to jeopardise your relationship. 

The critical difference between persuasion and assertion is the use of time, tension and ownership. Assertion is a six-step process:

Define and own the problem

This is a crucial first step. Do not proceed unless you have clearly defined and assigned “ownership” of the problem. This eliminates the likelihood of people later denying there is a problem, stonewalling or getting side-tracked. 

It does not matter if you own the problem or the responsibility is jointly shared, but it must be stated up front. For example, if the company is not serving clients to the best of its ability, admit that this is a problem. Once that has been done, it is time to focus on the solution. 

Identify a solution

This can be done unilaterally, such as by suggesting that the sales team needs to have more face-to-face contact with clients. The key is to spell out clear and workable solutions. The more direct, succinct and articulate the message, the better the chances of success. 

Another option is to use the facilitation approach. Instead of telling people what to do, consider asking them for ideas on how to resolve the problem. If you handle things this way, you must identify a solution at that time and not defer the decision. 

Transfer ownership

This can be subtle or very direct. However, the party you are dealing with must understand they now own the solution and must take action. If it has been agreed the sales team should spend an extra eight hours a week with clients, this should start without delay. Acceptance of ownership and execution by the other party shows your attempts to influence have worked. 

Raise tension

If the previous steps have not achieved your objective, you may need to raise the level of tension. The vital thing is to be strong, yet subtle. You can do this by rephrasing your message, but with a more assertive tone and gestures.

Do not justify

Once you start to justify something, you are no longer using assertion, but trying to persuade. It is not always a mistake and, if you think it will work, then adopt this approach. However, if you start persuading someone after trying to be assertive, you may end up arguing inconclusively. Besides, if you begin to justify at this point, you will appear on the defensive. This will lower the level of tension, and that is the critical factor which makes assertiveness effective. 

Change in tone

By raising the degree of tension, you hope to create an opening for the other party to agree. You can spot this by listening for a change in mood, or tone. It might last for only a few seconds. Therefore, pay close attention to any signals and, when you detect a change, repeat the request. 

Both persuasion and assertion can be effective in influencing people. The first thing is to understand the person you are trying to convince before assessing what will make them come round to your way of thinking. 

When building your case, after each statement presents the value or impact for the other person and have sufficient evidence to support your viewpoint. If persuasion does not work, try being assertive. Sometimes, people need a little extra convincing before they are prepared to see things another way.


The principle of authority
The fifth principle of influence put forward by social psychologist Robert Cialdini is built on the belief that people are more willing to follow the directions or recommendations of someone with authority or expertise. This is the principle of authority – people defer to experts. Whether you are a manager trying to influence the sales team or a frontline salesperson hoping to influence a client, first establish your expertise. Do not make the mistake of assuming that others recognise and appreciate your knowledge or abilities. The trick is to be subtle. You can show your expertise by asking questions and providing new insights, rather than stating it openly. Even so, remember that no one is expected to be an authority on every subject. Be sure not to project yourself as a know-it-all, since that can lead to resistance. If you are not an expert in a particular situation, seek advice or assistance from someone who is. With an expert ally, you can still reap the benefits of this principle.

Assertion, not aggression
What is the difference between being assertive and aggressive? One way to measure that is by figuring out if you should accept blame after an encounter. If the other party could accuse you of being too abrupt, domineering or abrasive, then you have been aggressive. Also, aggression is often displayed in using the wrong body language or tone of voice. Be careful of what you say, how you say it, and your body language. You do not want to cross the fine line between assertion and aggression. Avoid becoming aggressive by reminding yourself of the key objectives and focusing on them. 

How, not why
When we communicate our thoughts, ideas, feelings and attitudes to other people, what we say constitutes only a small percentage of the total message we convey. Research shows that the words spoken create barely 7 per cent of the full impression. A much stronger impact is made by how we communicate. This includes the way we move, our gestures, facial expressions, voice modulation and eye contact. These non-verbal elements can account for more than 50 per cent of the impression made. The remainder comes from the understanding of who the speaker is. This will be based on perceptions of credibility, reputation, demonstrated knowledge, likeability, and the degree of respect the listener has for us. When planning to influence, most of us spend 90 per cent of the time focusing on what we are going to say. Based on how impressions are conveyed, you may want to spend more time planning for the “how” and the “who”.