Managers typically use a one-size-fits-all approach when trying to influence    their bosses and colleagues. New research sh...
C h a n g e t h e Way Yo u Pe r s u a d eFive ApproachesExecutives make it to the senior level largely because they     Fi...
C h a n g e t h e Way Yo u Pe r s u a d eand the Ways to Influence Eachhigh tech) and were interviewed by e-mail, in       ...
C h a n g e t h e Way Yo u Pe r s u a d eregard. In our experience, more than half of all sales pre-           Although ch...
C h a n g e t h e Way Yo u Pe r s u a d elieve otherwise. Buzzwords that can help hold a charis-              from the res...
C h a n g e t h e Way Yo u Pe r s u a d e   Thinkers will never forget a bad experience, so you                  Throughou...
C h a n g e t h e Way Yo u Pe r s u a d e   To persuade a skeptic, you need as much credibility as              Gates, for...
C h a n g e t h e Way Yo u Pe r s u a d e   Followers may engage you in long lists of issues and re-             that Floo...
C h a n g e t h e Way Yo u Pe r s u a d eonly from their own perspectives and will frequently                She needs to ...
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Change the way you persuade

  1. 1. Managers typically use a one-size-fits-all approach when trying to influence their bosses and colleagues. New research shows that’s a mistake. Persuasion works best when it’s tailored to five distinct decision-making styles. CHANGE THE WAY YOUPERSUADE by Gary A. Williams and Robert B. MillerI t’s happened to you before. You call a meeting to of view within a single meeting and need to cautiously try to convince your boss and peers that your company work through all the options before coming to a decision. needs to make an important move – for instance, fund- Skeptics remain highly suspicious of data that don’t fiting a risky but promising venture. Your argument is im- with their worldview and make decisions based on theirpassioned, your logic unassailable, your data bulletproof. gut feelings. Followers make decisions based on how otherTwo weeks later, though, you learn that your brilliant pro- trusted executives, or they themselves, have made similarposal has been tabled. What went wrong? decisions in the past. And controllers focus on the pure All too often, people make the mistake of focusing too facts and analytics of a decision because of their own fearsmuch on the content of their argument and not enough and uncertainties.on how they deliver that message. Indeed, far too many The five styles span a wide range of behaviors and char-decisions go the wrong way because information is pre- acteristics. Controllers, for instance, have a strong aversionsented ineffectively. In our experience, people can vastly to risk; charismatics tend to seek it out. Despite such dif-improve their chances of having their proposals succeed ferences, people frequently use a one-size-fits-all ap-by determining who the chief decision maker is among proach when trying to convince their bosses, peers, andthe executives they are trying to persuade and then tai- staff. They argue their case to a thinker the same way theyloring their arguments to that business leader’s decision- would to a skeptic. Instead, managers should tailor theirmaking style. presentations to the executives they are trying to per- Specifically, we have found that executives typically fall suade, using the right buzzwords to deliver the appropri-into one of five decision-making categories: Charismatics ate information in the most effective sequence and for-can be initially exuberant about a new idea or proposal mat. After all, Bill Gates does not make decisions in thebut will yield a final decision based on a balanced set of same way that Larry Ellison does. And knowing that caninformation. Thinkers can exhibit contradictory points make a huge difference.Copyright © 2002 by Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. 3
  2. 2. C h a n g e t h e Way Yo u Pe r s u a d eFive ApproachesExecutives make it to the senior level largely because they Five Styles of Decision Making –are effective decision makers. Learning mostly from ex-perience, they build a set of criteria that guides them. In our research, we found that executives typi-Each decision is influenced by both reason and emotion, cally have a default style of decision making thatbut the weight given to each of these elements during the lands them in one of five distinct categories:decision-making process can vary widely depending on charismatics, thinkers, skeptics, followers, andthe person. controllers. In a two-year project, we studied the decision-makingstyles of more than 1,600 executives across a wide range From January 1999 to June 2001, we and ourof industries. Our work focused on how those people colleagues at Miller-Williams surveyed 1,684made purchasing decisions, but we contend that the re- executives to study their decision-making pro-sults have broader applicability to decision making in gen- cesses. The participants were from a range oferal. We interviewed participants about various facets industries (including automotive, retail, andof their decision-making processes. For instance, howstrong was their desire to have others educate them aboutthe issues involved in a particular decision? How will- Charismaticsing were they to move beyond the status quo? How much Description Charismatics account forrisk were they comfortable with in making the decision? 25% of all the executives weThese characteristics and preferences are often set early polled. They are easily in-in a businessperson’s career and evolve based on experi- trigued and enthralled byence. In other words, people have a natural tendency to- new ideas, but experienceward a certain style of decision making that gets rein- has taught them to makeforced through successes – or that changes after repeated final decisions based onfailures. balanced information, not Our research should not be confused with standard just emotions.personality tests and indicators like Myers-Briggs. Ourframework is simply a categorization of how people tendto make decisions. Of course, people do not always makedecisions in the same way; much depends on the situationthey’re in. But our research has shown that when it comes Typical enthusiastic, captivating,to making tough, high-stakes choices that involve many Characteristics talkative, dominantcomplex considerations and serious consequences, peo-ple tend to resort to a single, dominant style. Call it a de-fault mode of decision making. Prominent Richard Branson, In this article, we describe each of the five decision- Examples Lee Iacocca, Herb Kellehermaking styles in detail. This information is intended to beneither exhaustive nor definitive, and most executives willexhibit only some of the traits we list. Nevertheless, know- Buzzwords results, proven,ing the general characteristics of the different styles can to Use actions, show, watch, easy, clear, focushelp you better tailor your presentations and argumentsto your audience. Unfortunately, many people fail in this Bottom Line When trying to persuadeGary A. Williams is the CEO and Robert B. Miller is the a charismatic, fight the urgechairman of Miller-Williams Incorporated, a San Diego- to join in his excitement.based customer research firm. Williams has over 20 years Focus the discussion onof experience in sales, marketing, and consulting and has results. Make simple andworked with thousands of business executives to improve straightforward arguments, and use visual aids to stresstheir understanding of their customers. He can be reached the features and benefitsat Miller has more than 40 years of ex- of your proposal.perience in sales, consulting, and executive management,and he is the coauthor of several business books, includingStrategic Selling (William Morrow, 1985). He can be reachedat harvard business review
  3. 3. C h a n g e t h e Way Yo u Pe r s u a d eand the Ways to Influence Eachhigh tech) and were interviewed by e-mail, in into the five groupings described below. Theperson, or over the telephone. The participants accuracy of the survey results reported in thisdescribed their decision-making tendencies for article – for example, that 25% of the executivesour researchers – for instance, how long it took we interviewed were charismatics – is plus orthem to make a decision; their willingness to minus 2.9%. For many of the prominent CEOmake a choice that might have negative conse- examples cited, the categorizations are basedquences; their desire for others to educate them on our firsthand observations and experiencesabout the issues involved; and so on. with those executives; other categorizations are We performed a cluster analysis of these data based on secondary sources, including mediaand found that the executives’ behaviors fell accounts.Thinkers Skeptics Followers ControllersThinkers account for 11% Skeptics account for 19% Followers account for 36% Controllers account forof the executives we sur- of the executives we polled. of all the executives we 9% of the executives weveyed and can be the tough- They tend to be highly sus- surveyed. They make deci- interviewed. They abhorest executives to persuade. picious of every data point sions based on how they’ve uncertainty and ambiguity,They are impressed with presented, especially any made similar choices in and they will focus on thearguments that are sup- information that challenges the past or on how other pure facts and analyticsported by data. They tend their worldview. They often trusted executives have of an have a strong aversion have an aggressive, almost made them. They tendto risk and can be slow to combative style and are to be risk-averse.make a decision. usually described as take- charge people.cerebral, intelligent, demanding, disruptive, responsible, cautious, logical, unemotional,logical, academic disagreeable, rebellious brand-driven, sensible, detail-oriented, bargain-conscious accurate, analyticalMichael Dell, Bill Gates, Steve Case, Larry Ellison, Peter Coors, Douglas Daft, Jacques Nasser, Ross Perot,Katharine Graham Tom Siebel Carly Fiorina Martha Stewartquality, academic, feel, grasp, power, innovate, expedite, details, facts, reason,think, numbers, intelligent, action, suspect, trust, expertise, similar to, logic, power, handle,plan, expert, proof demand, disrupt previous physical, grab, just do itHave lots of data ready. You need as much credibil- Followers tend to focus on Your argument needs toThinkers need as much ity as you can garner. If you proven methods; references be structured and credible.information as possible, haven’t established enough and testimonials are big The controller wants details,including all pertinent clout with a skeptic, you persuading factors. They but only if presented bymarket research, cus- need to find a way to have need to feel certain that an expert. Don’t be tootomer surveys, case stud- it transferred to you prior they are making the right aggressive in pushing youries, cost-benefit analyses, to or during the meeting – decision – specifically, that proposal. Often, your bestand so on. They want to for example, by gaining an others have succeeded bet is to simply give himunderstand all perspectives endorsement from some- in similar initiatives. the information he needsof a given situation. one the skeptic trusts. and hope that he will convince himself.may 2002 5
  4. 4. C h a n g e t h e Way Yo u Pe r s u a d eregard. In our experience, more than half of all sales pre- Although charismatics may show great exuberance forsentations are mismatched to the decision maker’s style. a new idea, getting a final commitment from them can beSpecifically, close to 80% of all sales presentations focus on difficult. They’ve learned from experience – particularlyskeptics and controllers, but those two groups accounted from the bad decisions they’ve made–to temper their ini-for just 28% of the executives we surveyed. tial enthusiasm with a good dose of reality. They seek out To investigate the various subtleties of the five decision- facts to support their emotions, and if such data can’t bemaking styles, we present the following hypothetical found, they will quickly lose their enthusiasm for an idea.situation. In each of the subsequent sections devoted to Furthermore, charismatics prefer arguments that are tiedexplaining the categories, we will use this tale to demon- directly to bottom-line results and are particularly keenstrate how our fictional protagonist should best argue her on proposals that will make their company more com-case to her CEO. petitive. They are rarely convinced by one-sided argu- ments that lack a strong orientation toward results. AtMaxPro is a leading manufacturer of office equipment, including the end of the day, charismatics make their final decisionsprinters, photocopiers, and fax machines. The company has a very methodically, and the decisions are based on bal-centralized structure, with the bulk of its marketing and sales anced information.operations located at corporate headquarters. Mary Flood, the When trying to persuade a charismatic, you need toexecutive vice president of sales and marketing, knows she must fight the urge to join in his excitement. One approach isrestructure her operations to become more customer focused. to slightly undersell the parts of your proposal that piqueSpecifically, she needs to form major-account teams at the re- his interest. In other words, you should be prepared togional level instead of at the corporate level. All national ac- merely acknowledge the items that he greets with enthu-counts and targeted marketing would be based in one of five siasm and discuss the risks of each of those things. Thisregions (Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, and West), will ground your proposal in reality and strengthen hiseach run by a different vice president. In Flood’s plan, account confidence and trust in you. You also need to keep theexecutives for MaxPro’s major customers (clients with revenues discussion focused on results. Your arguments must beover $50 million) would relocate near the headquarters of those simple and straightforward, and you should use visualcompanies and would report directly to their respective regional aids to stress the features and benefits of your proposal.VP Each region would have its own marketing team and distri- . If you don’t provide this results-oriented informationbution channels, leaving corporate marketing responsible just (even when it’s not asked for), you risk that the charis-for brand development. Flood needs to persuade George Nolan, matic will not have it later when he needs it. Further-MaxPro’s CEO, to approve these changes. more, you should be very honest and up-front about the risks involved with accepting your proposal, while also delineating the measures that can help minimize those risks. If you try to conceal any potential downsides,1. Charismatics you can be sure that the charismatic will discover themCharismatics (25% of all later – when you’re not available to address any concernsthe executives we interviewed) he may have.are easily enthralled by new All executives are busy people, but the attention spanideas. They can absorb large of a charismatic can be particularly short. In a meeting,amounts of information you need to start with the most critical information. Other-rapidly, and they tend to wise, you risk losing his attention if you take your timeprocess the world visually. leading up to a crucial point. Even if you have a two-hour meeting scheduled, you might not get through your en-They want to move quickly from the big idea to the tire presentation. Charismatics disdain canned argumentsspecifics – especially those details regarding implementa- and will often interrupt you to get to the bottom line. In-tion. Charismatics are often described as enthusiastic, cap- deed, charismatics prefer highly interactive meetings; attivating, talkative, dominant, and persistent. They are risk- times, they will want to move around the room and takeseeking yet responsible individuals. They are impressed control of the discussion.with intelligence and facts and not usually given to self- Although charismatics might appear to be indepen-absorption and compulsiveness. Prominent examples of dent thinkers, they often rely on other high-profile exec-charismatics include Richard Branson, Lee Iacocca, Herb utives in the company when making major decisions.Kelleher, and Oprah Winfrey. (Note that many of the cat- Addressing this tendency will help increase your chancesegorizations of the executives we cite in this article are of success. Also critical will be your quiet perseverance:based on our firsthand observations and experiences with Charismatics expect you to wait patiently for them tothem. Some are based on secondary sources, including make a decision, which could take some time, evenmedia accounts.) though their initial enthusiasm may have led you to be-6 harvard business review
  5. 5. C h a n g e t h e Way Yo u Pe r s u a d elieve otherwise. Buzzwords that can help hold a charis- from the research we’ve conducted so far, case studies of similarmatic’s interest include: results, proven, actions, show, reorganizations at other companies, and other pertinent facts. Inwatch, look, bright, easy, clear, and focus. particular, you might want to look at the section on risk assess- ment.” Flood also tells Nolan that there are two versions of the report: an executive summary and an in-depth analysis. ThatPersuasion in Practice: Nolan the Charismatic night, on a red-eye flight to the East Coast, Nolan starts thinkingFlood has scheduled an hour-long meeting with Nolan and the about Flood’s proposal and begins wondering how the restruc-other members of the senior executive committee to discuss her turing will affect MaxPro’s biggest customers. He turns to herproposed reorganization. Before that day, she previews her rec- report and finds that information in the table “Impact on Ourommendations with COO Jack Warniers, Nolan’s most trusted Ten Largest Customers.”lieutenant. Warniers has several concerns about the restructur-ing, which Flood addresses and resolves through follow-upmemos and e-mails. Flood has prepared a few charts for the meeting, but these are 2. Thinkersmerely for her own reference. Because she wants Nolan to feel Thinkers (11% of the executiveslike he can steer the discussion any which way, she will modify we interviewed) are the mostthe charts in her head as necessary and redraw the information difficult decision makers toon a white board. Flood also knows that Nolan will at some point understand and consequentlyneed all the details of the implementation – most of this infor- the toughest to persuade.mation won’t be discussed in the meeting–so she prepares a fullreport that she will give him afterward. They are often described as cerebral, intelligent, logical, Flood starts her presentation by drawing a diagram that shows and academic. Typically, they are voracious readers andthe current organization and its problems. Then she immedi- selective about the words they use. They are impressedately jumps into her recommendations with a chart that outlines with arguments that are quantitative and supported bythe new structure and how it will solve those problems. She em- data. Not usually known for their social skills, thinkersphasizes how the reorganization will increase MaxPro’s overall tend to guard their emotions. They have two strong vis-competitiveness. “The restructuring,” she says, “will help us to ceral desires in business – to anticipate change and tobetter focus on our customers, and the result will be fewer de- win – and they often pride themselves on their ability tofections, particularly among our important accounts.” She delin- outthink and outmaneuver the competition. They areeates how the reorganization will help propel MaxPro ahead of driven more by the need to retain control than by thethe competition. need to innovate. Prominent examples include Michael Flood’s ideas initially appeal to Nolan, who likes bold, out- Dell, Bill Gates, Katharine Graham, and Alan Greenspan.of-the-box solutions, and he starts talking about the new re- Thinkers have a strong desire for comparative data,structuring as if it’s already been accomplished. To keep him which can make it difficult to persuade them. To make agrounded, Flood outlines the potential impact of the new struc- decision, they need as much information as possible, in-ture. Specifically, she notes the cost of relocating staff and the cluding all pertinent market research, customer surveys,strong possibility that the change will meet fierce resistance from case studies, cost-benefit analyses, and so on. Perhaps theseveral groups, including the IT division, which would be re- single-most important piece of information thinkers needsponsible for supporting a large number of employees in remote is the presenter’s methodology for getting from point Alocations. to point B. They strive to understand all perspectives of Next, Flood presents a detailed risk assessment of the imple- a given situation. And, unlike charismatics, thinkersmentation – what will happen if the reorganization fails and the have a strong aversion to risk.steps the company can take to minimize those risks. This infor- When trying to persuade thinkers, your best approachmation is as much for Nolan as it is for the others in the company is to openly communicate your worries and concernswho will be charged with implementing the plan. She then talks about your proposal, because thinkers work best whenabout the risk of doing nothing by highlighting evidence that at they know the risks up front. Often they will ask a batteryleast three of MaxPro’s major customers are already considering of questions to explore and understand all the risks asso-switching to a competitor because they are dissatisfied with ciated with an option. Thinkers can be swayed when theMaxPro’s customer service. arguments and presentation appeal directly to their in- Knowing that the charismatic Nolan will want to move for- telligence. Interestingly, their thought process is very se-ward quickly, Flood ends her presentation by asking what their lective but not always completely methodical. They will,next steps should be. Nolan requests a detailed schedule, with for instance, sometimes circumvent their own decision-milestone dates, of how the reorganization might progress. “I making processes if they feel a bargain – a relatively low-thought you might be interested in that information,” she says, risk opportunity to save time or money – is in their best“so I’ve included it in this report, along with supporting data interest.may 2002 7
  6. 6. C h a n g e t h e Way Yo u Pe r s u a d e Thinkers will never forget a bad experience, so you Throughout her presentation, Flood is undaunted by Nolan’sneed to make sure that your recommendations to them barrage of questions. She knows it’s not a personal attack; it’s anare truly the best options. (Of course, you should do this attack on her process or data. Flood is very up-front about wherefor any of the five types of decision makers, but particu- her data might be inconclusive or conflicting, where she’s madelarly so with thinkers.) And anyway, thinkers will eventu- assumptions using just her intuition, and areas where her argu-ally figure out for themselves whether something was ment is weak. Together, she and Nolan pick through the presen-truly the best alternative, so you might be better off re- tation. For one risk assessment that Flood has weighted as 60-40,fraining from drawing conclusions for them. Otherwise for example, Nolan says it should be’ll risk being seen as too helpful and potentially not At the end of the first meeting, Flood draws up a to-do listcredible. One effective strategy for persuading thinkers is that indicates where she needs to plug in more data or fill into give them ample time and space to come to their own gaps in her argument before the next meeting; Nolan helpsconclusions. her prioritize the list. In several instances, however, he says, In a meeting, thinkers will often take contradictory “Well, I don’t think we can get good data here, so let’s just gopoints of view. This can be extremely confusing, but re- by gut feel.”member that thinkers do not like to show their cards up During the second meeting, Flood briefly summarizes whatfront, so expect that you may not be able to discern how they discussed previously – with all the corrections and adjust-they feel about any of the options you present. In fact, ments that Nolan has requested. Knowing that he hates surprises,thinkers often do not reveal their intentions until they she clearly points out anything new and different from the firstrender their final decisions. Furthermore, they can be self- presentation – for example, revised data. Next, using the updatedabsorbed, so be prepared for silence as they digest the in- information, she explains how she arrived at the optimum re-formation you’ve given them. Buzzwords and phrases structuring that maximizes the probability of success while keep-that will capture a thinker’s attention include: quality, ing risks to an acceptable level. In conclusion, she shows the pro-academic, think, numbers, makes sense, intelligent, plan, jected financial costs and additional revenues that the change willexpert, competition, and proof. likely generate. After the meeting, Flood is prepared to wait weeks, if not months, for Nolan’s decision.Persuasion in Practice: Nolan the ThinkerTo convince Nolan, Flood knows she must present as manydata, facts, and figures as possible, so her strategy is to deliver 3. Skepticsthat information in huge chunks over a long-enough period of Skeptics (19% of the executivestime for him to absorb and make sense of everything. Con- we polled) are highly suspicioussequently, she decides that her best approach is to present her of every single data point, especiallyargument over the course of two meetings. any information that challenges In the first, she begins by making her best case for why Max- their worldview.Pro needs to restructure. She emphasizes that if things stay thesame, MaxPro will likely lose customers to competitors. (Inter- Perhaps the most defining trait of skeptics is that theyestingly, this piece of information – the risk of doing nothing – tend to have very strong personalities. They can be de-would be one of the last things she would present to Nolan if manding, disruptive, disagreeable, rebellious, and evenhe were a charismatic. In fact, the order of presentation to a antisocial. They may have an aggressive, almost combativethinker is almost exactly the reverse order of presentation to style and are usually described as take-charge people. Theya charismatic.) tend to be self-absorbed and act primarily on their feel- Flood then explains how she arrived at the three options she ings. Prominent examples include Steve Case, Larry Elli-has proposed for the restructuring. She details the methodol- son, and Tom Siebel.ogy she used to gather and assess the data, and Nolan is quick During your presentation, a skeptic may get up andto point out where she may have missed certain steps or made leave temporarily, take a phone call, or even carry on aincorrect assumptions. This will benefit Flood in the long run, side conversation for an extended period of time. He willbecause Nolan is now taking ownership of her methodology. be demanding of both your time and energy, locking Next, Flood highlights the pros and cons of each option, and horns with you whenever the opportunity arises. Theshe presents case studies of similar restructurings, including thinker launches a volley of questions, and it is not per-those from other industries and from different time periods. The sonal; with a skeptic, it is. Do not let it get to you; just gocase studies represent roughly an equal number of successes and through your presentation coolly and logically. The goodfailures. Flood points out why each was successful or why each news is that you will know almost immediately wherefailed, and from that she begins to write on a white board a list you stand with skeptics. You can almost always depend onof reorganizing dos and don’ts, to which Nolan is quick to add them to tell you what they are thinking because of theirhis input. strong personalities.8 harvard business review
  7. 7. C h a n g e t h e Way Yo u Pe r s u a d e To persuade a skeptic, you need as much credibility as Gates, for example, Flood softens one of Nolan’s attacks by say-you can garner. Skeptics tend to trust people who are sim- ing,“I see your point, but you probably remember that Microsoftilar to them – for instance, people who went to the same made a similar move about two years ago.”college or worked for the same companies. If you haven’t At every turn, Flood and Warniers are careful to tread lightlyestablished credibility with a skeptic, you need to find a around Nolan’s ego. When discussing the case studies, for in-way to have it transferred to you prior to or during the stance, they introduce each one by saying,“You’ve probably seenmeeting – for example, by gaining an endorsement from this before…” or “As you know, Hewlett-Packard failed in a simi-someone the skeptic trusts. Doing this will let the skeptic lar restructuring because….” For each example, Flood andmaintain his superior position while allowing you to Warniers are quick to point out whether the company’s imageopenly discuss issues on his level. Credibility can be trans- and reputation were enhanced or degraded as a result of theferred (from a colleague, for instance), but ultimately it restructuring.must be earned, and you may have to go through some Because Nolan is particularly skeptical of anything abstract,very aggressive questioning to establish it. Flood and Warniers are careful to make their arguments as con- Challenging a skeptic is risky and must be handled del- crete as possible, usually by grounding them in the real world.icately. Sometimes, to make your case, you will need to When they talk about relocating 200 employees, for example,correct bad information that the skeptic is relying on. If, they try to include the specifics: “We would need to close ourfor instance, the skeptic states incorrectly that your com- building here on Hunter Avenue and sublease the space, includ-pany’s R&D costs have been spiraling out of control re- ing the adjacent parking lot. Because the building has a modu-cently, you might reply, “Are you testing me? Because I lar, funky layout, we might consider turning it into a businessremember you telling me a couple months ago that we incubator.”need to spend more to regain our leadership in develop- At the end of their presentation, Flood and Warniers appealing innovative products. But maybe that’s changed?” In to Nolan’s rebellious streak by stating how the proposed reorga-other words, when you need to correct a skeptic, give him nization would buck the trend in their industry. They also areroom to save face. For him to trust you, he needs to main- quick to credit Nolan for inspiring the idea.“At the last meetingtain his reputation and ego. And remember that skeptics of the senior executive committee,” Warniers says, “you talkeddo not like being helped; they prefer having people think about how we needed to ensure that we didn’t lose touch withthey know something already. our customers. Your comment started us thinking about this Although persuading a skeptic might sound daunting, restructuring.” Flood and Warniers end their presentation withthe process is actually very straightforward. Skeptics want their proposed action plan for the reorganization, completeto move forward with groundbreaking ideas, but they first with a schedule of milestones. At that point, Nolan takes chargeneed to make sure that those ideas are from people they of the discussion.fully trust. Skeptics usually make decisions quickly –within days, if not right on the spot. Buzzwords to usewith a skeptic include: feel, grasp, power, action, suspect,trust, agreeable, demand, and disrupt. 4. Followers Followers (36% of the executives we interviewed) make decisionsPersuasion in Practice: Nolan the Skeptic based on how they’ve madeFlood knows that she lacks the necessary clout to make her pitch similar choices in the past ordirectly to Nolan. So she enlists the aid of COO Jack Warniers, on how other trusted executiveswhom Nolan trusts. After she obtains Warniers’s buy-in, she asks have made them.him to copresent the idea with her, hoping that his credibility willadd to hers. They agree beforehand that Warniers will deliver all Because they are afraid of making the wrong choice,key messages, including the proposed restructuring and any data followers will seldom be early adopters. Instead, theythat might be controversial. trust in known brands and in bargains, both of which rep- At the meeting, Flood and Warniers make their arguments in resent less risk. They are also very good at seeing theroughly the same order they would if Nolan were a thinker instead world through other people’s eyes. Interestingly, despiteof a skeptic, but they emphasize the credibility of all their infor- their cautiousness, followers can be spontaneous atmation sources. Flood knows that Nolan needs to hear things times. Above all, though, they are responsible decisionfrom multiple reputable sources – the more the better. So when makers, which is why they are most often found in largediscussing a recent marketing survey, she says,“I took the liberty corporations. In fact, followers account for more than aof arranging a call between you and several other local market- third of all the executives we surveyed, representing theresearch experts to discuss these results in greater detail.” largest group among the five types of decision makers.Whenever Nolan challenges anything, Flood and Warniers work Prominent examples include Peter Coors, Douglas Daft,quickly to ease his discomfort. Knowing that Nolan respects Bill and Carly Fiorina.may 2002 9
  8. 8. C h a n g e t h e Way Yo u Pe r s u a d e Followers may engage you in long lists of issues and re- that Flood can appeal to Nolan’s desire to be innovative bypeatedly challenge your position (similar to what a skep- saying, “We could be the first in our industry to do this kind oftic does), but don’t be fooled. In the end, they will agree restructuring.”to something only if they’ve seen it done elsewhere. But Next, Flood presents three options for the proposed restruc-followers won’t admit this. In fact, they will seldom con- turing, and she links each of her case studies to one of those op-cede that they are followers; they would much rather tions. To steer Nolan toward option three, which she prefers, shehave you believe that they are innovative and forward has linked four of the cases to that option; by contrast, she hasthinking. Frequently, followers are mistaken for skeptics. provided Nolan with only two case study references for each ofHowever, followers are not inherently suspicious; they the other two options. When Nolan notes that option one is theprefer that you help them gain a better grasp of what cheapest, Flood is ready to address that issue head-on becausethey don’t understand. And although followers may ex- she knows how bargain conscious he is: Her detailed analysishibit a take-charge approach, they will yield when chal- shows that, on a risk-adjusted basis, option three is actually thelenged. (As a general rule, people who are difficult to clas- least expensive because it is more proven.sify into a decision-making style are usually followers, Presenting three options to Nolan does more than just givebecause people in the other four groups tend to show him the opportunity to make a choice; it also affords him thetheir characteristics more definitively.) chance to be creative. He begins to combine aspects of options Although followers are often the most difficult to iden- one and three – something Flood had anticipated he would do.tify, they can be the easiest to persuade – if you know In fact, she has even encouraged him to do so by presenting cer-which buttons to push. To obtain buy-in from a follower, tain minor components of the different options individually. Foryou need to make him feel confident about deciding to Nolan, the ability to mix and match different parts of provenmove in a certain direction by proving that others have strategies is perfect: It makes him feel innovative without havingsucceeded on that path. Not surprisingly, followers tend to incur any major focus on proven methods, and references and testimo- At the conclusion of the meeting, Flood further plays onnials are big persuading factors. Nolan’s desire for both innovation and security by saying, “Yes, With a follower, don’t try to sell yourself unless you other companies have done this type of restructuring, but wehave a strong track record of success. Instead, look for will have more expertise implementing it, so we will do it fasterpast decisions by the follower that support your views or and more cheaply. And because we already know what works andfind similar decisions by other executives the follower what doesn’t, we’ll be able to take the appropriate steps to avoidtrusts. Ideally, followers want solutions that are innova- potential problems.”tive yet proven, new but trusted, leading-edge yet some- Flood understands that followers will maintain the statuswhat safe. At the end of the day, though, what followers quo unless they’re presented with information they can’t affordneed most is to know that they won’t lose their jobs. This to ignore. Because Nolan seems genuinely engrossed in hearingis why they rarely make out-of-the-box decisions. In fact, how the other companies have successfully reorganized, Floodfor some followers, the only way to persuade them to expects she will hear from him within days. (Followers tend toadopt a truly bold strategy is to get someone else to do act quickly once they see big potential for success with mini-it successfully first. Buzzwords and phrases to use with mal risk.)a follower include: innovate, expedite, swift, bright, justlike before, expertise, similar to, previous, what works,and old way. 5. Controllers Controllers (9% of the executivesPersuasion in Practice: Nolan the Follower we surveyed) abhor uncertaintyFlood knows that her mission is simple: She must make Nolan and ambiguity, and they willfeel comfortable that the decision to restructure has minimal focus on the pure facts and ana-risk. And to seal the deal, she must somehow also make him feel lytics of an argument. They arethat he is being innovative. both constrained and driven by In the meeting, Flood presents her arguments in roughly the their own fears and insecurities.same order that she would if Nolan were a thinker or skeptic. Butbecause Nolan is a follower, Flood emphasizes the case stud- They are usually described as logical, unemotional, sensi-ies – eight of them in all. This discussion resonates with Nolan ble, detail oriented, accurate, analytical, and objective.because, like all followers, he is particularly adept at placing him- Like skeptics, controllers often have strong personalitiesself in others’ shoes. As part of her strategy, Flood has decided to and can even be overbearing. In their minds, they are theomit any examples of failed restructurings – but she has that in- best salespeople, the best marketing experts, the bestformation on hand, just in case Nolan asks for it. The eight case strategists, and so on. Whereas followers are good atstudies are from industries outside of MaxPro’s business so putting themselves in others’ shoes, controllers see things10 harvard business review
  9. 9. C h a n g e t h e Way Yo u Pe r s u a d eonly from their own perspectives and will frequently She needs to gently wear down his defenses by steadily supply-make snap judgments and remarks that alienate others. ing him with so much information that he simply has to makeControllers can be loners and are often self-absorbed, a decision.traits that lead them to make unilateral decisions. Indeed, First, Flood focuses on data that highlight MaxPro’s problemsalthough a controller may talk to others about a decision, because she knows that case studies and other information won’the will seldom genuinely listen to them or consider their be as important to him. Her memos often prompt Nolan to re-input. Prominent examples include Jacques Nasser, Ross quest other information, sometimes arcane and irrelevant data.Perot, and Martha Stewart. She gets this for him, knowing full well that he may not even When dealing with controllers, you need to overcome look at it.their internal fears, which they will pretend they don’t After four months she is tempted to schedule a formal pre-have. In fact, they will cover them up by paying an inor- sentation, but she resists the urge. Nolan himself must requestdinate amount of attention to the intricate details of pro- that meeting. Until that time, she will have to be content withcesses and methods. Dealing with controllers can be like sending him still more information. When she does, she alwaysplaying a game of cat and mouse – you will always be provides the information in a structured, linear format. In a typ-chasing down some information at their request. ical memo, she begins by writing, “Attached, please find the re- In a meeting, remember that controllers can be self- sults from a recent customer survey, and here’s how they fit inabsorbed, so be prepared for long silences during your in- with the other material we have.” Flood is also quick to point outteractions. It is also crucial to remember that when cor- (but not resolve) apparent contradictions in the data, knowingnered, controllers rarely capitulate. Furthermore, even that Nolan prides himself in uncovering those kinds of inconsis-though controllers seek accuracy and facts, that does not tencies. In one memo, she writes, “Here’s some new researchnecessarily mean they will make intelligent, rational de- from Walker Consulting. It seems to contradict the study we com-cisions. Often, a controller will jump to illogical conclu- missioned last year. I’m not sure which to trust.”sions. And unlike charismatics, who are willing to take re- Finally, an event – the defection of one of MaxPro’s largestsponsibility for their decisions, controllers try to avoid customers – triggers action. Thanks to Flood’s patient but in-being held accountable. When something goes wrong, cessant prodding, Nolan is sensitized to this latest develop-they assume others are at fault. ment. He calls a meeting of the senior staff to discuss what To persuade controllers, your argument needs to be MaxPro should do. Included will be a discussion of a possiblestructured, linear, and credible. They want details, but reorganization.only if presented by an expert. In practice, the only way •••to sell an idea to controllers is not to sell it; instead, letthem make the choice to buy. Your best bet is to simply Critics might view some of our categorizations as deroga-supply them with the information they need and hope tory – after all, few executives would like being classifiedthey will convince themselves. as followers or controllers. We do not intend to imply Although controllers and skeptics share several charac- that any decision-making style is superior to another;teristics, a key difference is that controllers need ample our labels are merely brief descriptors of the primarytime to make decisions (they hate to be rushed). By con- behavior of each group. In fact, each style can be highlytrast, skeptics are much quicker on the draw. One of the effective in certain environments. Followers, for in-worst things you can do with a controller is to push your stance, have a high sense of responsibility and can be ex-proposal too aggressively. When that happens, control- cellent leaders at large, established corporations. Andlers are likely to see you as part of the problem and not controllers can be extremely effective business leaders;the solution. Buzzwords and phrases to use with a con- Martha Stewart is a case in point.troller include: details, facts, reason, logic, power, handle, Furthermore, we do not mean to oversimplify the com-physical, grab, keep them honest, make them pay, and plex and often mysterious ways in which people reachjust do it. conclusions. To be sure, decision making is a complicated, multifaceted process that researchers may never fully unpick. That said, we strongly believe that executives tendPersuasion in Practice: Nolan the Controller to make important decisions in predictable ways. AndNolan is notorious for implementing only his own ideas, so knowing their preferences for hearing or seeing certainFlood knows she must somehow make him take ownership of types of information at specific stages in their decision-her proposed restructuring plan. To do that, she gears herself up making process can substantially improve your ability tofor the long journey ahead. Over the course of several months, tip the outcome your way.she continually sends him information – customer reports, mar-keting studies, financial projections, and so on–through all types Reprint r0205dof media (including print, video, and the Web) and in person. To place an order, call 1-800-988-0886.may 2002 11