Persuasion and the Path of Least Resistance

How important do you think your powers of persuasion are to your leadership ability? In his book How to Lead Jo Owen thinks it is a critical skill:

“Leadership involves getting people to do things. Emerging leaders are not put off by a lack of formal authority. They persuade other people to help and support them.”

One persuasion technique that I have found to be very effective is based on the premise that people tend to do what is easiest for them. To put it another way: they follow the path of least resistance. All you have to do in order to achieve an almost Jedi like power over all those around you is make sure that what you want people to do also turns out to be their easiest option.

But what if you need someone to do something that is not the easiest option for them? Basically you have two choices:

  1. Make it easier
  2. Make the alternatives harder

Lets consider an example where you need to get approval from 4 people for investment in new hardware. Initially you might send an email to them all explaining the business justification and asking them to respond saying whether they approve. This is not a bad approach and, provided that your business justification is good, you may get the result you want. However it is always possible that someone will question your numbers, suggest you try other suppliers or even not have time to read your email. Here are some ways you can make your preferred outcome easier for them:

  • Add a deadline (i.e. “If I haven’t heard from you by close of business tomorrow I will assume you are happy with it”).
  • Make it a rubber stamping job by adding a phrase like “I’ve run it past Kevin and he sees no reason why we shouldn‘t go ahead” or “The business justification is basically the same as one we went ahead with 3 months ago”.

Additionally you can make the alternatives harder by:

  • Stating a deadline for a negative response (i.e. “Any feedback is required by noon today”).
  • Expecting any alternative option to be fully investigated by someone else (i.e. “If any of you would like to put together an alternative solution by noon today then let me know”).
  • Suggesting a long meeting at an inconvenient time/location to go through any objections (i.e. “I propose that we schedule a 5 hour meeting at 8:00am on Sunday to go through any issues”).

It may seem simple but, if you try this approach, you will be amazed at how often people will follow the path of least resistance that you prepare for them.


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