How not to argue
If you’re in an energetic discussion with someone, what’s a sure-fire way to get them to dig their heels in?
Flat-out tell them they’re wrong. Point out all the faults in their logic. Deny their point of view.
The more you do that, the greater the barrier between you. You’re building a wall (aye, Donald).
How to argue with a chance of winning
But if you want any chance of getting them to hear you, getting them to consider there’s a different way to look at the issue, if you want to be heard, they need to feel heard first.
To influence, persuade, and get buy-in to your ideas, you have to remove the barriers between you. You have to create connection, clear some common ground, so that then the foundations of your reasoning can be built together, one block at a time.
But Shelly, how do you know?
I’m a writing trainer. You’d think I spend most of my time training people in the skills of good writing. But really, I spend most of my time winning people over.
I teach plain language. And plain language is the polar opposite of most of the ‘rules’ of good writing you learned at university. It goes against all the things you learned about using higher-level, more complex language to sound more intelligent, against the written voice you’ve always believed is what will give you credibility at work.
The people I train have had those ideas reinforced (and been rewarded for them) for years – often decades. The only way I can get them onside is to make sure they feel heard, validated, affirmed in their position, and then gently persuaded to consider a different view. And to sit with that different view. To play with it. To experience it. And to decide for themselves.
I’m a professional mind-changer.
The principles are the same when writing
So, to be persuasive in your writing, you need to do those same things.
1. Acknowledge the reader’s position
Like in all good business writing, start with your bottom line up front. Tell them where the destination is before you start the journey. That’s always a thing. And then, address their concerns. In NLP it’s sometimes called objection inoculators. Don’t leave objections simmering away in the background. Address them straight up. Acknowledge them as real and valid.
2. Validate their concerns
There’s a careful balancing act here of acknowledging validity, showing you understand the thinking and can see that it’s a reasonable position, without adding fuel to the fire.
Try using phrases like:
- It’s a common and understandable position…
- We’ve previously believed…
- Understandably, we have fears around…
3. Know their points of leverage
Here’s where intimate insight into your reader’s way of thinking becomes vital. If you know your reader is swayed by financial benefits, address those – and do it hard. If you know they’re particularly concerned with efficiency, processes, streamlining, show them benefits related to those. If long-term strategy is their thing, focus there. Maybe it’s quality. Maybe it’s ego. Know your reader, and use what will sway them.
4. Emotion always plays a part
Again, it’s a careful balance. Most influencers in the workplace will respond negatively to writing that is overly emotive – we’re so used to being sold to through informercials and hard sales pitches. So don’t do that. But the occasional subtle and well-placed emotive word for impact will work. While we don’t want to overuse emotion, we also don’t want to fall into the trap of believing that there’s no place for emotions in business. That’s simply not true – humans run businesses. Humans are emotional. The end.
5. Everything else is an extra set of steak knives
After all that, hit them with all the bonuses. All the added extras!
Once you’ve addressed their concerns and leveraged their wants and drivers, show them all the benefits they never even considered.
Make it too good to say no to. Just too valuable, too beneficial.
Overpower their arguments – not by fighting against, but by winning over.
Ready to go?
Practice this in conversation. Then plan out a well-sculpted argument and write the damn thing.
You’ll never know whether you can win someone over if you don’t try.