13 Apr 2020
Persuasion is one of the more difficult aspects of building and growing software products. Like most things in life, it’s a skill you learn.
Persuading team members or management is one of the more difficult aspects of building and growing software products. You may have a different set of insights or strategies you’d like to implement. They may want you to go one direction while you see opportunity in another.
A lack of influence can be aggravating but it’s important to remember that the goal is NOT to get your ideas to win–it’s to get to the point where the BEST ideas win. Influence and persuasion tactics and techniques help you tease out the best ideas.
Like most things in life, influence is a skill you learn. Here are 10 ways to strengthen yours:
Get use to saying “tell me more…” rather than “yes” or “no.” You need to be able to offer 15 minutes of your time to hear people out. Don’t jump to the end and make assumptions about what people are telling you. Spend the time it takes to truly understand them. Saying “tell me more…” signals that you’re listening with intent. When you do this and offer a genuine, well thought out response, your opinion will be held with much greater weight.
Be the last to speak. When you’re in a meeting or discussing things a small group, when possible, be the last to speak. People have a tendency to want to get their thoughts or ideas out ahead of the rest. Just listen and take the time to formulate at least the seed of an opinion. When it’s your time to speak, make an effort to address the underlying question or issue at hand. When you do this, people will be more apt to listen to your ideas or thoughts.
Ask, “what do you think?” When you’re in a management position people come to you looking for answers. If you simply answer people–effectively giving them directives–then too much of your time will end up being spent answering questions others should be answering. Instead, ask, Ask, “what do you think?” Because people are used to being given direction, they will be a bit surprised–in a good way. One of two things will happen. Either a. they will have a good answer, and you will tell them to run with it, or b. they will have an okay answer, and you help guide them to a good answer. Either way, over time you’ll be able to influence them to realize they have everything they need to make good decisions–and when they can’t, then they’ll come to you.
Emphasize results over options and choices. It’s easy to get yourself involved in arguments over which option should be taken. Too many options and choices end up being useless noise. When the emphasis is placed heavily on the results, the bad options naturally fall away. For example, if you’re having difficulty deciding which feature to implement next, then it’s likely you have yet to decide on what the results should be. Is it to increase retention? Delight users? Eliminate an ongoing pain?
Ask challenging questions. Are you pushing others as hard as you’re pushing yourself? You should be. By “challenging” questions I mean open and judgment-free questions. You need to be having honest questions with yourself and your team. You need to be questioning everything all the time. “Strategies” are not stagnant. They change over time as the outside world changes. The way you figure things out is by asking challenging questions of everyone.
Tell people why. If you don’t have a compelling reason for a decision it will be difficult to get people on board. The interesting thing about “reasons” is that they do not need to be perfect or flawless. However, they do need strong backing. Any decision can be viewed from a number of lenses. All you need to do is get people to see things through your lens.
Write like you talk. We’re all guilty of using language to impress others. Pull back from this desire. Write in short, direct sentences. Get good at editing out the filler but conversational and even leave in a typo here are there–when communicating with colleagues, that is. You wouldn’t want marketing campaigns or emails to clients to include such errors.
Play the long game. You can’t influence people without first earning their trust. You do this by giving more than you ask. First, help others–whether for advice or to do some heavy lifting. People are usually more swamped than they let on and will be grateful for any help you provide. Over time, the more trust you earn the influence you will have.
Bring attention to the impact. Whether good or bad, every action or decision has an impact. Getting people to focus on the negative or positive effects of an action or decision stops them worrying about the details. Here’s an example. Say you’re demoing a new feature of your SaaS application to your largest client–with your goal being to get them using it. Would you jump right in and start explaining the feature? No. Typically you’d ask them questions to determine if the feature would be useful. Seems reasonable. Why would you want them using a feature that isn’t even useful to them? But if you’re not bringing attention to the impact the feature has then you’re not giving them a fair impression of it. So, rather, you should be pinning a metric to the pain that the feature eliminates. Then bring attention to the positive effect the feature has for them. The point is that when a conversation gets stuck in the unimportant details, get people thinking about the impact and you’ll start making progress.
Never pat yourself on the back in front of others. It’s uninspiring and people will lose respect for you. The more you congratulate yourself in public, the harder it will be to influence others. Finding meaning in your accomplishments is healthy. However, it should be personal. Celebrate others’ achievements in public. They’ll thank you for it.