Part of strategic leadership and partnership is the ability to influence others. Whether advocating for their own positions, representing a group of stakeholders, or explaining the priorities of a work unit, strategic leaders need to communicate in a way that helps others understand and support their viewpoints.
Quite a while ago I was given a little book called The Power of Ethical Persuasion, by Tom Rusk. I appreciated his argument that influence can be more than trying to get people to do things your way. He defined ethical persuasion as communicating with respect, understanding, and fairness in order to build stronger connections and shared goals.
Rusk provides a three-step process which has worked for me over the years.
Step 1: Explore the other person’s viewpoint
- Focus on mutual understanding, not problem solving.
- Ask the other person to help you understand their thoughts and feelings.
- Listen without defending or disagreeing. Refer to your position only as needed to keep the conversation going.
- Repeat the other person’s position in your own words.
- Repeat the steps above until the other person agrees that you understand their position.
Step 2: Explain your viewpoint
- Ask for a fair hearing in return.
- Explain how the other person’s thoughts and feelings affect you. Avoid blaming and defensiveness as much as possible.
- Explain your thoughts and feelings as your truth, not the truth.
- Ask the other person to restate your position, and correct any factual inaccuracies as necessary.
- Repeat until you both can understand and explain each other’s positions.
Step 3: Create resolutions
- Review each other’s positions and identify any mutual goals and shared values.
- Brainstorm multiple options without analysis and criticism.
- Review the options and determine whether there is a mutually agreeable solution.
- If not, consider any of the following:
– Taking a time out and then reconsider the options
– Compromise by meeting each side’s strongly held goals and meeting in the middle on others
– Agree to the other person’s position, as long as you believe your position has been completely and respectfully considered
– Seek help from a third party mediator or counselor
– If no solution is needed in order to maintain collaboration, agree to disagree and still respect each other
It’s amazing how often positions that at first seemed mutually exclusive are actually based on similar values and goals. For example, we may disagree strongly on the campus budget, but we can respect that we are both seeking what’s best for the students. I’ve found that starting from that point and working toward mutual understanding can be much more persuasive than continuing to re-state the reasons why my side is correct.
Dee Anne Bonebright