We All Need Convincing

By Jarrod Shappell

Tuesday, April 11th 2017

Why did the chicken cross the road?

To avoid the Green Peace person.

Am I the only one that avoids these street-corner-cause-hawkers? And what is it about a “salesy” person that makes me (and maybe you, too) want to avoid them so badly? It’s because every day we spend disproportionate amounts of our time either trying to convince someone else to do something, or deciding whether to be convinced by the countless messages and requests hurling at us from others. And the work of convincing, or screening the convincing of others, can be exhausting.

I live in San Francisco and on the weekends nearly all of our street corners have clipboard toting individuals collecting signatures for their cause. Last Sunday as my family and I were on a walk, we found ourselves surrounded on all sides. Pinned in by Green Peace, public school reformists, and someone with laminated sad pictures of puppies. There was no corner to cross to. I had to talk to one of these "salesy" individuals.

I began talking to Veronika. She told a personal story of how her organization, an arts education program in Oakland, had changed her life and the life of her siblings. She had a notebook with laminated pictures and donor cards. She never opened it. She didn’t need to. Her passion for her organization was contagious. I signed. I donated. We hugged.

This lazy Sunday interaction reminded me of three things. Like it or not, 1) we all, in some way or another, do the work of convincing 2) convincing others begins with our own convictions, and 3) determining whether to be convinced by others is much easier when we know our own convictions. 

It’s easy to see the gimmicks that people use to convince a child to eat their vegetables or a stranger to sign up to donate for a cause. But the need for convincing extends beyond these cliché moments and into our every day organizational lives. IT Leaders convince skeptical employees to adopt new technologies. HR partners convince business leaders to invest in young talent. Marketing tries to convince Finance of the ROI on an upcoming media campaign. Middle Managers present their case for additional headcount to the executive team. Senior Executives are trying to convince an entire organization that strategic change is needed. Given the every day, every job nature of persuasion, shouldn’t we all be trying to improve our ability to convince others? And unlike the fact that I was already primed to support Veronika because of my own convictions about education, organizational life is anything but people eager to be convinced.  There is so much change being proffered around our organizations, it’s hard to know what, or who, to be convinced by, and what to dismiss and ignore. 

It would be trite to say that I avoid “salsey individuals” because I am a Millennial. Research shows that Millennials are the least pervious to marketing and promotion. And while that could be the basis of some of my sales-aversion, you may recall the street corner hug Veronika and I shared. All great selling begins with being sold. Or as famous philosopher Thomas Carlyle once said, “let him who wants to move and convince others, be first moved and convinced himself.” Veronika understood this. Convincing others does not mean that you force something on them or forcibly change their mind. It is demonstrating in the face of resistance, that you are convinced of what you’re proposing. It means that we must express our own excitement, keenness, and hope for what is possible.

And though sometimes convincing can feel laborious, shouldn’t it also – at least sometimes – be exhilarating? There is something triumphant about influencing others to adopt our ideas. Or seeing a longstanding unproductive behavior turn around. When we successfully convince, we are surged with a sense of significance. When our influence matters, we feel that we matter.

The art and science of convincing others of what we believe needs to be done is something that sets great leaders apart. Starting something new. Stopping something bad. Charting a new direction. Shifting precious resources. Organizational life is an endless series of finding ways to rise above all of the noise to have our influence stick. And given the reality of how much attention we are competing for, it behooves us to make sure our convincing is impeccable.

Over the next three months we want to help us all see that we all do the work of convincing – persuading, influencing, advising – and that in order to lead our organizations well, we must become masters of it.


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